Compare and contrast Desdemona and Emilia.

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Joaquin Bednar eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Desdemona is introduced as a strong character who goes after what she wants. She has eloped with Othello, going against social norms and her father's wishes. She articulates her love for Othello in front of the Duke, as well as expresses that she wishes to follow her new husband to Cyprus.

That I did love the Moor to live with him,
My downright violence and storm of fortunes
May trumpet to the world: my heart's subdued
Even to the very quality of my lord:
I saw Othello's visage in his mind,
And to his honor and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.
So that, dear lords, if I be left behind,
A moth of peace, and he go to the war,
The rites for which I love him are bereft me,
And I a heavy interim shall support
By his dear absence. Let me go with him.

Desdemona is loyal to Othello. She has a high view of him.

my noble Moor
Is true of mind and made of no such baseness
As jealous creatures are, it were enough
To put him to ill thinking.

Even after he slaps her and argues with her, she still stays loyal and does not leave him. Her loyalty and love to him lead to her downfall—if she had not followed him to Cypress, she would not have gotten tangled in Iago's plot.

Similarly, we can say Emilia's desire to please her husband leads to her downfall. Emilia is more experienced, and therefore more bitter than Desdemona. She does not share Desdemona's dreamy, romantic views. Desdemona doesn't understand how wives could cheat on their husbands, while Emilia suggests it is the husband's fault.

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...

However, she still aims to please Iago.

I nothing but to please his fantasy.

She gives him Desdemona's handkerchief, hoping he will show her some affection. Emilia does not tell Desdemona, letting Desdemona search and despair over the lost handkerchief. This lie adds to the problem, like how Desdemona's lie to Othello about the handkerchief makes him more suspicious.

Emilia tells all at the end, turning against her husband. But it is too late. She shows how strong she is, but her earlier loyalty has still hurt her.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Desdemona and Emilia share several commonalities. Both end up in abusive marriages. Both are killed by their husbands. And neither one suspects (Emilia, at least, not until too late) what Iago is up to.

Both women also show themselves to be strong characters: Desdemona reveals this when she follows her heart and bucks social expectation by marrying an older black men she has fallen in love with. Emilia shows her mettle when she tells the truth at the end of the play about Iago, revealing his duplicity.

Desdemona, however, is far less cynical than Emilia, who is older and more experienced in the world. Desdemona maintains a sweetness and purity throughout the play, even as her husband is killing her. Emilia, on the other hand, delivers what is almost a jaded feminist manifesto when she argues that men, because of their own infidelities, are to blame if their wives cheat, stating that "The ills we do, their ills instruct us so." It is hard to imagine the virtuous Desdemona justifying female infidelity on the basis of men being unfaithful. She would be more likely to demand fidelity across the board: in fact, she wonders to Emilia if women can be unfaithful.

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Julie Feng eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The contrast between Desdemona and Emilia is an interesting one. Desdemona is the paragon of womanly virtue; she is quiet, submissive, and innocent to the point of naïveté. Desdemona, even to the very end when her husband is literally murdering her, remains loyal and in love. Her optimism and unfailing trust in her marriage shows how pure yet ignorant she is. On the other hand, Emilia is extremely strong-willed and outspoken. She is cynical about human nature and love, often making practical and pessimistic remarks about infidelity in marriage. Desdemona is so innocent that she is hardly able to believe that infidelity could even happen, a lack of understanding that contributes to her tragic end. Emilia speaks uncommonly about men and women having the same amount of lust and weakness, as well as about her eye-for-and-eye viewpoint of unfaithfulness in marriage.

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