Help for idea on a thesis for an essay contrasting Emilia and Desdemona?
I can't think of a third prong. This is my thesis so far:
Shakespeare places these two contrasting women to demonstrate how Desdemona is submissive and naïve which shows that she accepts her gender role, while Emilia is rebellious and independent which shows how she resists her expected gender role, and _____________________________.
Shakespeare uses Emilia and Desdemona to show two different levels of femininity. You could go one of two ways with this.
You could look at the difference between the voice of the experienced wife-Emilia- and the voice of the inexperienced wife- Desdemona. Look at the conversation the two women have in Act IV, Scene III about when or if they would cheat on their husbands. Their attitudes toward their husbands also reflect the length of their marriages. Emilia is far more aware of the complexity of her husband's character. Desdemona fails to see "who" Othello is.
You could also choose to take another route here. You could look at them as depicting two of Shakespeare's three levels of femininity. Desdemona is the highest, a woman of class, privilege and education. The flaws in her character and the problems she experiences are directly related to her place in society. Emilia is the second level, a woman with a "real life" education, a job, respectability but no "class" or "station". She behaves as one would expect a woman of her station to behave. She is realistic and independent, etc. (Bianca represents the third by the way).
The fact that Emilia is older than Desdemona also means that she has greater knowledge and experience about the world and the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of men. She has been married for a reasonable time and would understand much better than the inexperienced and naive Desdemona what to expect of them.
This much is clear when she shares, with Desdemona, her sentiments about men's attitudes to women in Act lll, scene lV, after Othello had been rude to his wife:
'Tis not a year or two shows us a man:
They are all but stomachs, and we all but food;
To eat us hungerly, and when they are full,
They belch us.
She makes it brutally obvious that men see women only as a means to satisfy their hunger (lust) and once they have had their fill, want to get rid of them. She also shares her thoughts about jealousy when Desdemona mentions that she had never given Othello cause to be jealous, a further indication of her experience and understanding:
But jealous souls will not be answer'd so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous: 'tis a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself.
In the end, though, it is tragic that Emilia's dishonest act of stealing Desdemona's handkerchief and giving it to Iago becomes a nail in Desdemona's coffin. All Emilia's wisdom and knowledge could not, in the end, save her mistress from the consequences of her husband's evil and Othello's jealousy.