In Othello, how is the character Emilia shown to be naive?This is part of my research paper, and my whole topic is "How women are portrayed in Othello." Please make specific reference to the play....

In Othello, how is the character Emilia shown to be naive?

This is part of my research paper, and my whole topic is "How women are portrayed in Othello." Please make specific reference to the play.



Expert Answers
shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In order to understand whether Emilia's words/actions can be considered "naive," let's look at Emilia's words and actions in the play.  She first shows up in Cyprus with the rest of the party in Act II, scene i.  Cassio makes a great show of welcoming her, but Iago goes on and on about what a nag she is, talking at some length about how difficult she is to live with.  Her only responses are:

You ha' little cause to say so.


You shall not write my praise.

Iago responds quickly to the second with "No, let me not."  And these words introduce this husband and wife to the audience as nearly the Polar opposites of the loving couple that Desdemona and Othello appear to be.  They really seem to be that cliche husband and wife that have no real love for one another.  And yet, even though Emilia says little, she does not seem "naive" to Iago's slanderous talk, but rather to bear it with as few words as possible.

Now, it could be said that Emilia is naive when it comes to Iago's depth of treachery against Othello, involving Cassio.  As Desdemona assures Cassio that she will plead his case to Othello in Act III, scene iii, Emilia says:

Good madam do, I know it grieves my husband

As if the case were his.

This indicates that, even in the privacy of his own home, Iago is pretending in his feelings about Cassio and Othello.  But does Emilia's ignorance of Iago's true feelings here make her naive?  It is hard to say so, when all the other characters in the play are duped by Iago as well.  If she were the only one who could not see his true colors, this might lead one to consider her naive.

Probably the most discussed action of Emilia's, as it concerns her loyalty to right and wrong (and Desdemona), is what happens concerning the handkerchief.  She finds it after Desdemona drops it (Act III, scene iii), and, says, though she also acknowledges its importance to Desdemona:

My wayward husband hath a hundred times

Woo'd me to steal it.. . .I'll ha' the work ta'en out

And give't Iago.  What he'll do with it

Heaven knows, not I,

I nothing know, but for his fantasy.

So very curious that she would not have any suspicion about a "wayward husband" who has asked her "a hundred times" to "steal" her lady's handkerchief.  Now this is a moment in which Emilia exhibits what could be termed naivety.  She is either ignorant of or pretending not to be aware of the potential for evil behaviour within her husband.

When Iago enters just after Emilia has told this to the audience, she does seem to retract her desire to give it to him.  She says:

What will you do with it, that you have been

So earnest to have me filch it?. . .

If it be not for some purpose of import,

Give me't again, poor lady, she will run mad

When she shall lack it.

But he does not return it to her, and commands her to keep her mouth shut about it.  Which she does, until she, in Act V, understands the whole truth of what has happened and tells Othello (too late to save Desdemona) what her husband has done.

Emilia, upon a close reading of what she says and does, appears to be a contradiction in character -- at some moment strong and savvy about the nature of her husband, and at others, acting and speaking in ways that curiously seem to be a bit naive about his potential for destructive action.

For more on Emilia and the women in Othello, please follow the links below.