I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of my duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband,
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord. (I.iii.179–188)
These words, which Desdemona speaks
to her father before the Venetian senate, are her first of the play.
Her speech shows her thoughtfulness, as she does not insist on her
loyalty to Othello at the expense of respect for her father, but
rather acknowledges that her duty is “divided.” Because Desdemona
is brave enough to stand up to her father and even partially rejects
him in public, these words also establish for the audience her courage
and her strength of conviction. Later, this same ability to separate
different degrees and kinds of affection will make Desdemona seek,
without hesitation, to help Cassio, thereby fueling Othello’s jealousy.
Again and again, Desdemona speaks clearly and truthfully, but, tragically,
Othello is poisoned by Iago’s constant manipulation of language
and emotions and is therefore blind to Desdemona’s honesty.