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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: November ::
Re: Desdemona and Emilia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2183  Sunday, 3 November 2002

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 12:30:59 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

[2]     From:   Hadd Judson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 12:31:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2174 Re: Desdemona

[3]     From:   Takashi Kozuka <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 21:03:35 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 16:52:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

[5]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 19:09:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

[6]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Friday, 01 Nov 2002 21:08:29 -0600
        Subj:   Emilia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 12:30:59 -0400
Subject: 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

Gareth M. Euridge suggests,

>Isn't Emilia, then, really a key to the whole play, writ small?  The
>elite need to believe that they are beloved by their servants (ever
>noticed the way in which our students all believe that they are loved by
>the kitchen staff?) because, otherwise, they might have to consider them
>as real human beings, might have to consider that there is a fundamental
>inequity in the social order.

This doesn't follow.  Only if one thinks that those people doing work
which has been traditionally undervalued are "real human beings" would
one care enough about what they think, to believe, or even wish to
believe, that they love you.  Few people invent fantasies about the
personal feelings and desires of their toaster or microwave, though
those things do provide services.

Moreover, the resentment of members of traditionally undervalued
occupations and positions in society is not a given.  It's not
inconceivable that the kitchen staff might actually like the students.

Finally, this approach to the play only seems to invert the assumption
of everyone being loyal and loving.  If Iago's resentment is considered
the most natural thing in the world, and shared (albeit secretly) by
just about everyone else, the play loses a good deal of its interest.

Yours in all obedience,
Sean Lawrence.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hadd Judson <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 12:31:47 -0500
Subject: 13.2174 Re: Desdemona
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2174 Re: Desdemona

Dear Frank Whigham,

I did not mean to be glib with my response to your statement(s).   Your
argument appears to be well thought out and concise...but I still feel
that we as contemporary peoples really can not appreciate what it was
like in other times.  Even if we have an account of that time period, >>
Keith Wrightson's discussion of family formation in English Society
1580-1680: 66-88, esp. 72-76 <<.  If you review historical documents
that are still is use today we find differences in meaning(s).  One
example is the use of freedom and democracy in the U.S. Constitution,
Bill Of Rights, as regarding slavery.

Desdemona was not from an average or middle class family so her view of
the world would be different from a surf or peasant.  The concept of
middle class or average family did not exist in the time period of
Othello.   Concepts of college and all that are basic middle class
values.

I am sorry to say that I have not kept up with the most recent research
in human values of that time period as I should be.

Again you arguments are excellent.

Sincerely,
Hadd Judson

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Takashi Kozuka <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 21:03:35 +0000 (GMT)
Subject:        Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

Gareth M. Euridge has suggested:

>Why not, then, start from the realistic assumption
>that Emilia hates
>Desdemona, though perhaps in an abstract rather than
>particular way, as
>representative of a ruling class which assumes her
>function in life is
>to serve.

Do we have any textual evidence to support this assumption? Or are you
suggesting that we should read the play on the basis of this assumption
(ie, the assumption should come before reading the play)?

Best wishes,
Takashi Kozuka

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 16:52:35 -0500
Subject: 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

I was so convinced by Gareth Euridge's class warfare justification for
Emilia's infidelity that I immediately fired my maid and frisked her on
the way out.  She was a bit disturbed, but I am sure she will come to
appreciate her new freedom and equality in due course.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Oct 2002 19:09:24 -0500
Subject: 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2172 Re: Emilia's Allegiance to Desdemona

Gareth M. Euridge <
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 > writes,

>I always find it strange that people assume that Emilia loves her
>mistress.  Why would this be the case, any more than the assumption that
>Iago loves Othello?  Is this not simply a comforting strategy deployed
>by the rich by which they can "personalize" a relationship with the
>"help,"...

In the first place, your observation of what Emilia actually does in the
play seems a little suspect.  But, more than that, your view of the
situation is false:  the gentlewoman to a woman of Desdemona's class
would be of at least yeoman rank, if not middle-class.  She ain't the
friggin' kitchen slavery.

As to the original question -- Emilia obeys her husband until she is
quite certain that he is involved in something she cannot stomach.
That's what a woman was supposed to do.  (At this time, a woman was
presumed innocent of any crime she performed in her husband's presence,
on the theory that he must have ordered her to do it. On the other hand,
a woman who murdered her husband was found guilty, not of murder, but of
"petit treason".)

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Friday, 01 Nov 2002 21:08:29 -0600
Subject:        Emilia

A propos 13.2172

I see Emilia as a functional character.  She has been married to Iago
for years and slept with him, eaten breakfast with him all this
time--yet she has no idea he is capable of the evil that he works in
this play.  If Emilia is taken in, the audience may find it credible
that Othello should be taken in by Iago.  And we MUST believe that
Othello is not a dunce.  Hence, enter Emilia.  She has more importance
than just this strategic planning on Shakespeare's part, but this is the
core of her role in the play.

Cheers,
John V.

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