Othello


Emilia is a feisty harlot, while Desdemona is a passive victim. How fair description is this of Emilia and Desdemona.


This statement is harshly definitive of the two characters. It portrays stereotypical opposites: an outspoken whore and a timid virginal innocent figure. This is not, in my opinion a fair depiction of Emilia and Desdemona.


Firstly there are two conflicting sides of Desdemonas personality shown in ‘Othello’. Desdemona is not the stereotype subservient wife. At the beginning she is presented as “half the woo’er”; an active female who makes her own choices; in the first scenes we see her deceive and betray her father, in order to marry the man she wants; Othello. We do however see this confidence diminish as the play continues, and the innocent, passive victim character emerges. However in the final scenes; on her deathbed she is still very assertive, defending her innocence to the last minute, Othello in fact has to literally silence her. Desdemona has been abused by four different men; Brabantio for misjudging and rejecting her, Roderigo for seeking an adulterous affair, Iago uses and destroys her in his evil plan of revenge, and Othello dismisses her protestations of innocence and kills her. These are reasons the image of an innocent passive victim is created. Throughout the play this picture of an innocent victim is built up, and as the play nears the end this overrides the opposing side of Desdemona. Another aspect of her character remains constant in the play; Desdemona is idealistic. Against Emilia she is isolated in her romantic positive views of life and particularly relationships. In Act 4 Scene 2, she even convinces herself that it is her “wretched fortune”, not Othello that is causing her unhappiness. However she does realise, to her disappointment that “men are not gods”. This is highlighted in Act 5 Scene 1, where, for the first time we see female characters without the absence of a male figure, for any length of time. In a discussion about relationships, Desdemona exclaims her utter disbelief that anyone could commit adultery. This is poignant and ironic, because we know that she is about to be killed by Othello, for this sin. Here Desdemona appears extremely unworldly, naďve and romanticised in comparison with Emilia’s pragmatic, and almost cynical views.


Desdemona is presented as vulnerable in this scene, she makes foreboding premonitions, sings about symbols of betrayal; “willow”, and shows her utter loyalty and fidelity to Othello; “Wouldst thou do such a deed, for all the world?” Desdemona attempts to be assertive denying the accusations Othello confronts her with, however she is reduced to dumb misery as Othello dismisses her as the “cunning whore of Venice”, she is unable to defend herself anymore as she woefully replies; “nor answer have I none”. By her final moments of the play Desdemona is left pitifully begging for her life trying every option possible to stay alive a little longer; “banish me…Kill me tomorrow…half an hour…one prayer”! At this point in the play Desdemona perfectly fits the description of the ‘passive victim’.


I think the label of a ‘feisty whore’ is not entirely fair, and does not give justice to the real character of Emilia. We are introduced to Emilia as the wife of Iago, and from our first encounter in Act 2 Scene 1, we can see that she is not a submissive timid wife. Emilia is not scared to speak her mind, and therefore suits the ‘feisty’ part of her description, she replies sharply to Iago’s derision of women; “You shall not write my praise”. Throughout the play Emilia is badly treated by her husband; Iago, who shows no respect for her, constantly attacking her with crude insults, and suggesting that Emilia is a slut and a whore; “common thing…foolish wife”. Through dialogue we also see that Emilia is crude in her own language. However I do not think this is justifiable evidence to name her a ‘harlot’. Emilia is a loyal wife, despite Iago’s abuse, she always wants to please him, even willing to betray her beloved mistress by stealing the handkerchief Iago has been coveting for sometime. Despite Emilia’s apparent ‘feisty’ behaviour of confidently speaking out against even her own husband, we do see glimpses of a submissive nature, as