Something that I’ve noticed leading up to and through Act III is the imbalance in the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. On the surface, it is clear that Desdemona and Othello are in love. They speak of each other in flowery language in front of the other characters but there is hardly any instance (up to this point) where they are alone with each other where this fondness (especially on Othello’s part) is blatantly apparent.
For example, even when Othello returns safely to shore and Desdemona exclaims her affection towards him with, “The heavens forbid/But that our loves and comforts should increase,/Even as our days do grow” (2.1 lines 178-180) Othello cuts the conversation about his happiness to see love safe and sound short. He says, “I cannot speak enough of this content./It stops me here, it is too much of joy./And this, and this, the greatest discords be/ That e'er our hearts shall make!” (2.1 lines 181-184) Here it is not quite so clear that an imbalance exists in the relationship but it is the first hint that Othello does not know what to make of his emotions for Desdemona.
The first real conversation between Othello and Desdemona is initiated by Desdemona on Cassio’s behalf and at this point Iago has planted the seed of suspicion in Othello’s head. The conversation seems pretty curt on Othello’s part, he does not portray much interest in Desdemona’s desire for Othello to reconsider Cassio’s situation and ultimately begs her to, “leave me but a little to myself” (3.3 line 85). It is only after Desdemona leaves the scene that he revisits the part of himself that claims to love her when he calls her an “Excellent wretch!” (3.3 lines 90). In other words, he appears to be more in love with her when she is absent.
I took this to potentially mean that Othello, like many of Shakespeare’s male characters is in love with some idea of love. In this particular case, Othello is in love with some idea of Desdemona, not necessarily the Desdemona that presents herself to him. He is more in love with the idea that she has claimed herself to him but is only able to trust that claim when he does not see her interacting outside of the world the two lovers have created between themselves.
Perhaps the line that really strikes me as evidence for Othello’s love for Desdemona being merely a result of his own personal insecurities is, “But I do love thee, and when I love thee not,/Chaos come again” (3.3. lines 91-92). This illustrates that Othello feels as though the world would stop making sense to him if he were to stop loving her. Despite these lines being foreshadowing for what is to come in the later portions of the play, they also show how Othello is holding on to this innocent idea of his love with Desdemona to keep himself grounded in the universe. However, after his first dose of suspicion, he has completely changed the current of his feelings towards his maiden without much evidence to support his actions other than skewed sight and hearsay (from Iago). Is this an accurate representation of one’s deep-rooted love for another?