Emilia, A Heroine of Shakespeare's Othello

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Emilia, A Heroine of Shakespeare's Othello

Shakespeare, in his tragedy Othello, presents a minor character who does great things in the final act. Her character is deserving of analysis.

Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the motivation of Emilia through most of the play:

Emilia’s character, too, is determined by the plot. In the source, the villain’s wife is privy to the nefarious designs. Shakespeare wisely makes her, like the other characters, ignorant of Iago’s character. She knows that she has lost his love, and her unhappy marriage drives her to cynicism about sex; but she tries to win back her husband’s affections by carrying out his wishes, even when this involves betrayal of the mistress she loves. (41)

A.C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, defines the character of the ancient’s wife:

Few of Shakespeare’s minor characters are more distinct than Emilia, and towards few do our feelings change so much within the course of the play. Till close to the end she frequently sets one’s tooth on edge; and at the end one is ready to worship her. She nowhere shows any sign of having a bad heart; but she is common, sometimes vulgar, in minor matters far from scrupulous, blunt in perception and feeling, and quite destitute of imagination. She let Iago take the handkerchief though she knew how much its loss would distress Desdemona; and she said nothing about it though she saw that Othello was jealous. (222)

Emilia is not mentioned in the play until the initial furor of the first two scenes subsides. Brabantio’s rage, among other reasons, necessitate that Desdemona live with Iago and Emilia during the Moor’s campaign in Cyprus against...

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...g murder: “And your reports have set the murder on.” Emilia is aware that she is violating social convention here: “’Tis proper I obey him, but not now.” This violation costs her dearly. Emilia’s stunning interrogation and conviction of her own husband as the evil mastermind behind the murder results in Iago’s killing her. She becomes a martyr for the cause of truth and justice. Quite suddenly she is transformed into a heroine of the play!


Bayley, John. Shakespeare and Tragedy. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1981.

Bradley, A. C.. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Muir, Kenneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.
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