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Dickes, R. (1970). Desdemona: An Innocent Victim?. Am. Imago, 27(3):279-297.

(1970). American Imago, 27(3):279-297

Desdemona: An Innocent Victim?

Robert Dickes, M.D.

Desdemona has generally been considered as a passive victim rather than as a character whose utterances and behavior show that she actively contributed to the sequence of events that led to her death. She has been characterized as naïve and sheltered, and Brabantio's estimate of his daughter as shy and retiring has been accepted as correct.

This essay will attempt to indicate Desdemona's contributions to the events that led to her death. She is actually portrayed as a somewhat domineering woman who works actively to obtain her ends. She wanted Othello and worked to win him. She wanted Cassio reinstated in his position and she worked to the point of folly to obtain his reinstatement. Finally, she wanted death. This wish, however, was not made explicit by Shakespeare and must be assumed as an unconscious one based on superego demands.

I have chosen to follow the play's chronology rather than consider each psychological point separately with its attendant data and out of its context in the drama's framework. Textual quotations will be rather complete since they represent the data upon which the conclusions rest.


The Oedipus complex has received only passing attention in relation to Desdemona (Fliess, 1957; Dickes, 1965). Yet Shakespeare presents its elements almost immediately. Iago has expressed his feelings concerning Cassio and his appointment. He and Roderigo then go to awaken Brabantio.

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