The Significance of Emilia in Othello
In Shakespeare’s “Othello”, Emilia is considered one of the minor characters. She is the wife of Iago and the lady in waiting to Desdemona. Emilia makes a crucial contribution to the play as a whole. She contributes to the characterization of a couple of key characters and adds to the dramatic irony of the play. She plays an essential role in the escalation of the dramatic action. She also adds to some of the themes of the play. Emilia contributes to the characterization of both Iago and Desdemona.
Emilia enters the play in Act II, Scene i when she and the party arrive in Cyprus. Iago speaks to her rudely and treats her disparagingly in front of the others; “Come on, come on! You are pictures out of door, Bells in your parlors, wildcats in your kitchens, Saints in your injuries…” (II. i. 108-110). This reveals to the audience Iago’s true nature in his marital relationship and his low opinion of women.
Throughout the play Desdemona’s innocence and guilessness is contrasted with Emilia’s realistic and experienced perspective.
This is particularly evident in Act IV, Scene iii when Desdemona says to Emilia that she cannot believe that there are women who would be unfaithful to their husbands; “ Dost thou in conscience think, tell me, Emilia, That there be women do abuse their husbands In such gross kind? ” (VI. iii. 63-65). Emilia describes the nature of men and marriage in a matter fact way and goes on to say that she herself would commit adultery should the price be right. Emilia contributes to the dramatic irony in the play.
In Act IV, scene ii there are two occasions where Emilia curses the person that has tricked Othello into believing Desdemona has been unfaithful. Unbeknownst to Emilia, it is her husband that is to blame but the audience is aware and therefore it is ironic that she should say to Othello; “ If any wretch have put this in your head, Let heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse,” (IV. ii. 15-16). It is even more ironic that the second time she refers to the person that has deceived Othello she is speaking to Iago; “ I will be hanged if some eternal villain, some busy and insinuating rogue…”(IV. i. 129-1310).
These two instances when Emilia calls out the evil doer (not realizing she is actually referring to her husband) also builds on the dramatic tension that is ultimately released when Emilia tells the truth and exposes her husband in Act 5, scene ii. Emilia contributes greatly to the dramatic action of the play. In the rising action she unwittingly gives her husband the very object that will seal Desdemona’s fate. The handkerchief she hands to Iago becomes the material evidence that convinces Othello of Desdemona’s guilt.
There are a couple of opportunities where Emilia is in a position to alter the tragic outcome. In Act III, scene iv Desdemona asks Emilia if she know where she lost her handkerchief. Emilia states, “ I know not, madam. ” (III. iv. 23). Again, later in the scene Emilia misses another opportunity to foil Iago’s plan. Emilia sees how upset Othello gets about Desdemona not being able to produce the handkerchief yet she does not come forth. Instead, she blames it on men and marriage; “ Tis not a year or two shows us a man.
They are all but stomachs, and we all but food…” (III. iv. 103-104). She does not see the connection between the jealous husband and the handkerchief. This dramatic device of having the character being naive to information about which the audience is aware builds tension. The audience knows of Iago’s plan to use the handkerchief but Emilia is ignorant of this. If she simply reported what happened with the handkerchief the set up could be avoided. One of the main themes in Othello is jealousy.
Emilia contributes to this theme in several instances. One of these instances is in Act I, scene iii Iago reveals in his soliloquy that another motivation for hating the Moor is that he believes Othello may have bedded Emilia; “ I hate the Moor, And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets H’as done my office…” (I. iii. 377-379). Iago then proceeds to provoke Othello’s jealousy. Another contribution to the jealousy theme is in Act III, scene iv Desdemona states she has never given cause for Othello to be jealous.
Emilia speaks to jealousy and describes it as a monster; “ They are not ever jealous for the cause, But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster Begot upon itself, born on itself. ” (III. iv. 159-161). This also supports the imagery created in Act II, scene iii when Iago is warning Othello the dangers of jealousy; “ O’ beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock…” (III. iii. 166-167). Emilia plays a significant role in Othello and serves many dramatic purposes. These range from characterization, plot development, dramatic irony and theme and imagery development.
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