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Emilia, A Heroine of Shakespeare’s Othello

Emilia, A Heroine of Shakespeare’s Othello

Shakespeare, in his tragedy Othello, presents a minor character who does great things in the final act. Her character is deserving of analysis.

Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the motivation of Emilia through most of the play:

Emilia’s character, too, is determined by the plot. In the source, the villain’s wife is privy to the nefarious designs. Shakespeare wisely makes her, like the other characters, ignorant of Iago’s character. She knows that she has lost his love, and her unhappy marriage drives her to cynicism about sex; but she tries to win back her husband’s affections by carrying out his wishes, even when this involves betrayal of the mistress she loves. (41)

A.C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, defines the character of the ancient’s wife:

Few of Shakespeare’s minor characters are more distinct than Emilia, and towards few do our feelings change so much within the course of the play. Till close to the end she frequently sets one’s tooth on edge; and at the end one is ready to worship her. She nowhere shows any sign of having a bad heart; but she is common, sometimes vulgar, in minor matters far from scrupulous, blunt in perception and feeling, and quite destitute of imagination. She let Iago take the handkerchief though she knew how much its loss would distress Desdemona; and she said nothing about it though she saw that Othello was jealous. (222)

Emilia is not mentioned in the play until the initial furor of the first two scenes subsides. Brabantio’s rage, among other reasons, necessitate that Desdemona live with Iago and Emilia during the Moor’s campaign in Cyprus against…

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…g murder: “And your reports have set the murder on.” Emilia is aware that she is violating social convention here: “’Tis proper I obey him, but not now.” This violation costs her dearly. Emilia’s stunning interrogation and conviction of her own husband as the evil mastermind behind the murder results in Iago’s killing her. She becomes a martyr for the cause of truth and justice. Quite suddenly she is transformed into a heroine of the play!


Bayley, John. Shakespeare and Tragedy. Boston: Routledge

Ambiguity, Inconsistency and Uncertainty in Othello

Ambiguity, Inconsistency and Uncertainty in Othello

The Bard of Avon has in his tragedy Othello a true masterpiece, but not one without flaws. It contains blemishes, imperfections, and minor negative features which detract in lesser ways from the overall evaluation of the play.

H. S. Wilson in his book of literary criticism, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, addresses the arbitrariness and inconsistency in the play:

Though the action moves in a single line, with none of the intricate interweaving of parallels displayed in Hamlet, the emotional pattern has, as it were, two poles of concentration: mounting horror at the insatiable malice of Iago, pity for the suffering helplessness of his victims. These effects are securely attained at the expense of a good deal of arbitrariness in the manipulation of the plat and even inconsistency of character [. . .] . (54)

Let’s consider some of the “coincidences” or “accidents” in Othello which cause us to question its motivation and unity. For example, when in Scene 2 Cassio’s contingent arrives from the duke just moments before the rowdy mob led by Brabantio and Roderigo. Indeed there is more conflict and more interested generated by this coincidence – but is it realistic? Or seemingly arbitrary on the part of the playwright?

Another coincidence that is more vital to the drama is the dropping of the decorated handkerchief at just the right moment in the plot for it to be crucial to the plot:

DESDEMONA. Let me but bind it hard, within this hour

It will be well.

OTHELLO. Your napkin is too little; [He pushes the handkerchief from him, and it falls unnoticed]

Let it alone. Come, I’ll go in with you. (3.3)

For the most key piece of evidence to b…

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…ast to illuminate some of the parts and at most to contribute to the understanding of the sum of the parts. If Othello is not the most complex of the tragedies, the problem of its over-all form is still a large one, and he who aspires to a full account of the creative relationship of all the parts must be content if he seems generally to be moving in the right direction. (329)


Heilman, Robert B. “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello.” Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Rev. Ed. Rpt. from The Sewanee Review, LXIV, 1 (Winter 1956), 1-4, 8-10; and Arizona Quarterly (Spring 1956), pp.5-16.

Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.

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