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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Re: What Emilia Knew
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0484.  Thursday, 27 June 1996.

(1)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 10:13:35 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew

(2)     From:   G.L.Horton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 12:00:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew

(3)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 18:24 ET
        Subj:   SHK 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew

(4)     From:   Jacob Goldberg <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 22:07:37 -0400
        Subj:   What Emilia Knew


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 10:13:35 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew

The ambiguities surrounding Emilia's behavior are among the many things that
lead me to think that the plays as we have them from the FF are the result of
at least one, perhaps several revisions over possibly a fairly long period of
time. Emilia may have been far more culpable in an earlier version; as the
author, mellowed with experience, turned what was originally a far more
bloodthirsty and politically topical plot into a more tragic and general
commentary on the evils of envy and jealousy. The strong similarity of the plot
of Othello to the potent continental rumor that Philip II strangled his young
wife Elizabeth Valois out of jealousy for her relationship with his son, Don
Carlos, to whom she had been engaged before Philip decided he wanted her for
himself, makes an interesting argument for an anti-Spanish propaganda origin
for the first version, sometime in the early 80's.

An important figure in this scenario was the Princess of Eboli, Philips quondam
mistress, whom he eventually had to shut up, literally, by confining her to her
bedroom for the last decade of her life. The princess was supposed to have
aroused Philip's paranoid jealousy (a trait he was famous for) by a similar
ruse involving a handkerchief, which led to the young queen's death at the
hands of her husband. Although modern historians go to lengths to debunk this
rumor, claiming that there is plenty of evidence that Don Carlos was a cretin,
so no one could have taken seriously the possibility that Elizabeth desired
him, even a paranoid like Philip, the point isn't whether or not the rumor was
true or not, but that it was popular, certainly popular enough that audiences
of the 80's would realize immediately who was being portrayed as the Moor. (To
the English, all Spaniards were "Moors", due to their long occupation of
southern Spain.)  Though no one could have cared whether it was historically
true or not, this version of the death of the Spanish queen was still
compelling enough in the nineteenth century that Verdi used it for his still
popular opera Don Carlo.

Stephanie Hughes

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           G.L.Horton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 12:00:25 -0400
Subject: 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew

>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.

My grandmother used a sharp tool and a kind of wax-based washable ink to
transfer a design from an embroidered handkerchief or towel to the unadorned
ones she planned to make to match.  She called this "pricking out" or "taking
out" the design.

By copying the design -- or rather, having it done by a professional-- if she
tried to do it herself she might be discovered at the task--Emilia hopes to
placate both masters: Desdemona can keep her token and Emilia can give it away.

G.L.Horton
Newton, MA, USA

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www.tiac.net/users/ghorton

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 18:24 ET
Subject: Re: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        SHK 7.0478  Re: What Emilia Knew

Here's a question provoked by the Emilia postings of the last couple of days:
do we here E's reiterated "My husband" (I leave off the final punctuation
intentionally) as signalling astonished discovery, agonized recognition of
things suspected but not admitted, or a movement from one to the other? Reports
of relevant stage experience welcome.

Dave Evett

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacob Goldberg <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jun 1996 22:07:37 -0400
Subject:        What Emilia Knew

Interestingly enough, in my more or less negative view of Emilia, I had never
considered, as Dan Lowenstein and Linda Vecchi do, that she had stolen the
handkerchief.  No, she picked it up when Desdemona dropped it, and pretty
obviously intended to return it - after she made a copy of it for Iago.

As to whether Emilia wanted only to copy the handkerchief or "to take the
identifying marks out", as Dan Lowenstein understands the line "I'll have the
work ta'en out/And give it to Iago", I can hardly think that this is what
Shakespeare wanted the hearer to think.  Compare Emilia's line to what Cassio
says to Bianca, in 3:4: (handing her Desdemona's handkerchief)

                Sweet Bianca/Take me this work out .........
                I like the work well; ere it be demanded,-
                As like enough it will,- I'd have it copied;
                Take it and do it;........

It hardly seems likely that Shakespeare wanted Emilia to think of herself as a
thief and, worse still, wanted to cover up or destroy the evidence of the
theft. As she dies, she cries "So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true".

No, Emilia wanted to copy that handkerchief, and when that was impossible,
tried to banish from her mind the consequence, and the potential consequence,
of what she had done.  Not that she should have anticipated the murder of
Desdemona, but it would not have required a great deal of imagination to
visualize this marriage being destroyed, perhaps violently, because of that
handkerchief.

Is it possible that Shakespeare erred in building up Emilia's character?  What
purpose in the play is served by having her present in 3:4?  She takes no part
in the dialogue between Othello and Desdemona, and when she talks to Desdemona
alone, she seems unaware that the subject of that dialogue was the handkerchief
- that same handkerchief of which she should be acutely aware.

Dan Lowenstein thinks that Emilia becomes aware of the significance of the
handkerchief for the first time, after the murder.  I have a problem with that.
In 3/3, she acknowledges the great sentimental value it has to Desdemona, and
in 3/4, Shakespeare makes her sit through the "mad scene" in which she can
hardly avoid becoming aware of the great significance of that handkerchief to
Othello.

Jacob Goldberg
 

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