The character of Desdemona in Shakespeare's "Othello" is one of the most puzzling and challenging characters in the entire Shakespearean canon. This is so partly because of the curious dramatic fact that, unlike other Shakespearean heroes and heroines whose soliloquies give us entrance to many aspects of their personalities, Desdemona is "known" more by what others think about her than for what she says or does. For instance, her saintly virtue is referred to throughout the play (II.iii.23; III.i.34; IV.i.14 to cite but a few) by everyone except her father and Iago.
Brabantio is at first shocked by the fact that Othello has gotten involved with his daughter. He states: "Ay, to me/She is abused, stol'n from me, and corrupted/By spells and medicines bought of mountbanks;/For nature so prepost'rously to err,/Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense,/Sans witchcraft could not" (1.iii.59-64). Further, he insists that Othello used "foul charms" (I.ii.92) or "drugs or minerals" (I.ii.93) to win her over. He feels betrayed by the fact that she will leave him for Othello, and then finally warns Othello that she will betray him also (I.iii.293). It is quite possible that his anger and spite are based in nothing more than sadness at losing his daughter and an inevitable feeling of rejection. Yet, perhaps he truly feels that his daughter has been corrupted, and perhaps he is correct.
The risk of reading too much into Shakespeare's lines is perhaps suggested by one of his more famous quotes from The Merchant of Venice "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose" (I.iii.99). All too often, the critic can cite Shakespeare's own lines to prove that a character is everything from a demon to a saint.
This lack of clear character definition is established as a motif when Desdemona first appears in Act 1, Scene 3. The audience has already heard her described as a strumpet by Iago, a saint by Othello, a rebel or deluded girl by...