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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Re: What Emilia Knew
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0489.  Friday, 28 June 1996.

(1)     From:   Thomas E. Ruddick <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Jun 96 13:35:32 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 7.0484  Re: What Emilia Knew

(2)     From:   Tunis Romein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Jun 1996 14:40:50 -0400
        Subj:   Something Else Emilia Knew

(3)     From:   Daniel Lowenstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Jun 1996 12:14:43 PST
        Subj:   Emilia

(4)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 Jun 1996 07:12:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0484  Re: What Emilia Knew


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas E. Ruddick <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Jun 96 13:35:32 EST
Subject: 7.0484  Re: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        RE: SHK 7.0484  Re: What Emilia Knew

Briefly: 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.  Her death line "as I speak true" reveals still a
selfish motive--though she speaks truth primarily from horror at Iago's
deceptions and from loyalty to her late lady, she still hopes that having
spoken truth at the end will yield her a heavenly reward.

Thomas E. Ruddick

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tunis Romein <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Jun 1996 14:40:50 -0400
Subject:        Something Else Emilia Knew

Besides remaining silent about what had happened to Desdemona's handkerchief,
Emilia seems to suppress another important fact: the identity of the person
Othello suspects of being Desdemona's lover.

After Othello calls Desdemona a whore (IV, ii), she, Emilia, and Iago speculate
about Othello's abusive behavior.  At one point, Emilia says,

        Why should he call her whore?  Who keeps her company?
        What place?  What time? What form? What likelihood?
        The Moor's abused by some most villainous knave,
        Some base notorious knave, some survey fellow.

Her remark about the  "villainous knave," evidently speculative, makes Iago
nervous ("Speak within door. . . . You are a fool. Go to.").

But she should not have had to speculate about the identity of Desdemona's
putative lover.  Othello has already told her that he suspects Cassio. This
exchange occurs at the beginning of the same scene:

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.

So Emilia knows about the handkerchief and about Othello's suspicion of Cassio.
But when these facts surface at the end of the play, she seems shocked and
surprised by both.  When she hears that Othello suspected Cassio of being his
wife's lover, she says, "She false with Cassio? Did you say with Cassio?"

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?

Here's another question: Why, after the murder, does Emilia refer to
Desdemona's marriage to Othello as a "bargain," albeit "her most filthy
bargain?"

Tunis Romein
Charleston, SC  USA

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Lowenstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Jun 1996 12:14:43 PST
Subject:        Emilia

Horton's evidence from his own linguistic experience and Goldberg's textual
arguments make a good case that Emilia intends to copy the handkerchief and
give Desdemona back the original.  Thanks to both of them for helping me see
the scene and Emilia's character in a different light.

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."  Emilia could try to conceal the handkerchief from Iago
before he takes it, but my guess is that that would be more confusing than
enlightening to an audience.

Either way, I don't know if there is a difference of opinion between Goldberg
and me over whether Emilia understands "the significance" of the handkerchief
prior to the final scene.  She presumably does understand its "significance" as
a cause of a very bitter matrimonial brawl, which she presumably believes is
based on an irrationally strong attachment on Othello's part to the gift he had
made to Desdemona.  I think it is entirely understandable and in character that
Emilia would remain silent, given that understanding, for the reasons I gave in
my original message and that someone else improved on yesterday.  But she does
not understand the "significance" of the handkerchief as part of a plot by her
husband to deceive Othello into jealousy until the final scene, at which point
she discloses the handkerchief's role in the plot but not her own culpability.

                                Best,
                                Dan Lowenstein

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 28 Jun 1996 07:12:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 7.0484  Re: What Emilia Knew
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0484  Re: What Emilia Knew

In my post of yesterday I neglected to point out the similarities between the
culpable role of the Princess of Eboli in the strangling of Elizabeth Valois
and the more ambiguous role of Emilia in the strangling of Desdemona. The
aspersions cast on Emilia's fidelity by Iago may be a hint also that this is
so, since the character of Emilia as portrayed by Shakespeare is that of a
kindly woman, faithful both to husband and to mistress. The Princess of Eboli
was Philip's (Othello's) mistress although she was married to another (Iago).

Thanks to G. L. Horton for the memory of her grandmother. For me this clinches
the meaning of "take out", which is that it refers to copying the design, not
to erasing it.

Just to touch once again on my point of yesterday; whenever we see a character
onstage who seems to have no real business being there, we can't help but
think, "rewrite?" As everyone knows who has rewritten earlier work, altering
the nature of a character or the sequence of events in a finished work can
cause a ripple of required changes throughout the whole work. By having Emilia
merely borrow the handkerchief rather than steal it and perhaps suggest the
ruse to Iago, the author has removed her from the villain list, but was either
unable to resolve the issues raised by Goldberg (why does she appear so stupid
about the handkerchief later) or ignored them since she was not important
enough as a character. (Or some stage direction or explanatory exchange didn't
survive the process of editing and publishing.) Though a masterful builder of
plot and character, Shakespeare's plays frequently demonstrate such
ambiguities, evidence to me of probable rewriting.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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