the question I will be working on is
to what extent does Shakespeare portray Desdemona as a character both pathetic and tragic at the beginning and end of the play respectively?
I understand what is meant by tragic.. and I think I partially understand what is meant by pathetic, but I need a really clear grounding or definition and I can't seem to find one unfortunately!
I think they mean pathetic in the sense of the word, someone who is a victim of their circumstances and who you pity. Possibly even someone you scorn because of their hopeless nature which is exacerbated by their situation.
At the end of Othello dear old Desdemona could be the spokesperson for that, she's pathetic because she begs for her life, because she makes her situation worse by being drippy and not stopping Othello's accusations. Her situation has made her pathetic; at the start she was strong, stood against her father but by the end she's changed completely. If she was only tragic she'd have accepted her situation, she doesn't, which makes her pathetic.
Tragic = situation she's in.
Pathetic = personality.
That's how I'd answer it anyway.