Emilia Speaks Her Mind: Othello, IV.iii, 82-99

Penny Gay


Othello is a play about a black man who marries a white woman, and then murders her out of unfounded jealousy. It is also the story of another dysfunctional marriage, that of Iago and Emilia—which also ends in the murder of the wife by her husband. And whereas Desdemona is a pathetic victim of circumstances, it is arguable that Emilia is the truly tragic female figure in this story: a more complex woman, whose death is brought about as much by her own inner conflicts of loyalty as by her psychopathic husband. Carol Thomas Neely suggested in 1985 that ‘Within Othello it is Emilia who most explicitly speaks to this theme [of marital love], recognizes this central conflict [between men and women], and inherits from the heroines of comedy the role of potential mediator of it.’ I will suggest in this commentary on Emilia’s speech ‘But I do think it is their husbands’ faults’ that her potentially comic role in the play fails because of an inability on the part of the onstage listener—Desdemona—to hear an argument that subverts the conventions by which she conducts her life.

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