In the BBC version of Othello Desdemona is portrayed as the strong, ahead of her time woman that we are introduced to in the play at the beginning. This interpretation seems to fit with the plot of the play as the events which have unfolded all stem from Desdemona agreeing to marry Othello, an action which may have been against the norm in that period of time. So as the audience we have seen Desdemona so far as a strong, own minded character and not one that worries about her position in society as a women.
Although traditionally she would have done as her father told and therefore married who her father chose, she goes against this idea in marrying Othello, so we see right from the beginning hat she is not concerned with her place as a woman, she will be out spoken if he wishes. As a high class woman she puts on a brave face in public, so not to allow anyone to think that she and Othello were unhappy. Her facial expressions in public are often a smile and very gentle looking, where as when she is with Emilia it is almost as if she shows no emotion, there is a very distinct lack of feeling between the two characters.
She appears also to be very calm throughout this whole scene, which suggests she is unaware of what maybe is going to happen to her. Her tone of voice is almost a drone; she shows no emotion through her voice, unlike the NUNN version. The lighting in this version is also very dark and dismal, with the only light being a candle, which is symbolic of heaven. This is similar to the opera version, Otello, where there is a whole scene of Desdemona praying to Mary, the mother of all grievances.
The image of Desdemona praying to God shows her purity and makes us hate Othelo even more, as the image makes the audience feel this sense of foreboding which makes the tension even more. But what is different about he opera is that Othello’s religion is shown there as well, as being a perfectly valid religion alongside Desdemona’s religion. The opera version was able to do this because of the time it was written; different religious were more widely accepted.
I would have had Desdemona slightly more aware of what is going to happen to her in this scene, as she is a bright women and I don’t think she would be as nai?? ve as she is in this version. I would also have her listening to Othello more as a traditional wife would, because she would want to save her marriage as it would have been very embarrassing to have had to return to her father because her marriage didn’t work when she fought so hard to marry Othelo in the first place.
A further version of Emilia can be found in the Miller version which has both similarities and disparities with the previously mentioned interpretations. In this particular film adaptation Emilia is depicted as increasingly somber, with distinct contrast with the casual, jocular version displayed at times within the Nunn version. The Shakespearean, foreboding speech on husbands by Emilia, a direct parallel towards Iago’s earlier oration on women (albeit in more melancholy surroundings later in the play) could be seen as displaying Emilia as the perfect companion of the abhorrent figure of Iago.
In this particular adaptation Desdemona appears less affectionate towards Emilia and even appears perturbed when Emilia persists with her negative appellations towards Othello. This contrasts with the Otello operatic version. In the Ave Maria- the equivalent of the haunting and evocative Willow Song (Zeffirelli said the song “delayed the action drastically”)- Emilia is depicted as a far more subsidiary figure, whom admittedly Desdemona holds an affinity with but who lacks her substantial role Shakespeare develops.
Furthermore Emilia’s peremptory speech on husbands is cut from the opera. One reason could be the change in contexts since the Jacobean era- at the time the marriage comments would have had a far greater effect- whilst another view is that such ideas, discussed in the presence of Zeffirelli’s cherubic Desdemona would have contradicted the carefully established ideas of Desdemona as a scrupulous follower of Victorian values. Miller presents Emilia as fairly subservient who is ambivalent and convoluted in nature, significantly like her dogmatic husband.
Emilia, through her belligerent nature towards Othello and her admittance of prospective infidelity- an issue the irascible Iago approached early in the play- ” he’s done my service”-, provides the perfect contrast to Desdemona in this scene. Preceding the catastrophe of the tragedy genre within which, inevitability due to Shakespeare’s repeated use of foreboding and prefiguring language- “if I do die”, Desdemona will lose her life, Shakespeare can unquestionably augment the pathos of the scene by using the immoralities of Emilia as a contrast to Desdemona.
In this sense Emilia provides a pragmatic and fundamental role in allowing the audience to ascertain the true horror that is being depicted before them- essentially it is a surreptitious but erudite skill displayed by the playwright. Michael Bryson presents a differing interpretation however where he considers the palpable similarities between Desdemona and Emilia. The cuckold, a frequent point of discourse between the pair, shows how both have been branded with the condemnation ” whore” but Bryson then unsettles this dynamic of similarity by identifying how Emilia resides as a figure of isolation in the play.
She is the only character to challenge the “misogynistic discourse”, otherwise the male-dominated society- significant contextually- is the predominant factor in condemning the females of the play with crudely sexual appellations. Emilia is the only senior character in the play to question this dogma and this only exacerbates the contrast which Miller draws upon between her and the seemingly naive and innocent Desdemona.
This impression of Desdemona can be challenged with one viewpoint being that Desdemona is an ostentatious figure who, by disbanding from the patriarchal society of Elizabethan times, provides a didactic element to the play, acting as a warning to other potential questioners of the male ubiquity. Interpretations can be drawn regarding all of the characters in the play but Emilia and Desdemona provide a particularly interesting couple.
Both can be envisioned as innocent, manipulated figures who are victims in the tragedy, whilst others will interpret the pair as worthy victims, adding to the didactic and cathartic nature of the play. Film directors have their efforts to show their side, using act 4 scene III as a chance to build the emotions of the play before unleashing on the dramatically aware audience the full force of the catastrophic end of the play. The relationship between the pair is significant in many ways at greatly developing the eventual effect of the murders upon the audience, be they Elizabethan or those of the twenty-first century.
The ‘Willow-scene’ in Othello is possibly one of the only times in the play we see and learn enough about the character Emilia to make an informed judgement on her. Zoe Wanamaker’s portrayal of Emilia shows her as a strong woman and a real friend of Desdemona’s. The genuine worry that Emilia feels for Desdemona is shown, such as when Desdemona informs Emilia that Othello ordered that she should be dismissed and Emilia seems very suspicious and it is obvious she doesn’t want to leave Desdemona alone with Othello.
Emilia seems to be the stronger more independent character in this scene in contrast to the more fragile and almost childlike portrayal of Desdemona we see in this interpretation of the text. She shows her anger at Othello when saying “I would you had never seen him”, her tone of voice is full of anger and genuine hatred for the man. This is also a commendation to her loyalty and friendship to Desdemona as she cannot stand any man that has hurt her friend like that; she dislikes him so much that she will overlook the joy Othello has also given Desdemona.
The imagery used in this scene is key to the portrayal of Emilia as the strong woman and Desdemona as the vulnerable child almost. When Emilia and Desdemona are talking later on in the scene about husbands and faithfulness to them, Emilia is sitting higher up with Desdemona gazing up at her. This subtle composition of the scene firmly places Emilia as the rational thinking adult which is there to support Desdemona through the days.
In this part of the scene Emilia also has her speech about husbands, in this speech she sounds genuinely angry and the tone of voice she is using suggests that she is it almost trying to empower women everywhere. The speech itself is about women’s equality, “Let husbands know Their wives have sense like them: they see, and smell”, so it is only fitting that it is said in a strong, forceful manner- it is Emilia showing she is the powerful woman she is making a speech about.
This strong portrayal of Emilia is a complete contrast to the opera of Othello where Emilia takes little to no part at all in the scene and it is all about Desdemona. At least in the Nunn production, Emilia gets a fair chance of letting her character shine through and it is clear that without her there as the dominating force then Desdemona would not have coped well at all with the notion that perhaps she is going to die. I thought which crosses both characters minds as the genuine heartfelt goodbye embrace near the end of the scene shows us.