Emilia—The Voice of Females

I like how in this play the feminine voice is actually given power. It comes at the end of Act 4, when Emilia and Desdemona are speaking with one another. Emilia stands up for the feminine, though Desdemona is still hesitant to take power into her own hands:

Desdemona: I have heard it said so. O, these men, these men! / Dost thou in conscience think—tell me, Emilia— / That there be women do abuse their husbands in such gross kind?

Emilia: There be some such, no question.

Desdemona: Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?

Emilia: Why, would not you?

Desdemona: No, by this heavenly light.

Emilia: Nor I neither, by this heavenly light. I might do’t as well i’th’ dark.

This discourse between Desdemona and Emilia was really interesting to me. They both take opposite standpoints in regard to the subject matter. That is, Emilia is an advocate for the sexual desires of females, and Desdemona is quick to say that women are at fault if they upset their husbands and that they make mistakes. In this exchange, Desdemona is seeking Emilia’s insight in order for her to understand her own situation clearly. Emilia does not seem to provide the comfort Desdemona is looking for; instead, Emilia says there is nothing wrong with cheating on a husband if the husband was not around. The last two lines are exceptionally funny. Desdemona is speaking from a place of moral righteousness—she does not want to do anything wrong in the name of heaven. However, Emilia’s response to Desdemona’s statement reveals the polysemic nature of Desdemona’s statement: Emilia claims she would “do’t as well i’th’ dark,” meaning she would cheat on her husband in the dark, not in the light. I thought that was really funny, and I like how Shakespeare includes a character in this play that is the voice through which female empowerment speaks. I feel like in the other plays we’ve read, the feminine characters didn’t really speak out that much. For example, we never really heard anything else from Hero after she marries Claudio.


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