Shakespeare has written some pretty amazing women (and a few lack luster ones as well), and well I adore Tamora more then I can possibly say, there is no character I feel as deep of a connection with as Emilia. In fact, of all the characters, she is the one I want to play more then any other. We often see how secondary characters are the most interesting, and in her case it is so very true. We know very little about this character based on actual spoken content, however we can assume much by implied subtext.
We can assume that she was married young, as most women were at that day and in her speech in act four, it can be inferred that her marriage to Iago is not a sweet, loving relationship (especially in comparison to Othello and Desdemona’s at the start of the play).
“But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.
Emilia to me, is one of the most complex, and interesting characters in Othello, and perhaps in all of Shakespeare. Her speech alone, is one of the most amazingly insightful commentaries to the powerful woman, and I cannot imagine a production of Othello where this was taken out, which apparently was the case with the first production of the play. However without the speech, Emilia is incredibly passive and innocent. However, with the speech, we can see a completely different Emilia, we can say that Iago has cheated on Emilia (and she is VERY aware of that fact) and that he fears she has been unfaithful to him in her own form of revenge against Iago. We can also assume that Iago has hit Emilia, and if I had to hazard a guess, I would say it wasn’t the first time he had hit her in their years together.
Despite feeling bad for Emilia, however, I dare to say that Iago and Emilia could be considered a very good match for one another. They both have a deviousness within them, that despite their anger with one another, also makes them so similar, that they also have a certain amount of loyalty to their partner, why else would Emilia not tell Desdemona about the handkerchief?