If Wives Do Fall – Recent Perspectives of Emilia’s Speech in Othello

If Wives Do Fall – Recent Perspectives of Emilia’s Speech in Othello

The character of Emilia is often overlooked in Shakespeare’s Othello, and it is easy to see why. The issues of racism and domestic violence dominate the action, leaving the wife of scheming Iago and attendant to Desdemona to fall into the shadows.

That is, until her speech in Desdemona’s bedchamber. This intimate, female space is characterised by the action of Emilia ‘unpinning’ Desdemona, as their husbands leave for a walk. At this point, Emilia adds her own opinions on marriage and fidelity which are surprisingly cynical and insightful. At this point, I began to see her as a character in her own right, with an original perspective to add to the play’s drama.

After reading about the textual history of this play, I found that this specific speech was not present in the First Folio collection in 1623, which was the first full collection of Shakespeare’s works published after his death. However, it was included in the longer Second Quarto edition of Othello, published in 1630.[1] This simple addition gives Emilia’s character a much more defined role, and has had an impact on recent feminist interpretations of Shakespeare.

I always find listening to Shakespeare a lot easier, and luckily this speech was chosen by the Guardian as a part of their ‘Shakespeare Solo’ series. (This clip is only a minute long, but Eileen Atkins really brings the speech to life.)

What I love about this adaptation is the way Atkins pauses after each question, which really gives the message a chance to sink in. Also, the glass of wine adds to the image of a wise, long-suffering wife who is sick of her husband’s bullshit.

I’ll also include a typed version of the speech from the Oxford Shakespeare edition of the play, as the poetic language is really beautiful.

Emilia: Yes, a dozen – and as many to th’ vantage,                                                                   As would store the world they played for.                                                              80
But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,                                             85
Or scant our former having in despite-
Why, we have galls; and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know,
Their wives have sense like them; they see, and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour                                                  90
As husbands have. What is it that they do,
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is. And doth affection breed it?
I think it doth. Is’t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: And have not we affections,                                                               95
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.[1]

[1] Michael Neill ed. Othello, (Oxford World Classics: Oxford, 2006), Act IV, Scene 3,79-98) p.181.

 

Glow Up!

Glow Up!

Scrolling through Instagram it’s easy to get lost in a world of fantasy – did that person always look like that? How do they have such sculpted eyebrows? Sometimes I find myself asking whether they have had plastic surgery or if they are just really that good at makeup. For those leading the way like KimK and other ‘flawless’ celebrities the answer is easy: they are the rich elite and they have teams of makeup artists, stylists and PR people guiding their every move. But what about when lowly Youtubers are able to master the art of the contour and pass it on to thousands of viewers?

I’ve never been good at makeup. Growing up, there was no one to teach me and I always felt it was not ‘for’ me. I went to an all-girls school and there was always a lot of pressure to look good. In a way, I think this put me off experimenting with makeup. I felt that if it wasn’t perfect, then there was no point in trying. I have a vague memory of being harassed on the bus just because I didn’t pluck my eyebrows?? But then when someone I knew plucked hers she got teased because she plucked them wrong? I can barely remember now, but it was nasty.

I feel like the makeup industry is mainly built on insecurities like these. There are countless products advertising ‘perfect brows’ and other solutions to problems that ‘every woman has’. This often leads to bigger profits for the makeup companies, as an article for Jezebel talks about.[1] As well as this, a lot of companies are still testing on animals, and even the ones that don’t, belong to parent companies that do.

If I lighten up for a minute though, makeup can be so fun! Experimenting with new looks can help people of all genders express themselves better, and the internet is a great source of tutorials. Especially for this generation, makeup is accessible for so many more people now. So if you wear makeup or not, do it with pride. I’ve always thought that shaming people for wearing too much makeup is no better than shaming people for not wearing any. Having experienced a lot of both of these, I’m ready to just not care anymore. What are other people’s experiences with makeup? Has anyone else ever been told that they’d ‘look sooo much better without all the slap on?’

(featured pic is a time I tried hard on my eye makeup)

[1] http://jezebel.com/beauty-companies-love-to-empower-women-over-and-over-1530920736

A xxx

 

Stop Policing Our Language

Women’s language has always been a subject for debate. It’s easy to dismiss criticisms that come from old white men but what happens when women are correcting other women’s speech?

I went to an amazing talk the other day by Debbie Cameron called ‘The Problem With Women’s Language.’ Refreshingly, the focus on the talk was not telling women how to change their speech, but asking why they should have to?

The examples Cameron focussed on were instances where women are seen as either less assertive or less intelligent than men, through their word choice. She used the example of the ‘Not Sorry’ app for emails which replaces ‘weak’ and ‘ineffectual’ language such as ‘sorry’, ‘can I just…’ and ‘I’m no expert’ with more assertive and ‘masculine’ phrases. Intended to help women, and actually developed by a woman, this app seems to be well intentioned. The problem is that the edited emails came accross as rude and antisocial. Sometimes replacing words just didn’t work gramatically, and the tone was changed dramatically.

The problem goes deeper than this though, and becomes a problem for women rather than with women. Why is the solution to make apparently femisised traits more masculine? Is it always appropriate to be more assertive? And are women even more demographically responsible for these speech trends than men? Cameron has done extensive lingustic research which can be found in her book  The Myth of Mars and Venus.

One of the most striking parts of this talk was when she mentioned the prejudice against ‘uptalk’ and ‘vocal fry’ in women’s speech. This is when the pitch goes up at the end of a sentence? Like you’re asking a question but not? Thought to be a characteristic of ‘valley girl’ speech, Cameron’s research found that men were just as guilty of this as women are.

So is it, like, even fair that we’re telling young women how to speak? Why are polite emails and different inflexations seen as feminine? And most importantly, why is it wrong to be feminine? Young women were also found to be the innovators of new language trends. I’m no expert, but I think we should just leave young women alone and let language evolve.

Alice xxx