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Othello character
Desdémone by Alexandre Cabanel
Created byWilliam Shakespeare
Portrayed by
In-universe information
AffiliationEmilia, attendant and confidante

Desdemona (/ˌdɛzdəˈmnə/) is a character in William Shakespeare's play Othello (c. 1601–1604). Shakespeare's Desdemona is a Venetian beauty who enrages and disappoints her father, a Venetian senator, when she elopes with Othello, a Moorish Venetian military prodigy. When her husband is deployed to Cyprus in the service of the Republic of Venice, Desdemona accompanies him. There, her husband is manipulated by his ensign Iago into believing she is an adulteress, and, in the last act, she is murdered by her estranged spouse.

Role in Othello[edit]

Othello and Desdemona in Venice by Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856)

In the play's first act, Desdemona has eloped with Othello, a Moor in the service of the Venetian Republic. Before the Duke of Venice, his councilmen, and her father, she proclaims her love for Othello and defends her choice. Her father reluctantly accepts the union but warns Othello that she will someday deceive him. When Othello is sent to Cyprus in the line of duty, Desdemona accompanies him with his ensign's wife, Emilia, attending her.

In act 2, Othello's lieutenant, Cassio, is disgraced in a brawl and falls from Othello's favor. Iago suggests to Cassio that he importune Desdemona to intercede for him, which she does. Meanwhile, Iago persuades Othello that Desdemona has formed an illicit relationship with Cassio. However, many critics argue that the first seed of doubt is not issued from Iago but by Desdemona's father:

"Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see.
She hath deceived her father and may thee." (1.3)

It is Desdemona's assurance and confidence in the honor and strength of the love she bears for Othello that inspires her boldness. Yet the passion of her love both arouses and unnerves her husband too, adding to the seeds of fear and suspicion.

When Emilia's husband Iago sees Desdemona's handkerchief, he steals it and forbids Emilia to disclose its whereabouts to Desdemona. Iago plants the article in Cassio's room. Eventually, Othello sees Cassio with the handkerchief and accepts it as confirmation of Desdemona's infidelity.

Rodolfo Amoedo – Desdemona

Desdemona is concerned over the loss of the handkerchief but maintains that its loss will not cause Othello to grow angry. Emilia is more cynical, especially after Othello violently asks to see it. Desdemona is confused over her husband's behavior, which culminates in his striking her in public and calling her a whore.

Desdemona is deeply upset by her husband's attacks but continues to assert her love. In the final act, Othello tells her that he knows she has been unfaithful, and is going to kill her. Despite Desdemona's claims of innocence, Othello refuses to believe her, and when he tells her that Cassio has been killed, Desdemona cries out. Othello becomes enraged and strangles Desdemona, ignoring her pleas for mercy. When her maid Emilia rushes into the room, Desdemona rises weakly to defend Othello, then dies.

Eventually, Othello learns of Desdemona's faithfulness after Emilia exposes Iago's true nature before being stabbed to death by Iago, and out of complete remorse, Othello commits suicide, but only after angrily stabbing Iago (though not fatally) as retribution for his lies against Desdemona. Desdemona's cousin Lodovico then orders that Iago be tortured and executed.

Performance history[edit]

Suzanne Cloutier as Desdemona in Orson Welles' 1952 film, Othello

The role has attracted notable actresses through the centuries and has the distinction of being the first role performed professionally by Margaret Hughes, the first actress to appear on an English public stage.[1][2]

In a 1951 film version, Suzanne Cloutier played Desdemona opposite Orson Welles. The film won the grand prize Palme d'Or at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival.

In a 1966 British film version, Maggie Smith played the character opposite Laurence Olivier. The film holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations given to a Shakespeare film adaptation. Maggie Smith and co-stars Olivier, Frank Finlay (Iago), and Joyce Redman (Emilia) all received acting nominations.

In a 1995 film version, Irène Jacob played the character opposite Laurence Fishburne.

There have been numerous screen modernisations of the play. In O (2001), Julia Stiles played a character based on Desdemona in a version of Othello set in a contemporary high school. A 2001 British made-for-television film featuring Keeley Hawes as Desdemona "Dessie" Brabant also updates the action, picturing John Othello (Eamonn Walker) and Ben Jago (Christopher Eccleston) as high ranking Metropolitan Police officers. In 2006, Omkara, a Bollywood version of Othello, Dolly Mishra (Desdemona) was played by Kareena Kapoor.


  1. ^ "Margaret Hughes, first lady of the stage". Madame Guillotine. 8 December 2010. Archived from the original on 23 March 2016. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  2. ^ Pope, W. Macqueen (1952). First Ladies. London: W. H. Allen. pp. 35–36.


  • Shakespeare, William (1995). Oeuvres Complètes (in French and English). Vol. Tragédies II (Bouquins ed.). Robert Laffont.
  • Brigitte Tast, Hans-Jürgen Tast: Orson Welles – Othello – Mogador. Aufenthalte in Essaouira, Kulleraugen Vis.Komm. Nr. 42, Schellerten 2013, ISBN 978-3-88842-042-9