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Emilia: The Wise One

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By: Crafton Deal

Emilia is a strong willed, independent character that relates a really unique message in the story of Othello. She is a quintessential role for a powerful female character in Othello. Emilia’s maturness and wiseness provides a confidence for Desdemona throughout her struggles in the play, pertaining to the treatment of wives from their husbands.

We are first introduced to her in Act II, and our first impression is quite uncomfortable. It is an awkward and rude scene between her, Cassio, and Iago. When Cassio greets Emilia by kissing her hand, Iago makes a snarky remark. He stated, “Sir, would she give you so much of her lips/ As of her tongue she oft bestows on me/ You’d have enough” (II.i.100-102). As readers, we saw this as Iago insinuating that all Emilia does is yell at him. It was a complete put-down, and it made me feel sympathetic towards Emilia. Instead of taking it, she retaliates by saying “You have little cause to say so/ […] You shall not write my praise” (II.i.107,115). She is standing up for herself by saying that her husband has no reason to put her down, and calls him out by saying he has nothing good to say about her. It is admirable of Emilia’s character to be able to speak up for herself, especially as a woman in this time period. We as readers also see this scene as an indication of a strained relationship between her and her husband. Throughout the story, we see her and Iago’s tense relationship in several scenes. Her feeling towards Iago is negative (this is shown in the willow scene). Emilia feels very close to Desdemona, despite her action of keeping the handkerchief from her. Emilia treats Desdemona almost as a younger sister.  This sisterhood feeling towards Desdemona is exemplified when Othello asks Emilia about an affair between Desdemona and Cassio. In Act IV scene ii, Emilia stands up for Desdemona by telling Othello that Desdemona is not having an affair with Cassio.

The best and most famous of Emilia’s scenes would be the willow scene. In Act IV scene iii, Emilia and Desdemona are having a conversation in the bed chamber of Othello and Desdemona. The friendship between these characters is an almost sisterly love that generates a lot of discussion and ideas. In this scene, they are discussing whether or not women cheat on their husbands. She explains “Let husbands know/ Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell/ And have their palates both for sweet and sour…” (IV.iii.92-94). Emilia states a speech that basically explains how men need to understand women have the same feelings and passions as men do. She justifies the fact that women are equal to men. Men and women see and smell the same. This feminist ideology would have been so rare in Elizabethan times. Shakespeare’s Emilia was both revolutionary and original. People during this time period learned the same lesson that we can learn today: men and women are in fact equal. Readers have contemplated how Shakespeare created this character of Emilia to teach what was, at the time, a very unique lesson.  This exemplifies how creative and revolutionary Shakespeare was. Despite the put-downs and struggles Emilia goes through as a woman in the play, she still holds a determined and passionate stature. This passion and determination not only helps herself, but helps teach Desdemona important lessons.

Emilia’s importance to the story of Othello is so significant. Each reader can learn and take very important messages with them after getting to know Emilia. She is one of the most recognized characters throughout all of shakespeare’s work. Desdemona’s ability to confide in Emilia shows precious moments of sisterhood. As a whole, Emilia shared with the audience that men and women are equivalent with one another.


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