‘In texts fathers rarely know their own daughters best. They see them as possessing an innocence and naivety that is not the reality. ’
In the light of this view, discuss how Shakespeare presents Brabantio and Desdemona’s relationship in the first two scenes of the play.
In Act 1 of Othello, the relationship between Brabantio and Desdemona is one that is typical of most of Shakespeare’s plays, one of control and power by the father over the daughter, which reflects the patriarchal society of the time in which the play is set and which Shakespeare experienced during his life. The result of the power dynamic of the patriarchal relationship is that Brabantio believes Desdemona to possess an innocence and naivety that she does not have, as he fundamentally believes women are inferior to men and misguided in their beliefs and desires. This leads to their fragmented relationship when Desdemona disobeys him and undermined the patriarchal dynamic of their relationship.
At the beginning of Act 1, Scene 2, after hearing of Desdemona’s elopement with Othello, Brabantio accuses Othello with the statement: “O thou thief! Where hast thou stow’d my daughter”. The use of the possessive pronoun “my” alongside the noun “thief” highlights that Brabantio views Desdemona as an object he is in ownership of, further proved by the verb “stow’d” which implies robbery. His anxiety over the loss of his daughter also demonstrates that his daughter is a highly valued property of his, implying a higher level of control over her. This is presented in Act 1 when he miserably states: “And what’s to come of my despised time”. This shows it is an embarrassment for Brabantio to lose such a valued thing as his daughter, and also that it is a blow to his pride to not keep a woman under control when they were seen contemporarily as inferior to men in intelligence and spirit. As Desdemona has subverted these weaker ideas of femininity, she has proved to her father that she has autonomy over her body and actions, which disproves Brabantio’s idea of her as innocent and naïve, demonstrated in the wholly positive and demeaning adjectives Brabantio uses such as “fair”, “tender” and “happy” which patronise her. Structurally, this control is exemplified in the opening main discussion between all male characters being based around Desdemona’s choice to elope with Othello, without any dialogue from her until the end of the Act.
Brabantio and Desdemona’s relationship further exemplifies wrongful ideas of Desdemona’s innocence and naivety when he doesn’t accept her sexuality and desires. This is shown in the text when Brabantio cannot accept that Desdemona wanted to elope with Othello by her own wishes “that thou hast practis’d on her with foul charms”. He cannot fathom that Desdemona could make any choices for herself and accuses Othello of preying on her “delicate youth”. This phrase highlights the common belief of Jacobean society of feminine weakness, and also suggests t...