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Emilia: Wise Mentor and Cheating Wife

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by Ava Lubetkin

Judgements are made based on different people’s perspectives. Different people have different ideas about what kind of people are good or evil, mean or nice, wise or stupid. Throughout Shakespeare’s play, Othello, Emilia plays the role of a wise mentor to Desdemona. Emilia is the wife of Iago and the maid of Desdemona. She is portrayed as a very strong, wise woman, who is not afraid to degrade men as men degrade women. Many characters in the play think that she is simply the cheating wife of Iago. I think that Emilia thinks that she is worth more than the way she is treated. Through Othello, different characters make different judgements about Emilia; Iago thinks she is property to be owned, Desdemona thinks of her as a wise mentor, and she thinks of herself as a strong woman.

Emilia first appears in Act II Scene I, and dies in Act V Scene II. The first time the readers see Emilia, Cassio kisses her. This is followed by Iago insulting and embarrassing Emilia by saying that she talks too much for any man to want here, “In faith, too much; / I find it still, when I have list to sleep: / Marry, before your ladyship, I grant, / She puts her tongue a little in her heart, / And chides with thinking”(II. i.). Iago feels he can talk to her this way because he views her as his property. Emilia doesn’t like Iago and she doesn’t respect him because he makes her feel so bad about herself; this is why she cheats on him. Emilia thinks that Desdemona is an innocent naive girl who doesn’t understand what is happening in her marriage. Emilia’s biggest role in the play is being a mentor to Desdemona. Desdemona is Othello’s wife, and after Othello accuses her of cheating on him, she goes to Emilia for wisdom. Desdemona thinks of Emilia as an experienced woman whom she can go to for advice. I think that this is because throughout the entire play, the audience never sees a mother figure of Desdemona. Desdemona asks Emilia if women cheat on their husbands, and Emilia says yes. However, she also says that if a woman cheats on her husband, her husband only has himself to blame. “In troth, I think I should; and undo’t when I had / done. Marry, I would not do such a thing for a / joint-ring, nor for measures of lawn, nor for / gowns, petticoats, nor caps, nor any petty / exhibition; but for the whole world,–why, who would / not make her husband a cuckold to make him a / monarch? I should venture purgatory for’t” (IV. iii.). In this play, Emilia is a representation of feminism. Throughout the story, the audience sees men treating women as property and prizes, so when Emilia gives her speech ot Emilia, it shocks the audience. Emilia’s other big part in the play is her role in Iago’s plan. She is definitely at least partly to blame for Desdemona’s death. If Emilia had told the truth about the handkerchief earlier, Othello would have figured out that Iago was playing him and he never would have killed Desdemona because he would know that she was being faithful to him. I think that Emilia is conflicted about how she feels about herself. She thinks that woman like herself should be treated with more respect. However, I think that she has trouble respecting herself when she is surrounded by men who constantly disrespect her and degrade her. At the end of her speech to Desdemona she says “Then let them use us well: else let them know, / The ills we do, their ills instruct us so” (IV. iii.). This shows that she blames men for the wrongs that women do to their husbands.

Throughout Othello, Emilia plays a big role in the life of the other characters. To Desdemona, Emilia is a wise, experienced mentor, but to her husband, Iago, and many of the other men, she is thought of to be a cheater that isn’t worth anything.



  1. katierikson says:

    Good analysis


  2. lindsaywolf21 says:

    I like how you somewhat compared Emilia’s spirit to one of a man because of her lack of fear to call men out.


  3. isabelgardner says:

    Your essay was really good! It might be possible to break up that extremely long middle paragraph a couple times though, for organizational purposes.


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