What is the meaning of the following quote from Shakespeare's play Othello?"Tis not a year or two shows us a man. They are all but stomachs, and...

What is the meaning of the following quote from Shakespeare's play Othello?

"Tis not a year or two shows us a man. They are all but stomachs, and we all but food. They eat us hungrily, and when they are full they belch us."

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This quote is part of a conversation between Emilia and Desdemona. Desdemona is distraught that she has lost the handkerchief that will, with Emilia's unwitting participation, become Othello's evidence that Desdemona is unfaithful. Desdemona wonders why Othello is so angry about the handkerchief, and Emilia takes the opportunity to offer a commentary on men in general. Basically, she says that all men are the same, like stomachs. They eat up, or use women as they wish, and when they are finished, or "full," they get rid of them. ("Blech us" is a euphemism for vomiting, by which Emilia means men cast off women after they are tired of them.) The aside would have been a bit of black comedy, a moment relief from an otherwise very intense and tragic play.

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In this quote, Emilia tells us what she really thinks about men. The phrase "Tis not a year or two shows us a man" likely means that it can take more than a year or two for a wife to decipher her husband's true character or nature. Alternatively, another interpretation may be that it takes more than a year or two for a husband to become the kind of man a woman would be proud to be married to. Either way, Emilia is voicing a very negative opinion about men here.

She uses the stomach as a metaphor to illustrate her idea of men. This, of course, is not very complimentary at all. The implication is that men often exhibit inscrutable behaviors that seem very arbitrary to a woman. When they find reason to, they often "belch" (vomit) or expel women from their lives. In other words, men can't be trusted to be discerning or even rational. Emilia's words are actually full of foreboding here. Recall that previously, in Act III, Scene III, Othello's suspicions about Desdemona's supposed infidelity had already been summarily inflamed by Iago's wily suggestions.

Othello then becomes obsessed with Desdemona's handkerchief in Act III, Scene IV. This, of course, makes no sense to Desdemona. Poor Desdemona doesn't help her case much when she argues for Cassio's reinstatement as Othello's lieutenant. Meanwhile, Othello carries on about the history of Desdemona's handkerchief and how the handkerchief used to be his mother's. He tells Desdemona that the handkerchief had magical powers that assured his mother her husband's love as long as the handkerchief was in her possession.

Now that the handkerchief has been gifted to Desdemona, Othello asserts that she must never lose it, as "To lose ’t or give ’t away were such perdition / As nothing else could match." He further tells Desdemona that the handkerchief was made from "hallowed" (sacred) worms and that it was dyed in "mummy," or fluid from embalmed "maidens' hearts." Othello's words show that he's not dealing in the rational realm; his possessiveness is a visceral reaction to all of Iago's insinuations. In this light, Emilia's words are prophetic. Othello does later "belch" Desdemona from his life by smothering her to death.

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