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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Re: What Emilia Knew
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0478.  Wednesday, 26 June 1996.

(1)     From:   David Evett ,R0870%
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        Date:   Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 15:37 ET
        Subj:   SHK 7.0477  What Emilia Knew

(2)     From:   Daniel Lowenstein <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 13:51:12 PST
        Subj:   Emilia

(3)     From:   Linda Vecchi <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 16:37:57 -0230 (NDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0477 What Emilia Knew

(4)     From:   Richard W Bovard <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 12:27:02 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0477 What Emilia Knew

(5)     From:   Sydney Kasten <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 09:58:12 +0200 (IST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0477 What Emilia Knew


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett ,R0870%
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 15:37 ET
Subject: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        SHK 7.0477  What Emilia Knew

Jacob Goldberg's lively posting on Emilia's noteworthy failure, twice, to fess
up to her knowledge of the whereabouts of Othello's handkerchief, ends by
positing that her silence was, in the generalized modern sense, merely "dumb."
But there are alternatives--not, so to speak, in the text, but in the sub- or
infra- textual region where actors and other readers must go to look for
unacknowledged motives.  The most likely ground for her silence seems to me
terror of and for her husband: he directly orders her to keep mum, and in the
theater much might depend on his tone and gesture at that moment.  To this we
might add a subordinate's resentment of her superiors (has Iago's resentment of
Othello provoked a corresponding feeling toward Desdemona in his wife?), and/or
a malicious? naive? insensitive? curiosity about the outcome of this domestic
contretemps, authorized by her failure to understand the depth of either Iago's
villainy or Othello's rage.

Speculatively,
Dave Evett

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Lowenstein <
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 13:51:12 PST
Subject:        Emilia

I have always assumed that, as Jacob Goldberg argues, Emilia knows that the
handkerchief she has stolen and given to Iago is the one that Othello is upset
about.  This does not mean, however, that Emilia is complicit in Iago's plot
against Othello.  In the speech that Goldberg quotes from III, 3, she makes it
clear that she realizes Desdemona "so loves the token" and Othello "conjured
her she should ever keep it."  Naturally, then, she will not be surprised that
the loss of the handkerchief occasions a domestic row.  Even if the row in the
next scene seems more serious than she might have anticipated, she has no
reason to anticipate the tragic consequence. And for her to disclose what she
knows about the handkerchief would certainly have negative consequences for her
and for her husband. Why would Emilia, who is hardly a selfless person, do
that?

None of this suggests that Emilia knows WHY Iago wanted the handkerchief or
what he was planning to do with it.  When, after the murder, she becomes aware
for the first time of the significance of the handkerchief, she discloses the
information that is relevant to Othello and the others.  But she does not
gratuitously incriminate herself.  Thus, as Goldberg quotes, she says she found
it "by fortune."

On one small point I find Goldberg's reading surprising.  When Desdemona says
in III, 3, "I'll have the work ta'en out/And give it Iago," Goldberg reads "it"
to refer to "the work," not the handkerchief.  Thus, Goldberg says, Emilia does
NOT intend to give the handkerchief to Iago, but rather to give him a copy.  I
had never understood the line that way.  I thought she meant to take the
identifying marks out of the handkerchief, so that it could not be identified
as Desdemona's and therefore she (Emilia) could not be charged with its theft.
(Remember how Oliver Twist is put to work taking the identifying marks out of
the handkerchiefs stolen by Fagin's boys?)

                                Best,
                                Dan Lowenstein

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Linda Vecchi <
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 16:37:57 -0230 (NDT)
Subject: 7.0477 What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0477 What Emilia Knew

Jacob Goldberg's imagined answer by a sanctified?? Emilia, has (matters of
intentionality aside) fallen upon the reason for his confusion--Emilia is dumb,
ie, silent over the matter of "the napkin."  Emilia's silence may not be so
inexplicable in the context of wife-husband, servant-master/mistress relations
in Shakespeare's time.

As a servant in Othello's household, it would not be Emilia's place to speak up
(even in defence of her mistress).  After all, when she found the handkerchief,
she did not return it.  She "borrowed" it (hoping to satisfy her obedience to
her husband) keeping it over-night and copying the fine work.  In strict fact,
Emilia stole from her mistress.  Having witnessed the violent rage of her
master toward his wife, to whom Emilia believed he owed every devotion and deep
respect, how might he act toward herself? She being a mere servant, and a woman
whose virtue was not universally acknowledged by the household (remember Iago's
doubts about Emilia's "honesty) might be in danger of her life were she to
admit her role in the handkerchief's absence.

Then we have Emilia's duty to her husband.  Iago just finished instructing her
to look out for an opportunity to take the napkin.  A woman MUST obey her
husband, especially a husband as suspicious as Iago has proven himself to be.
Emilia had hoped to serve both he duties to Iago and Desdemona, but when Iago
found her with the desired object so suddently, she had no recourse but to
offer up her "gift" of obedience to him.

Perhaps I'm over justifying Emilia's actions; yet her social standing and
circumstances left her little room to correct matters herself.  For both
Desdemona and Emilia, their silences are as telling as what they speak.

Linda Vecchi
Memorial University of Newfoundland

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard W Bovard <
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 Jun 1996 12:27:02 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 7.0477 What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0477 What Emilia Knew

Emilia knows whose handkerchief she has from the moment she has it.  What she
does not know is her husband and, thus, the possible consequences of her
behavior.  One of the delights and terrors of the last scene is to watch Emilia
learn about her husband and her own responsibility: from "My husband?" to "I
know thou didst not [say Desdemona was false]; thou'rt not such a villain" to
"'Tis proper I obey him; but not now."  Of course, she tends to blame Othello
("thou dull Moor") and avoid her own guilt.  But I have seen an actress deliver
the "alas, I found it, / And I did give't my husband" lines with an awareness
of guilt.

And all to please that husband? "I nothing but to please his fantasy" (3.3).  A
discussion of gender roles follows, perhaps?

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sydney Kasten <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 09:58:12 +0200 (IST)
Subject: 7.0477 What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0477 What Emilia Knew

To what extent were Elizabethan wives expected to honour the marriage vows of
honour and obedience?  How seriously did Elizabethans take their vows in
general?  Could Emilia have said anything without subverting the primary
loyalty to her husband implied by the wedded state?  Has Jacob Goldberg picked
up the clue of an unnoticed human issue hidden in the text, a more insidious
form of wife-abuse, a subtle counterpoint of mind-control played against the
main theme of jealous rage: Desdemona's insistent but disobedient appeal to her
husbands's better nature played against Emilia's resigned but obedient
acknowledgment that her own husband had none.  Is it possible that the
Elizabethan ear was better tuned to pick up such subtleties than today's?
 

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