What Is The Significance Of The Willow Song In Othello?

Updated 30 September, 2023
The Willow’s song is sung by Desdemona in in Act 4, lamenting a lady's broken love. The song was originally about a man who died from the cruelty of love, and Shakespeare made the victim a suitable woman for Desdemona. This song is important as it uses an authoritative voice to emphasize her innocence and being a victim of a male dominated society.
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The willow song is first introduced to the audience in Act 4 Scene 3. Desdemona’s mother had a maid who died singing the willow song, the words of the song reference accusations of unfaithfulness reminding us of the predicament that haunts Desdemona and her husband Othello. As well as forewarning the audience of the tragedy to come the willow song allows Desdemona and Emilia a way to openly express their sorrows.
Desdemona is sent to bed by Othello and is ordered to “dismiss your attendant there”€ referring to Emilia, Desdemona obeys to Othello’s request and is still naive to the person he’s become or the person he will become. After Othello sends her to bed, Desdemona sings the Willow’s song, a song that tells the sorrow of a woman who loves her husband so much that she accepts and allows his hatred of her, and even asks others to forgive him for his hostile treatment of her which is mirrored by Desdemona and her love for Othello. Despite Desdemona repeatedly insisting that Othello is a better man than to feel jealousy, her subconscious seems to know otherwise and sings the song, Desdemona resonates completely with the woman in the song. While singing the ballad, Desdemona is startled by a knocking at the door which signifies an omen for her death and that it will soon be coming through that door as the form of Othello.
Later, in Act 5 scene 2 we see Emilia also dies while singing the song, this acts as a cyclical structure and it shows how death comes to those who sing the song, and the song signifies tragedy. Emilia died protecting her lady and defending her name against her husband.
The willow song is a symbol of the death of the innocent. Due to the views in the Jacobean society that women were without power and were not strong enough to go against their husbands the women could not be held accountable for any responsibilities. The women only did as they were ordered which can be seen throughout the play must is frequently seen in the beginning, and for this reason the women are innocent in this scene, they sing the willow song at the signs of their sorrow and their nearing death, Desdemona believes that Othello no longer loves her and weeps at the idea she has not been a good enough wife for him even though he had done nothing wrong.

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