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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Watercolors of Shakespearean Characters 
~ Bastards, Frauds & Tellers of the Truth  ~


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EMILIA in OTHELLO
by Hannah Tompkins
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Emilia Watercolor by Hannah Tompkins

 

Emilia is a polar opposite to her diabolical husband, Iago. She exercises her high moral qualities in the service of Desdemona. As an emblem of truth, it is consistent that Othello orders her out when he hurls false accusations at Desdemona which stun her into a state of shock. Emilia offers comfort and support, rounded out by an acid tongue-lashing in the presence of her husband, Iago:
"The Moor's abused by some most villainous knave, Some base, notorious knave, some scurvy fellow.
O heaven, that such companions thou'ldst unfold, And put in every honest hand a whip
To lash the rascals naked through the world
Even from the east to the west!"      (Act IV sc.ii)
It is with the same clear-sightedness that she berates the fickleness of husbands and the dishonesty of their double standards, declaring that fidelity and equality are the true bases for good human relationships.

After Othello has strangled Desdemona, Emilia bursts in on the scene:
Othello: "You heard her say herself, it was not I."
Emilia: "She said so: I must needs report the truth."
Othello: "She's like a liar gone to burning hell: 'Twas
              I that killed her."
The ferocity and passion of Emilia's verbal assault incites Othello to draw his sword on her. She challenges:
"Do thy worst: Thou hast not half that power to do me harm
As I have to be hurt. O gull, O dolt!
I care not for your sword; I'll make thee known."     (Act V sc.ii)
Her call for help rallies the nobles, including Iago whom she accuses before them all:
"You told a lie, an odious damned lie;
Upon my soul, a lie, a wicked lie!"
Iago tries to silence her with threats but she proclaims in defiance:
"I am bound to speak.
'Twill out, 'twill out,
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all
All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak."
Despite Iago's violence and protests, she exposes the incriminating evidence of the handkerchief, against him. In his trapped futility, and desperation, he stabs her.

Her dying words are:
"So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true;
So speaking as I think, I die, I die."
It is the supreme sacrifice to die a martyr to the cause of truth, but Emilia was one of the rare breed.


Copyright © 1982 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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