Emilia Monologue (Act 4, Scene 3) | Shakespeare Monologues Unpacked
Emilia Othello

Emilia Monologue (Act 4, Scene 3)

Written by on | Monologues Unpacked

Othello is Shakespeare’s great psychological tragedy that examines jealousy, racism, betrayal and madness. Our tragic hero, Othello also known as the Moor, is a General in the Venetian army. He is tricked by the scheming Iago into believing his wife, Desdemona, is cheating on him. Jealousy and rage slowly eats away at Othello and he consequently kills his wife.

In this world of war, military and men are three female character. Desdemona; the innocent wife, Bianca; the courtesan and Emilia; Desdemona’s attendant and Iago’s wife.
Emilia is an interesting character. At the beginning of the play she seems either complicate or naive to her husband’s plot to ruin Othello. However, by the end of the play, she shows herself to be brave and heroic, an act that costs her her life.

What has just happened?

The scene in which this monologue appears is a touching and tender interaction between the two women, Desdemona and Emilia. Emilia is getting Desdemona ready for bed and the two are discussing whether they could ever cheat on their husbands. Emilia says she would, if she thought it would advance her husband’s status in the world. Desdemona, our ‘pure’ heroine is aghast and protests that she never could do such a thing. Emilia then delivers a beautiful and complex response, an insight to Shakespeare’s ability to deeply empathise with the female experience.

 

Thought Breakdown

Space = New beat/idea
, or ; = build on a thought

Emilia:
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.

Modern translation

Emilia:
But I think it is their husbands fault
If their wives do cheat of them: say they won’t have sex with us,
And sleep with other women,
Or they become jealous,
And try to stop us from going anywhere; or say they hit us,
Or limit our allowance out of spite;

Why, we have nerve, and though we can some virtue,
We are capable of revenge. Husbands should know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their enjoy both sweet and sour tastes,
As husbands have.

What are they doing
When they fool around with other women? Is it for fun?
I think it is: and does passion and desire cause it?
I think it does: is it weakness that leads them to offend?
It is: and don’t we have passions,
Desires for fun, and weakness, just like men have?
Then let them treat us badly: but let them know,
The bad things we do, their behaviour instructs us so.

Unfamiliar words

Wives do fall: Wives cheat
Slack their duties: Slack off their sexual duties
Treasures into foreign laps: Treasures is a euphemism for genitals/foreign laps are other women
Former having: Previous allowance
Galls: Bitterness of mind or nerve, boldness, cheek
Errs: Deviates; wanders or roams

Conclusion

Emilia isn’t a large role in Othello, but it’s pivotal and this monologue is a highlight of the play. It is rare to see a woman of that time speak so openly about sexual desire, needs and passion and Emilia’s argument is intelligent, strong and just. You could argue that she is simply advocating for equality.

It is important to remember when approaching this monologue what we know of Emilia’s life and marriage. She is wife to Iago, who is both manipulative and dismissive of her. She does love him and tries very hard to please him, for example; stealing Desdemona’s handkerchief. And although there is no evidence for it, Iago suggests Emilia has been unfaithful to him. Understanding what kind of marriage Emilia is in might help unlock the subtext behind her words.

About the Author

Jessica Tovey

Jessica Tovey is an Australian actor and writer, who has worked across film, theatre and television for over 15 years. Her film credits include Adoration (Adore), starring Robyn Wright and Naomi Watts, Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver and lead roles in the Australian features Lemon Tree Passage and Beast No More. She has over a decade of experience in television across all the major networks, with lead roles in; Home and Away, Wonderland, Bad Mothers and Underbelly. Jessica has also worked with Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre and two touring productions with Bell Shakespeare. Additionally, Jessica is a Voice Over artist, presenter and writer.

About the Author

Jessica Tovey

Jessica Tovey is an Australian actor and writer, who has worked across film, theatre and television for over 15 years. Her film credits include Adoration (Adore), starring Robyn Wright and Naomi Watts, Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver and lead roles in the Australian features Lemon Tree Passage and Beast No More. She has over a decade of experience in television across all the major networks, with lead roles in; Home and Away, Wonderland, Bad Mothers and Underbelly. Jessica has also worked with Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre and two touring productions with Bell Shakespeare. Additionally, Jessica is a Voice Over artist, presenter and writer.

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