Throughout the play Desdemona becomes much weaker. When we were first introduced to her she was prepared to fight to be with Othello, she defied her father’s wishes and even as late as their arrival in Cyprus she was strong and independent enough to argue playfully with Iago. This transformation is mirrored in my recreative; between verses of the willow song Desdemona becomes increasingly weak. The poor soul sat singing by a sycamore tree
From the start of the play various characters used food based imagery for describing Desdemona and her relationship with Othello; in Act 1 scene 3 Othello tells the court that “She’d come again, and with a greedy ear/ devour up my discourse. ” And Iago later tells Roderigo that she will become “sated with his body”. Although this seems to be quite a raw and animalistic theme for the innocent Desdemona, in the case of my recreative “a piercing hunger” could simply be interpreted as an expression; or viewed as Iago would have meant it, which shows her to be a strong character at this point.
There are of course dark undertones of murder. The fresh streams ran by her and murmured her moans; The verse beginning “The fresh streams ran” includes a reference to tears; therefore has a close link to water. For that reason I brought in a comparison of the isolated island of Cyprus, surrounded by water, and the city of Venice; where Othello and Desdemona’s relationship was stable, and water was intertwined with the city rather than a boundary. Some critics interpret the physical settings of Venice and Cyprus as having immediate effects on the marriage; as if the isolation is the final straw that ruins the marriage.
It is in this verse that the first and most caesuras are present; a typical sign that the speaker is losing their confidence and sense of direction. This would support the idea that Cyprus was a key factor to the failure of the relationship, as if thinking about Cyprus was too much to bear, and that a she starts to break up as the play (and song) continue. Sing all a green willow must be my garland. In the play, this verse it cut short (marked by the caesura) by Desdemona’s regret of speaking the line that she’s added herself. It is clear that she didn’t mean to put it there, but this has to show a lack of control.
The use of “lord” could refer to God or Othello, and shows how she puts him on a pedestal despite how horrible he is to her. I called my love false love, but what said he then? The choice of words in the final section was very important. By choosing the ambiguous word “lie” I can cover so many of the issues and actions leading to Desdemona’s murder. In the dialogue earlier in the song Desdemona asks Emilia to lie with her, perhaps for security as although she’s not distraught, she would still need comfort when she knows she’s soon to be murdered by her husband.
Lying down could also be linked to the suspected adultery between her and Cassio, although this is much less likely than any other explanation, as by this point she’s become very weak, and lying down would be more of a reference to rest and reassurance than sex. In this case, she’s asking Othello to lie with her; even though she knows he’ll kill her, she still shows her undying love, which has been apparent throughout the play. By drawing attention to the wedding sheets, she could be showing him that she knows what his intentions are, but she could also be trying to restore the stability they had when they got married in Venice.
More subtly this could reference the lies she told for Othello’s sake, about the handkerchief and her final line before death, when she lies and says (messily) that she was her own murderer, to save Othello. This would supposedly send her to Hell. It also links smoothly to the final line of the song; If I court moe women, you’ll couch with moe men. In this context, to couch means to lie down for concealment; to hide; to be concealed; to be included or be involved darkly, which is certainly what Othello seems to be doing.