Last Updated on September 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347
Emilia is Iago's wife. She travels to Cyprus with her husband and acts as a waiting woman to Desdemona. She gives Iago Desdemona's handkerchief, which he had asked her to steal. After Othello murders his wife, Emilia reveals Desdemona's fidelity and is mortally wounded by Iago for exposing the truth.
When Emilia and Iago arrive in Cyprus, we get some sense of the relationship between Emilia and her husband. Cassio greets Emilia with a kiss, and Iago says, "Sir, would she give you so much of her lips / As of her tongue she oft bestows on me, / You would have enough" (II.i. 100-102).
Emilia is a strong-willed woman who apparently will not suffer her husband to abuse her. She tries to please Iago by recovering for him the handkerchief dropped by Desdemona, unknowingly contributing to Desdemona's death. But when she understands what Iago has done and why he has so often asked her to steal that handkerchief, she exposes him and will not be silenced even when he commands her to "hold your peace" (V.ii.220). Emilia is the only character whom Iago cannot totally manipulate.
The play offers other evidence of Emilia's strong-willed and independent nature. After Othello has struck Desdemona and humiliated her in public, Emilia explains to Iago what has happened. She says that, undoubtedly, some knave has slandered Desdemona to make Othello jealous, an absurd accusation similar to Iago's own accusation that Emilia has been unfaithful with the Moor (IV.ii.145-147). Emilia later explains to Desdemona that some women do cheat on their husbands and are justified in doing so if their husbands have cheated on them. She is a woman who believes that men and women experience the same passions and desires. Near the end of the play, Emilia will not be silenced in her efforts to bring Desdemona's killers to justice. She even defies Othello in his efforts to physically intimidate her. She says, "I'll make thee known / Though I lost twenty lives" (V.ii.166-167). In the end, Iago can only silence Emilia by stabbing her to death.