Magic and Mistrust: Analysis of the Implied Role of Witchcraft in Othello

othello 1
Photo from Wikimedia

Similar to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the opening of Othello pits a disapproving parent against a couple so in love they must elope in secrecy. However, any similarities between Othello and a conventional comedy end there.

Best understood as the intimate portrait of a marriage wrecked by jealous insecurity, Othello resonates as a poignant tragedy illustrating how distrustfulness ultimately leads to self-destruction.  Throughout the story, Shakespeare plays with the audience’s expectations by employing ample foreshadowing to suggest the tragic fall of the titular character. One of the most important instances of this is the implied role of magic in the coercion of Desdemona to elope with “the Moor.”

After hearing his daughter has eloped with his comrade, Brabantio, in utter shock and disgust, issues the allegation that the Moor must have persuaded her to elope under the coercion of magic or spells. He claims his daughter has been stolen from him, abused, “and corrupted by spells and medicines bought of mountebanks; for nature so preposterously to err, being not deficient, blind or lame of sense, sans witchcraft could not” (1.3.62-66).

Brabantio’s insistence that his daughter would have never eloped with the Moor without being under the influence of some potent drug or other witchcraft implies the perceived unnaturalness of the love shared between Desdemona and Othello. By calling attention to the strangeness of the circumstances surrounding their elopement, Brabantio calls the readers/audience to question the nature of the lovers’ attraction. Drawing attention to the fact that Othello is much older than Desdemona and admittedly inexperienced with women, Shakespeare characterizes the two lover’s relationship as abrupt, impassioned, and ultimately implausible.

othello2
Photo from Scmoop

Furthermore, the allegations unleashed by Brabatio ultimately create a breeding ground for the mistrust and jealousy that ultimately destroy Othello and his marriage before the play’s end. By so strongly advocating that his daughter could not have sincerely and genuinely loved the Moor that she must be under the persuasion of a spell or drug, Brabantio insists that the Moor is unlovable and that the nature of the attraction he shares with Desdemona is fleeting.

Before the end of the third scene of the first act, Brabantio cautions Othello against Desdemona and her deceptiveness. He warns, “Look to her Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and may thee” (1.3.294-295). With these words, Brabantio insinuates that the nature of the relationship is false-rooted in deception, and incites an inkling of doubt in the mind of Othello. This will eventually make Othello easily susceptible to further suspicions, ultimately leading to his demise.

— Dominique Dusek, Assistant Marketing & Development Editor

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