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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: July ::
Re: What Emilia Knew
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0495.  Monday, 1 July 1996.

(1)     From:   Susan Mather <
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        Date:   Sunday, 30 Jun 1996 01:12:22 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0477  What Emilia Knew

(2)     From:   Adrian Kiernander <
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        Date:   Sunday, 30 Jun 1996 16:21:27 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0489  Re: What Emilia Knew

(3)     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Sunday, 30 Jun 1996 21:46:10 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0489 Re: What Emilia Knew


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan Mather <
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Date:           Sunday, 30 Jun 1996 01:12:22 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 7.0477  What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0477  What Emilia Knew

I have found this latest topic on Emilia interesting for I don't think there is
enough study done on the "minor" characters.  I quote minor only because there
does not seem to be any character that should be overlooked in Shakespeare's
dramas.  I am getting the sense that Emilia is both friend and foe...that while
she is close to Desdemona, she nevertheless harbors envy in her heart at the
same time for Othello & Desdemona have a relationship that perhaps she had once
known with Iago.  Maybe I see this because I've been watching too much Days of
Our Lives & Another World instead of doing my homework...hmmmm, could be, but,
just a thought.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Adrian Kiernander <
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Date:           Sunday, 30 Jun 1996 16:21:27 +1000 (EST)
Subject: 7.0489  Re: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0489  Re: What Emilia Knew

A recent collection of postings on the question of what Emilia knew seem to me
to provide an unusually neat caution on the dangers of trying to make
definitive statements about characters from Shakespeare's or just about
anybody's playscripts outside the context of a given production.

Thomas E. Ruddick's opinion that

"Emilia's character does not possess high ethics, if her declarations to
Desdemona during the unpinning scene are any indications.  Emilia would not use
her husband so by this holy light--but she might do it in the dark (chuckle).
Desdemona would not do such a thing for the world--but Emilia insists that the
world's a great price for a small vice.  These lines contrast Emilia's selfish
motives to Desdemona's pure ones, and they establish Emilia as concerned only
for herself."

may provide a recognisable description of some Emilias but certainly not of
others that I've seen. In any case it requires a selective deafness to Emilia's
follow-up, "Ud's pity, who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a
monarch? I should venture purgatory for't." Is "selfish" the only way to play
these lines?

Tunis Romein then quotes

>Othello:        You have seen nothing then?
>Emilia:         Nor ever heard, nor ever did suspect.
>Othello:        Yes, you have seen Cassio and she together.
>Emilia:         But then I saw no harm,and then I heard
>                Each syllable that breath made up between them.

as evidence that Emilia must realise that Othello suspects Cassio. Yes and no.
It might equally well be argued, on the basis of Othello's reaction in
performance to this interchange, (which in any case goes on for much longer
than this quote, and gives Emilia the chance to defend Desdemona's relationship
with Cassio in great and convincing detail) that Emilia thinks that Cassio has
been proven innocent and is now no longer a suspect. Romein's various responses
to the question ("How do we explain Emilia's behavior? Does she consciously
withhold this information out of some vicious antagonism toward Desdemona?  Do
we label her a passive-aggressive co-culprit?  Do we blame Shakespeare for
sloppy writing?") are all possible but not exhaustive, and different Othellos
and Emilias in different productions may well suggest a wide range of other
interpretative options. Or it may well not even be an important question at
all.

Finally, Dan Lowenstein's, "I wonder, though, if there is any way for a
director to communicate this understanding to a modern audience, which will not
understand the words "ta'en out" to mean "copied". Who is to say what a modern
audience (which consists of a wide range of different people) will understand?
(Having played Cassio myself, and worked as assistant director, in a production
many years ago, I remember that the New Penguin Edition which we used then has
a note on this line saying that "ta'en out" means "copied", and I would
understand it in this sense. Dan Lowenstein's reading about removing
identifying marks would never even have occurred to me--though after this it
probably will the next time I see the play.) Some members of a modern audience
will be familiar with the fairly standard reading of "ta'en out" as "copied".
Others won't. In some productions it will be such a minor point as not to be
worth worrying about, but if an actor or director wants to make a big deal of
it and can find a way of doing so, then they'll surely go for it. I'd agree
that it might make a difference for the actor playing Emilia if s/he thinks
that Emilia is just borrowing the handkerchief, but the point could pass more
or less unnoticed in performance with not much damage being done, and the
director can spend valuable time and energy on questions which will have a
greater effect on the audience.

Adrian Kiernander

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Sunday, 30 Jun 1996 21:46:10 -0400
Subject: 7.0489 Re: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0489 Re: What Emilia Knew

Several of us have commented on the seeming contradictions in Emilia's
character as being the result of Shakespeare's sloppy writing.  In our company,
we have always referred to the "Shakespearean flaw," that stunning
contradiction which a close study of the text will reveal in every single one
of his plays.  Our solution to all of the flaws is to shrug our shoulders,
smile indulgently, and get on with the business of turning the script into a
play, secure in the knowledge that the audience will never notice it.  I've
never had an actor unable to deal with the fact that there are apparent
inconsistencies; most of them just play each scene "at the moment," if that
makes any sense, and the text just sweeps us and the audience along.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company
 

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