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Getting to Know Emilia

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By Belle M.

Classic Shakespearian plays often portray women as needy, lustful, and clueless. However, in Shakespeare’s play Othello, women are illustrated differently; devoted and wise, chatty and passionate- these are words that describe the strong female lead of Emilia. Emilia is Desdemona’s maid and Iago’s wife. From her interactions with others, particularly Desdemona and Iago, we can see how Emilia is characterized: a faithful, wise, and loyal friend and wife.

Emilia is seen differently by each person with whom she has a relationship with. For example, we can see her husband Iago thinks she talks too much:

DESDEMONA:Alas, she has no speech.

IAGO: 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)

In this quote Iago explains that while his wife may seem quiet and polite in public, she speaks too loudly at home, especially when he is trying to go to bed. This conversation is one of many between the couple that depicts their abusive, unhealthy relationship. Yet, Desdemona often thinks Emilia shouldn’t listen to the cruel words of her husband: “O most lame and impotent conclusion! Do not learn/of him, Emilia, though he be thy husband.(II.i)” Shakespeare suggests that Desdemona finds Emilia to be wiser and more experienced than herself. This is seen in a famous conversation between the two in which their true feelings about men are revealed:

DESDEMONA: Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?

EMILIA: Why, would not you?

DESDEMONA: No, by this heavenly light!

EMILIA: Nor I neither by this heavenly light;/ I might do’t as well i’ the dark. (IV.iii)

In this conversation, the “deed” the women speak of is unfaithfulness to their husbands. Desdemona expresses her disbelief that Emilia could commit such a crime, but Emilia, who appears to have more knowledge of men and their similar intentions, says she could do such a thing. Ironically, both women are killed by their husbands at the end of the play; did Emilia love too little and Desdemona love too much?

We can also learn about Emilia’s character by what she thinks of others. From her interactions with both Iago and Desdemona, we can identify Emilia as loyal. At the end of the play, after it is revealed that Iago has deceived everyone, in Emilia’s last waking moments she says,  “ Ay, ay! O, lay me by my mistress’[Desdemona’s] side” (V.ii. 284), an ultimate act of loyalty to her mistress. Emilia’s companionship to Desdemona in this scene as well as throughout the whole play show her loyalty as a maid and more importantly a friend. Emilia is also loyal to her husband  in her efforts to retrieve Desdemona’s handkerchief which Iago so desperately begged for:

EMILIA: What handkerchief?/ Why, that the Moor first gave to Desdemona;/ That which so often you did bid me steal.

IAGO: Hast stol’n it from her?

EMILIA: No, ‘faith; she let it drop by negligence./ And, to the advantage, I, being/ here, took’t up./ Look, here it is.

IAGO: A good wench; give it me. (III.iii)

Even in this encounter we can see that Iago truly does not love and appreciate his wife and everything she does for him.  

It is often hard to find female figures depicted positively in Shakespeare’s plays. In Othello, the  two other main female figures are either characterized as prostitutes or hopelessly in love! However, the character of Emilia is both loyal and faithful; the need for a strong, independent women in this Shakespearean play is finally satisfied.




  1. barskbennett says:

    Great Job! You did a very good job using vocabulary. Keep up the good work!


  2. izzynelson says:

    I really liked the amount of evidence you used! It helps get your point across.


  3. carohanan says:

    Great job Belle! I love the way you analyzed the role of women in Shakspears’s play.


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