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The Women's Voices in "Othello": Speech, Song, Silence Author(s): Eamon Grennan Reviewed work(s): Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 275-292 Published by: Folger Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2870503 . Accessed: 16/11/2011 20:05
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The Women's Voices in Othello: Speech, Song, Silence

"I am bound to speak." of pitch,range,and inIS A PLAY OF VOICES, a dazzling register tonation. Think,forexample,of the distanceOthello's voice mustcover betweentheOlympiancalm of "Keep up yourbright swords,forthedew will her?lie on her?We say of "Lie with rustthem" (I.ii.59) and thegutter frenzy her!['Zounds,]that's fulsome" lie on her,whenthey belieher.Lie with (IV.i.3537).1 Or considerIago's quicksilverfluency, everyvoice a lethal instrument or pornography.2 he pretends to its occasion, whether piety,bluff philosophy, foolish of Roderigo, accents Beside such extremes be heard the mournful, may the civil tones of the Venetiansenators,and the curiouslypliable speech of idealistto sexual cynic, can alterfrom Petrarchan Cassio, whomcircumstances of drafrommodestcourtier to drunken braggadocio.Given such richvariety it is reasonableto assume thatOthello is not only a play of matic utterance, of the body of speech itself, voices but also a play about voices, an anatomy withthetextshows in all its illocutionary Even a slightacquaintance variety.3 uncivilshoutsof Iago and Roderigo this indeed to be the case: the explicitly
1 All citations The Riverside are from Shakespeare,ed. G. BlakemoreEvans (Boston: Houghton fromthe Fl copy-text. or variants emendations Mifflin, indicating 1974), withsquare brackets 2 to Cassio (II.iii.323-35), to Roderigo(I.iii.319-32), to Othello See, forexample,his remarks (III.iii.396-426). 3 Univ. Press, 1962), pp. 148See J. L. Austin, How to Do ThingswithWords(Oxford:Oxford about speech and "speech acts" have this work as theirultimate 49. Many of my assumptions source. Termssuch as "constative"and "performative" similarly go back to Austin,as does the . . . has to be abandonedin favorof and constatives of performatives notionthat"the dichotomy moregeneral familiesof relatedand overlapping speechacts" (p. 149). Austin'sseminalidea, that actions'" in a soundenoughsense 'performing we are undoubtedly "in uttering our performatives I shall be claim that"wheneverI say anything (p. 21), is especiallyrelevant,as is his primary acts" (p. 132). The workof JohnSearle, Speech and illocutionary both locutionary performing Univ. Press, 1969), is also Acts:An Essay in thePhilosophy Cambridge ofLanguage (Cambridge: conact and thepropositional "betweentheillocutionary especiallySearle's distinction important, act" (p. 30). Keir Elam's The Semioticsof Theatreand Drama (London tentof the illocutionary of someof theprinciple valuableand original and N.Y.: Methuen, 1980) is an extremely application in to an illuminating tenetsof speech-act analysisof "dramatic"and "theatrical"elements theory work. I foundElam's pointsabout "metalanguage"(language itselfas the object of a dramatic interest (see especiallypp. 154, 156), as well as dramatic,and critical,discourse)of particular of Austin's his accountof how speech acts operatein drama(pp. 157-59), especiallyhis stressing have an 'executive' or 'performative' force,includingso-called 'conpoint that "all utterances of thetextural is a usefulreminder factors stative'ones" (p. 158). His pointabout"paralinguistic" the speaker's of dramatic regarding supplyessentialinformation density language: "Such features thespeechact" (p. 79). Further further ... to disambiguate and attitudes, state,intentions serving in thisnote. references to Austin,Searle, or Elam will be to the textsmentioned



wake Brabantioand begin the play; Brabantioaccuses Othello of havingbewithforbidden witchedhis daughter magic charms;Othello's actual wooingof of speech) destroy Desdemonais in heroictales; Iago's lies (primary corruption are for"a wordor twobefore Othello;Othello'slastrequests yougo" (V.ii.338), and forthe letters to Venice to "Speak of me as I am" (V.ii.342). The first words of the play are "Tush! nevertell me"; the last is "relate."4 As dramatic means and thematic to end, then,speech is of vital importance the play. This is truenot only of the male characters but also of the women. A welcome amountof recentcriticism of Othello has, in fact,dealt withthe women, especially withthe problemsraised by the moral ambiguities many of Desdemona.5 My purpose in this essay is to criticsfindin the character discussions thewomen'svoices, thefocusof suchcritical by considering enlarge theirspeech, and what these mean to our total experienceof the play. The speechof thewomen,I wantto argue,occupies a pivotalpositionin theplay's of its moral moralworld,and mustbe a criticalelementin any understanding experience.6
4 "Othello is, distinctively, a play about the speakingand hearingof words": JohnN. Wall, of theEar in Othello," ShakespeareQuarterly, 30 (1979), "Shakespeare'sAuralArt:The Metaphor skill are especiallyhelpful in the way on Iago's rhetorical 358-66, esp. p. 360. Wall's comments in the play. (For the way Iago of the spoken, its maligneffects, theyestablishthe importance acts forhis "perlocutionary" abuses the conditions of illocutionary purposes,see Elam, p. 163.) of the value of In such a contextit mightbe possible to see the women's speech as redemptive essay. speech itself.To show this,at least, is partof the aim of the present 5 such books on Shakespeare'swomenthatconsiderin passingthefemalecharacters Apartfrom in Othello(Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeareand theNatureof Women[London:Macmillan, 1975]; Books, 1981]; Angela MarilynFrench,Shakespeare'sDivision ofExperience[New York: Summit Pitt, Shakespeare's Women[Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble, 1981]), a numberof perceptive on the womenin Othellohave appearedin recentyears. I have foundthemost essays specifically S. N. Garner,"Shakespeare'sDesand usefulof theseto have been thefollowing: comprehensive demona," Shakespeare Studies, 9 (1976), 233-52; Carol Thomas Neely, "Women and Men in Othello: 'what should such a fool / Do withso good a woman?'" ShStud, 10 (1977), 133-58; W. D. Adamson, "Unpinnedor Undone?: Desdemona's Criticsand the Problemsof Sexual Innocence," ShStud,13 (1980), 169-86; and AnnJennalie Cook, "The Design of Desdemona:Doubt Raised and Resolved," ShStud, 13 (1980), 187-96. The lattertwo essays includeextensiverefon the subject,providing a usefulcriticalintroduction. erencesto the spectrum of criticalthought in such contexts, as she is in the comments Desdemona is usuallythe centerof attention devoted to the play in the illuminating "ThinkingAbout Women and essay by MarthaAndresen-Thom, theirProsperousArt: A Reply to JulietDusinberre'sShakespeare and the Nature of Women," ShStud, 11 (1978), 259-76, esp. p. 264. The particular emphasisof myessay shouldallow fora whose work of thevariousquestionsraisedby thesecriticsand themanyothers helpful reappraisal in all the interest theydraw on and dispute.Seeing Desdemona in the contextof the dramatist's on her character. women and theirspeech may providea freshperspective My own positionon the issue is closest to thatheld in different ways by Neely, Cook, and Adamson, all of whom of criticalattitudes towards Desdemonawhich resistthe extremities in whathas been a dichotomy to her speech and its specificcontexts will, carefully Attending polarize her as saintor strumpet. I hope, endorsetheir of Desdemona's charreasonableconclusionsand deepen our understanding For a more specifically feminist view of the acterin its richlyfeminine and humancomplexity. play, see Gayle Greene, "'This That You Call Love': Sexual and Social Tragedyin Othello," Journalof Women'sStudies in Literature,l.i (1979), 16-32. 6 in method, such as I intendheremight be seen to correspond, to "Linguisticforegrounding" some of Keir Elam's semioticanalysis. The speech of the women,it seems to me, is special and "strange" enough to encouragethe spectator(reader) "to take note of the semioticmeans, to becomeaware of thesign-vehicle and itsoperations"(pp. 17-18). On theplay's moralexperience, whenhe says that"the moraland the semiotic it is specifically Othelloto whichElam is referring issues are indivisiblein the play" (p. 163).



I it Act IV, scene iii of Othello is not only a mostmovingpiece of theatre; While scenes in Shakespeare.7 is also one of themostdramatically compelling Emilia helps Desdemona prepareforbed, thewomentalk,idlyenough,about men and women,love and sex. Desdemona removessome of her clothesand Emilia gives an imloosens her hair. She sings a sad song of love betrayed. passioned lectureon sexual realismand the rightsof wives. The scene ends of the sequence one could witha briefprayer.To accountforthe perfection simof its the its to action,its unhurried familiarity intimacy, quotidian point also refer to the atmosphere One might to be ordinary. plicity,its willingness enclosurewhich the men feminine of privatefreedom withinthis protected left. The mostreaders have and attendants) (Othello,Lodovico, just knowledge timeboththesewomenwill be dead, a veryshort or audienceshave thatwithin mustalso contribute to thespecial pathos murdered husbands, by their violently The feature of the scene I would especially single out, the scene generates.8 What mostmoves us, it seems to me, is the however,is its shifting tonality. the brief,beautiful rise and fall of voices engaged in intimate conversation; worldof ordinary of actionthe song makes; thereassuring pause in thecenter of Emilia's radicaldefenseof wives; intensity objectsalludedto; themounting heard in this the dyingfall of Desdemona's concludingprayer.Understood, "dramatic" and a a "theatrical" both scene the (see note 7) way, composes withinthe clamorousprocessionof interlude peace and freedom, suggesting voices. violentacts and urgent As the men leave, Othellobids his wife go to bed and dismissEmilia. The scene betweenthetwo womenbeginsthenon a noteof obedience,Desdemona her companion"We mustnot now displease him" (IV.iii.17). She reminding soothes Emilia's more volatile naturewith an unconditional assertionof her love: "My love dothso approvehim,/Thateven his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns- / Pritheeunpinme-have grace and favor[in them]" (11. 19and realistic, 21). Her speech is simpleand direct:heracceptanceis particular as casuallyunrhetorical as theparenthetical to herbody. request callingattention Such speech makes her love seem as natural to her as herphysicalexistence, as muchto be takenforgranted as theordinary acts of dressing and undressing. Such speechseemsa lovinginstrument oftransmutation, Othello'sflaws turning to "grace and favor." The love such speech embodiesis the antithesis of his or high-mindedly transrhetorical, jealousy which,deafand blindand furiously lates her goodness to wickedness. So farEmilia is quietlyfunctional, outoursense herspeechand actionfilling of thisdomesticinterior ("I have laid those sheetsyou bade me on the bed" [1. 22]).9 For all theirunassuming however,her words convey a simplicity, in present Anchored real sense of as communication. very things, speech tangible
associatedwiththe between"theatre"("the complexof phenomena 7 For theusefuldistinction of factors to therepresented and "drama" ("the network transaction") relating performer-audience fiction"),see Elam, p. 2. their 8 The "boudoir scene," as it has been called, has oftenbeen used by criticsto support See Adamson,pp. 172-79. readingsof Desdemona's character. morallyantithetical 9 The scene reminds theshifting modes whatlightis to thepainter, me of a painting by Vermeer: and meaningsof speech are to the dramatist.



The refin the here and now, such statements are, as it were, home truths.10 erence to the sheetsprovokesDesdemona to a curiousutterance: areourminds! howfoolish All's one. Good [faith], me shroud If I do die before [thee], prithee samesheets. In one of these

In thisworld,objectsalso carry beyond meaning transmitting weight, symbolic a glimpseinto the Here the words seem to offer theirapparentsignificance. have become one, of Desdemona's mind,wherelife and fidelity deep interior sheets. Her wordsmay be underbound up in the symbolicwedding/winding stood as only the glittering tip of her meaning,the mass of which, like an her of such sentiments And even in the gravity concealed. remains iceberg, foolish "how dismissive her as strains rhetoric, exclamatory, against speech seriousness,it seems to be the are our minds!" shows. For all its profound Austin's self. To bendJohn of her unstudied involuntary image and expression her self. to or seems her "perform" terms, speech "happily" "felicitously" is all Emilia's of the texture rich emotional the then, scene, reply Building it is to affection: "Come, come; you talk" (1. 25). Significantly, spontaneous levels at which Desdemona's speechshe refers, up thedifferent pointing gently thesetwo womenlead theirlives. For whatEmilia hearsas just talkseems for of reality. instinctive Desdemona a profound, apprehension strainor any sudden but without Taking what seems to be a new direction, mother's her mentions Desdemona in mood, shift maid, Barbary.The sense of and unrehearsed reflective of in act the character thought observing spontaneous in these sentencesand clauses, each one anchored is verystrong conversation in some solid fact: hada maidcall'd Barbary; My mother She was in love,andhe shelov'd prov'd mad, her.She hada songof "Willow,". . . Anddidforsake it. Thatsongto-night Andshediedsinging to do I havemuch Willnotgo from mymind; Butto go hangmyheadall at one side Prithee Andsingit likepoorBarbary. dispatch.
(11.26-28, 29-33)

of Althoughthis speech deals with facts,the factspersistin an atmosphere to the has Desdemona's to power identify speech feeling.Doing injury neither, factsand feelings.And while to us the speech may recall Ophelia, implicitly
10This "deictic." "Deictic definition," is intensely says Keir Elam, "is presentparticularity contextas opposed to the remote'theres' thatone can imagine of the present the crucial marker such speech withthatof Iago and Othello, contrast or describe" (p. 113). One mightprofitably non-deictic. and fatally, whichseems profoundly, 1 See Austin,lectureII, againstthe sortof pp. 14-16. I am aware of StanleyFish's strictures "stretched"applicationof these termsthatI employhere. (See "How to Do ThingswithAustin ModernLanguage Notes, 91 [1976], 983Criticism," and Searle: Speech Act Theoryand Literary reading,obviously 1025.) Othello is not a "Speech Act play," as Coriolanus, in Fish's brilliant . . . true is. But Othello is not only "full of speech acts," which,as Fish says, is "by definition of any play" (p. 1024); it is also, in a veryspecificway, aboutacts of speech. In orderto clarify to use Austin'sterms feltit legitimate of theseacts, I have, in spiteof Fish's strictures, thenature I have. that in the metaphorical way



in herown emotionallife to Desdemona the reminiscence suggestssomething whichevades the reach of logical speech and can seek adequate embodiment idenonly in therarermediumof song and in herown powersof sympathetic of herself. The end of herspeechreturns Her speechis an acting-out tification. thisworldwithherpractical herto thehereand now, and again Emilia endorses allusionsto thebusinessin Such "Shall I go fetch 34). (1. yournight-gown?" of thewholepiece. theorderand rhythm motifs handare likerepeated revealing Desdemona's "No, unpinme here" restoresher fullyto this world (in its physical-its deictic-emphasis, and in its being an answerto a question;this charof speechbetweenthetwo womenis one of its mostaffecting reciprocity It marks,too, anotherturning acteristics).12 point for the scene. Afterwhat a partin thescene mustbe a slightsilence (and silencemustplay as significant "This Lodovico as it does in anycomplexpiece of music),Desdemonaremarks of Barbary,it is not possible is a properman" (1. 35). As withthe memory to say exactlywherethis comes from.13 Possibly she connectsLodovico, as is that thespeechseems an eligiblebachelor,withthesong. The important thing to exist forits own sake: being is its reason forbeing. At the same timesuch aboutLoforto Desdemona's remark denoteseach womantruly, conversation on his physicalappearance witha comment Emilia responds dovico's manners, ("A very handsomeman" [1. 36]), and when Desdemona adds "He speaks to his sexual desirability well" (1. 37), Emilia refers ("a touchof his nether of this rich harmonies The however,resolve the conversation, [1. 39]). lip" chords.Although different values of the two womenintocomplementary they seem to value thingsdifferently (and to value different things),theirspeech their withone another nevertheless suggeststhattheycan share,unthreatened, world. of the senses respective of thescene, thedelicate,toughfabric then,yetwithout tearing Surprisingly, Desdemona singsBarbary'ssong. Singing,she ascends to a plane of pureperand becomes in our mindsthe last in a line of abandonedwomen, formance, back Barbaryand the countlesswomenwho have sung the through stretching in the song, thatanonymous "poor song beforeDesdemona to the girlherself as well of grief.The songitself, sisterhood forthisextensive soul" responsible us to a zone it as we listento hervoice, transport as the silence thatsurrounds of feelingwhereanalysisbecomes futile.The pointis thatwe do feel; thatfor while the song endureswe are boundwithEmilia to moments the unreflecting etheTo prevent Desdemonain sympathy. (I suspect)such sympathy becoming the song at a or abstract,Shakespearehas her interrupt real or sentimental or to urgeEmilia abouthergarments to pass a remark number of points,either to haste, thuskeepingin touch withthe deictic groundof the scene and its such seamless transitions in the theatre, manymeanings.Peculiarlyaffecting Desof singing betweensong and speechshowthateven in the "performance"
12 account fora fullyillustrated See Elam, p. 138, fora fineaccountof "context-of-utterance"; Dessee pp. 139-48. As regards are and how theyfunction, of whatdeixis and deicticstrategies demona's imperative here, it mightbe notedhow her commandsserve to link Emilia to her, to not dividingthem.In the case of Iago and Othello, commandsare inbe the means of uniting, variablya forceof division. 13 The critics, have triedto make muchof it, oftento cast shadowsover the notionof though, Desdemona's innocence.See Garner, pp. 248-49; Adamson,pp. 175-77; and M. R. Ridley,ed., The ArdenShakespeare,Othello (London: Methuen,1958), p. 166n. "This" suggestsagain the thereis way thingsare deicticallypresentto Desdemona, as well as how implicita continuity between. her unspokenand her spokenthought.



of normal demonais neveroutoftouchwiththenaturalness speech.Effortlessly her voice can slide betweenthe two, rootedin the actual quotidianworldof but able also to achieve the more rarefied husbands,beds, and nightgowns, natural of songand itsenvironment (in thiscase) of sympathetic objects. feeling line ("'Let nobody is audible too in theway she singsa mistaken Her fluency blame him,his scornI approve'" [1. 52]-a Freudianslip, perhaps,as heruse of "approve," echoing the startof the scene, would suggest),then catches and breaksoffin some apprehension: herself "Nay, that'snotnext.Hark,who is't thatknocks?" (1. 53). Emilia's "It's the wind" underlines again the reas creating as well two between these of women, assuringreciprocity speech and at the same timepotentially a tangiblesense of the enclosed, protected, whenDesdemona sense is intensified worldof thescene. This latter vulnerable Firstshe sings: resumesthe song but thenbreaksoffabruptly. "I call'd mylovefalselove;butwhat saidhe then? willow, willow; Singwillow, IfI court moewomen, moemen." you'llcouchwith

Then she stops and addressesEmilia: "So get thee gone, good night"(1. 58). in the song has touchedtoo closely upon reminder the unpleasant Presumably Her at her own predicament. her actual life, upon her conscious unhappiness sense of actualitydisallows the consoling gestureof the song, as Othello's actual violence will disallow the potentially consolingand curativepower of betweensong and speech movement hertruthful speech, herlife. Such natural of Desdemona's expression,as well as revealing the subtlevariety illustrates the vulnerableopennessyetprivacyof her life. to let her Desdemona seems unwilling she bids Emilia good-night, Although bode that "Doth she do "Mine 58-59). (11. itch," weeping?" says, eyes go. herenorthere" [1. 59]) answer(" 'Tis neither Emilia's reassuringly pragmatic Desdemona's moreconto fact,countering calls speech back from possibility ventionaltrustin authority ("I have heard it said so" [1. 60]). Anotheruncurvein thisscene, then,is signalledby Desdemona's suddensigh predictable distinct after another pause, a silencein whichwe shouldregister, (presumably and continuoussubtextof I think,the way this scene has a sortof coherent theunspoken),"0, thesemen,thesemen!" (1. 60). Hard (as with"All's one" at line 23) to attachto an exact source-the song, Lodovico, herown plightand servesas emotionalutterance, embodiesspeech as unafraid the statement on the women two the between honest an to exchange extraordinarily prologue naive are Desdemona's of the The terms of sexual exchange morality. subject of coyness) and of whichshouldcounteract any suggestion (the honesty purity Emilia's earthier pragmatism: think-tell in conscience Des. Dost thou me,Emiliahusbands do abusetheir be women Thatthere kind? In suchgross There be somesuch,no question. Emil.
Des. Wouldstthoudo such a deed forall the world? Emil. Why, would not you? Des. No, by thisheavenlylight! Emil. Nor I neither by thisheavenlylight; do't as well i' th' dark. I might (11.61-67)



When Desdemona doubtsthe existenceof "such women," Emilia's speech rises fromprose to eloquentverse, brought of by the subjectto an intensity A pasformality. expressionthe veryenergyof whichcreatesits own sturdy it arguesforwomen's sionatedefenseof wives againstmale double standards, of thesexual natures in sexual matters, thecommon freedom humanity stressing of men and women. Behind its generality it is hard not to detect(as partof of personalpain and sexual disappointment, its illocutionary force)thepressure bluntstatement of its her own anger and bitterness at Iago.15 A powerfully in fullfortheway it exemplifies thefreekind,her speech deservesquotation dom of speech in this scene, the confidence each womanhas thateven if the otheris not of her mind,she may speak thatmindfreely,sure thatwhatshe says will be heard aright.(For of course the scene is as muchabout listening and hearingas it is about speaking.) faults it is their ButI do think husbands' slacktheir If wivesdo fall.Say that duties, they intoforeign Andpourourtreasures laps; Or else break outin peevish jealousies, strike restraint us, Throwing uponus; or saythey in despite: ourformer Or scant having we havesomegrace, we havegalls;andthough Why, know Let husbands Yet havewe somerevenge. wiveshavesenselikethem; Their see, andsmell, they andsour, forsweet Andhavetheir both palates is it that do have.What As husbands they us forothers? Is it sport? When they change breed it? affection I think it is. Anddoth that Is't frailty thus errs? I think it doth. It is so too. Andhavenotwe affections, as menhave? andfrailty, Desiresforsport, Thenletthem use us well;else letthem know, us so. The ills we do, their ills instruct (11.86-103) of another Withits echoes of VenetianShylock's plea forhumanrecognition of thisspeechis matched victimized by thevigorof its style. group,thecontent Its colloquial, tactilediction("throwing "scant," "galls," "see and restraint,"
14 It might be said thatin such ordinary conversational speech the two womenare united,and in a way thatcasts therhetorically Othelloand Iago (and parodic) "marriage"between extravagant to notethatOth(at III.iii.445 ff.)intoan even moreperverse interesting light.(It is incidentally ello's kneelingvow is accompaniedby the phrase "I here engage my words.") 15 For a in Othsee Ralph Berry,"Pattern persuasiveaccountof the Iago-Emiliarelationship, than and complexity ello," SQ, 23 (1972), 13-16. I would give Emilia creditformorestrength Berrydoes.

they say.14

In its essentially in a world and amorality its morality comic energy, grounded of clothesandjewelry,theaffectionate thattheissue exchangemakesus forget discuss is thereasonwhy,in less thanan hour,boththesewomen theylightly is thepoint:we hearthesewomenspeak with will be dead. But that,precisely, rareanimation abouta subjecton whichtheir husbands will notlistento them, silence them.Again the veryfactof theirspeech is as imor will effectively as whattheyare saying. In otherwords,thattheyspeak at all about portant between thissubject,thatit can be a subjectof frank and friendly intercourse of what them,seems as muchthepointof the exchangeas is the fact-content



sevenand a halflines smell," "sweet and sour") and muscular (thefirst syntax formone complete,logical, urgentsentence)pull its statements against the formaltug of the iambic line (at the level of metric, most of the lines could be regularly is fuelledby thepressing from shift scanned);its velocity question In its unleashedenergyit to statement, statement to impassionedinjunction. suggestshow Emilia has been denied such freedom by Iago, illustrating yet of thisscene as a protected enclosurewherethewomenmay, again the nature fora few minutes freeof a worldthatputschecksupon their voices, speak (or their minds and hearts.The entire sequenceends,then,withDesdemona's sing) herearnestly a sortof linguistic oppositeview of things, pious coupletputting lock on the door of the scene: Goodnight, [God]me suchuses send, goodnight. Notto pickbad from bad,butbybad mend. (11.104-5) Even in disagreement such open speech is possible betweenthem,as it has been throughout and variouscadences and intonations of the the rich, fluent, of femalesexuality-including scene. In brief,thescene composesa spectrum innocence andexperience, love, faithful passion,all-forgiving worldly extravagant and unfaithful desire. There is even, in wives, and death fromdisappointed of hermother Desdemona's mention evocationof maternity, (at line 26), a faint and themother-daughter Whenit is over,bothof its temporarily relationship.16 to a worldof final liberatedspeakersare undersentenceof death,condemned silence. II Bianca's is the smallestof the threewomen's roles in Othello. Small as it in thedramatic element an indispensable is, however,it is nonetheless design. our sense of thepredominantly sexual nature of As a prostitute she intensifies thisworld. As a womanconventionally scorned,desired,used, and abused by thethemeof femaleabuse at theheartof theplay. Spoken men, she underlines about by men in termsthatdeny her humanity-to Iago and Cassio she is her trash-her own speechportrays bauble, fitchew, strumpet, rogue,monkey, as a passionate,spontaneous, and honesthumanbeing.17 (She is not,however, and tough,and can be unthe whore withthe heartof gold; she is difficult
16 The only otherreference to the mother is in Desdemona's defenceof her "disobedience" to her father to Othello), whereshe cites her mother'sactionin marrying Bra(by engagingherself bantioas a justification forherown decision. To mention heragain in thescene I am dealingwith I would argue, the explicitly"female" nature(and texture) of the scene, as well as intensifies, associates explicitlyDesdemona's femalenesswithher potentialfor freedomand the ultimately as a tragicloss of thatfreedom.Because she is a woman she can be free,but it is her freedom womanthatcauses herdeath. Finally,in the worldof thisplay, the freewomanis an oxymoron, a livingfigure of speechthatmustbe denied(voided, silenced)by theremorseless "logic" of male of the fearof thatonegotismand power (a power thatseems littlemorethanthe exteriorizing whichthewoman'sfreedom, tologicalambiguity embodies).ThatOthello'stworeferences literally, to his mother are in connection withthe ill-fated and thatat least one of themhas handkerchief, to be a lie, since he has "an Egyptian" first, and thenhis father to his give the handkerchief show how, for Othello, his mother is merelyan item, a prop, in his self-justifying armother, to increase the emotionalpressurehe is putting on gument.As anotherelementin his attempt does not appear to have a palpable personalexistenceforhim, as DesDesdemona, his mother demona's mother does seem to have forher. 17 See Neely, pp. 139-40.



pleasant.) She is able to give concrete,empiricalexpressionto her feelings, as her railingagainstCassio's casual absence proves: seven What? daysandnights? keepa weekaway? hours? andlovers'absent hours, eight Eightscore than thedial eightscore Moretedious times? O weary reck'ning! (III.iv.173-76) theweek of hoursby eightscore, itsextravagance Whatever (tedium multiplies of her to make whatshe will call its "felt absence"), the simpleparticularity In of her she the feelings. everything says (and speech guarantees authenticity in theplay) herspeechrings in manyways she is themostoutspoken character of feeling.Whenjealous, she speaks herjealousy withthisexpansivehonesty "This is some token Cassio as when out, straight gives her the handkerchief: froma newerfriend; / To the feltabsence now I feel a cause" (11. 181-82). Her directness of speech contrasts withOthello's convolutedresponseto his own jealousy, while her stresson outward-directed feeling(feltabsence, felt the narcissistic Cassio. Far frombeing the cause) counterpoints egocentric, object men have made of her in theirspeech (IV.i.108 ff.), her own verbal and order a dangerto men's sense of propriety (IV.i. 153 ff.)constitutes energy in theirworld.18 For this reason Cassio pursuesher fromthe stage afterher his specific aim beingto stopherspeaking:"she'll rail in the jealous outburst, streets else" (1. 163). In her finalappearance,the spontaneity and emotionalhonesty of Bianca's herself on Cassio's mostintense.She rushesonstage,flings speech are at their woundedbody, and can only wail his name: "O my dear Cassio, my sweet Cassio! / O Cassio, Cassio, Cassio! . . . Alas, he faints!O Cassio, Cassio, Cassio!" (V.i.76-77, 84). But it is just such defenseless speechIago can maof Bianca's speechbecomes nipulateto his advantage.The veryemotionalism fora confession in whichhe plantssuspicion.Led offto be tortured theground tale" [1. 125]), her speech is to be ("Come, mistress, you musttell's another Beforeshe is swallowedup in silence, twisted againstitselfand its own truth. assertionof self to make, in a speech thatis however,she has a memorable and fullof feeling.To Emilia's abusive "strumpet!"(1. 121) calm, dignified, of themto the values of masculinelanguage) she replies in both (subjecting violenceof the scene: "I am such a way as to mutesuddenly thehigh-pitched no strumpet, but of life as honest/ As you thatthusabuse me" (11. 122-23). In Bianca's passionatespeech Shakespearehas embodieda feelingthatwould to her identity. the worldwould smother it, adequate expression give, though In its own way her speech is a moralreality thatbringsintosharper focusthe moraldeficiencies of the worldthatwould condemnher. In many respects,Emilia seems to belong to thatworld. But in the end thatshe mustexercise against Emilia's speech too achieves a moral identity the world. Described in her first appearanceas a naggingwife (II.i.), she is in fact at this point almost entirely silent. "Alas! she has no speech," says Desdemona (II.i. 102), whileIago beratesherforhavingtoo much.In hervery betweenthehussilence,however,it is easy to detecttheunhappy antagonism need to win his band and wife, a conditionexacerbatedby her humiliating
18 MarthaAndresen-Thom, amongothers,speaks of the "masculinefearof speech in women" cultureof ElizabethanEngland(p. 263). in the hierarchical, patriarchal



affection. This she especially reveals in her soliloquy aftershe has foundthe handkerchief and has decidedto give itto her"waywardhusband"(III.iii.29299). Having triedand failedto use the languageof sexual provocation to win concern forDesdemonais help(11.301-5), herreawakened Iago to a kindness less beforeherhusband'sdismissive silenceshercompower,whichbrusquely "Go, leave me" (1. 320). Her silentexit is a sign plaintswitha perfunctory of her servitude: he is interested in nothing she has to say. Ironically enough,and givinga special vividnessto herfurious loquacityat the end of the play, it is Emilia's speech and her silence thatserve as direct to thetragicaction.Askedby Desdemonaaboutthehandkerchief, she catalysts tells a deliberatelie ("I know not, madam" [III.iv.24]), and duringthe contentious betweenOthello and Desdemona over the missinghandkerargument chiefshe remains silent. The bitterness of herremarks after thisexchange suggests she is aware of her guilt in so devaluingspeech, and needs to venther rage attention from theoffending one of themany by removing object. Perpetrating sexual images of the play, she shows how freeher speech can be disgusting whenthemenare absent,as well as revealing again whatappearsto be a painful sexual experiencefestering at the core of her character: 'Tis nota yearor twoshows us a man: andwe all butfood; Theyareall butstomachs, andwhen arefull .Theyeat us hungerly, they Theybelchus. (III.iv.103-6) In its raw intensity such speech is likelyto convinceus thatits generalizations are rootedin personalexperienceand, like Emilia's othermostforceful utteras statements of factor opinion.Thus theycontrast ances, seem intended both withIago's generalizations, rootedin animosity and malice,and withOthello's, rootedin egocentric withthemen's performative utterances seemself-conceit, ing always to have a deliberaterhetorical end-persuasion-in view.19 In additionto the sexual angerit manifests, Emilia's speech is concreteand honest.Defending DesdemonaagainstOthello(IV.ii), she is direct, pragmatic, and fearless.In her accountof havingseen Cassio and Desexact, insistent, demonatogether, she offers the hardevidence of her senses: "But thenI saw no harm,and thenI heard/ Each syllablethatbreathmade up betweenthem" flexible and fluent, she can movefrom (IV.ii.4-5). Emotionally gentleconcern forDesdemona ("How do you, madam?How do you, mygood lady?" [1. 96]) to thebrusquecolloquialismof herangeragainstOthello("He call'd herwhore. A beggarin his drink /Could nothave laid suchterms uponhis callet" [11.120suchforward 21]). She can temper passionwithpragmatic (even forensic) good sense: "Why shouldhe call herwhore?Who keeps hercompany? /Whatplace? what time?whatform?whatlikelihood?" (11. 137-38). Askingthe questions Othelloshouldask, herspeech is a moralreminder of his abdicationfrom such The freedomof such speech naturally to lago, responsibility. poses a threat who hastensto silence her all-too-accurate speculationthatOthello has been "abus'd by some most villainousknave, / Some base notorious knave, some his authority scurvyfellow" (11. 139-40). Iago triesto hush her by invoking
19 Of course, Emilia also is herself,so forthe mostpart "performs,"but what she performs her utterances a little,"felicitous,"while thoseof Othelloand Iago are, to extendAustin'sterms are "infelicitous,"are infelicities of the kind Austincalls "abuses." (See Austin,pp. 14-16.)



as her husband,and referring to her properplace as a wife: "Speak within door" (1. 144). Such personalrevelations as she proceedsto, however("Some such squirehe was / That turn'dyourwit the seamyside without, / And made to you to suspectme withtheMoor" [11.145-47]), are even morethreatening to silenceheris successful: Iago's will to power,and thistimehis angry attempt "You are a fool; go to" (1. 148). While her silence shows her subordination the significant terms in which,in thisworld,the struggle (as well as revealing betweenmen and womenis carriedon), it also servesas thebackdropagainst which we know the importance of Emilia's speech: in this case, her speech functions as a moralmeasure fortheworldoftheplay,morality beingimplicitly identified here withhonestfeelingand plain speech. Whilemarkedly in many different from Emilia's, Desdemona'sspeech respects sharessome of these criticalfeatures of "meaning." At her first entrance we are, like the senators,eager "to hear her speak," eager to get her versionof a story thathas come to us in three male translations-lago's, Brabantio's,and Othello's. Throughout this scene in thetrying context of the Venetiansenate, herspeech is a modelof plain-spokenness, and good sense. Balancing dignity, a sense of dutywithindependent she bringsreason and passion self-respect, into persuasiveequilibrium.Her addressto her father is sufficient indication of the remarkable character thatfindsexpressionin such remarkable speech: My noblefather, I do perceive herea divided ... duty I am hitherto Buthere'smyhusband; your daughter. Andso much as mymother show'd duty To you,preferring herfather, youbefore So much I challenge that I mayprofess Due to theMoor,mylord. (I.iii.180-81, 185-89) The speech is a perfect of mature balance in, forexample,the deexpression cisive way Desdemona's sentences cutacrossthemetrical pattern yetstillmaintainit,manifesting control without Herdiction achievesa similar balance, rigidity. exact. The whole speech managesto preserve an beingplain yetpainstakingly thebalance impeccablepoise betweenobjectiveand subjectiveconsiderations, between"you" and "I" reaching itsclimaxin "I challengethat I mayprofess," withits liberation of the speaker's self-as if the speech, in linguistic terms, chartedher passage to independence. There is, also, a finedeictic power in "But here's myhusband," suggesting Desdemona's commitment to theriskof the here and now, as well as intenseperformative in "So muchI chalpower thatembodies preciselywhat she is lenge thatI may profess"-a statement doing. Her requestto accompanyOthello to Cyprusjoins passion to the rational and sturdy common sense she has already shown. Her speech, intelligence is a richmixture of elements thatsucceedin equating moralsubstance therefore, withintellectual and strong vitality feeling.That her speech is made in public enhancesits strength and authenticity, while its martialimagery makesher in the of her heroic husband: spirit peer ThatI [did]lovetheMoorto livewith him, andstorm of fortunes, violence, My downright to theworld. subdu'd Maytrumpet My heart's


SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY of mylord. Evento thevery quality I saw Othello's visagein hismind, andhis valiant Andto hishonors parts consecrate. Did I mysoulandfortunes 248-54) (11.

can be a tuningactive to passive, her speech shows how surrender Perfectly a which of self dedication liberated a upon complex presumes passionateaction, now bebalance is again apparent, Her characteristic equality,not servitude. submissionit expresses. In its tween the power of speech and the voluntary herspeechmakesfeeling unafraid pretension, palpable,without direct, honesty thatmanagesto be a it In the self-deceit. or way expresses sensibility vanity, and emotionally at once sexually,socially, intellectually, honest,it oughtto inimmature dispel the notionthatDesdemona is an ethereal,otherworldly, nocent.20 in theunselfconscious is apparent of hercharacter The truesubstance variety of her speech. Her abilityto join in Iago's game of sexual insultwithno loss arrival ?of by Othello's hoped-for grace (despitethefactthatshe is preoccupied from is as far of her that Cassio's in Cyprus)proves portrait literary-idealistic of her as wantonsensualist.Always as Iago's poisonous caricature the truth with the here and now. of her engagement her speech reveals the intensity to ask "There'sone goneto theharbor?" thegame,she can turn (II.i. 120) During or to scold Iago withgood-humored colloquialism. When Emilia tells Cassio that thatDesdemona "speaks foryou stoutly"(III.i.44) theadverbunderscores her be has to uses what Desdemona which sense with good courageous sturdy, possessed weapon in the world. Her speech assumes withOthello a freedom forCassio ("he hath of sympathy in its expression by no other,straightforward withhim" [III.iii.53-54]), practical leftpartof his griefwithme / To suffer at supper? and affectionately ("Shall't be to-night bullyingin her persistence on We'n'sday morn" [11.57-61]). No one morn;/On Tuesdaynoon, or night; to gloves, else speaksto Othellolike this,as an equal, whilewithitsreferences dodishes, and keepingwarm,her speech also createsan intimate nourishing mesticworldin whichonlyshe knowsherhusband.The above scene ends with In Desdemona,however, but dismissivecapitulation. Othello's good-humored betweenher and of the it shows an optimistic equality necessary assumption thatwhen theyspeak to one another her husband,as well as an assumption thattheywill also theirdiscoursewill be markedby mutualcomprehension, to markthedecline Fromthispointit is possible, I think, be equal as listeners. of the tragicaction, and to measureit in termsof the loss of comprehension betweenthetwo, a loss chiefly wrought by his refusalto hear her,his refusal to allow her speech to have any free,dependablebeing in theirworld. as speaker. is partof hermoralsubstance as a listener Desdemona's alertness notes the fatal change. "Why do you It is in Othello's speech thatshe first speak so faintly?"she asks, "Are you not well?" (III.iii.282-83). At this momentthe linguisticabyss begins to open betweenthem,as she hears his
20 See and on Adamson,pp. 169-70, on the polarizedcriticalopinionsof Desdemona's virtue, conclusions the moralqualityof her sexual natureand behavior.I agree withAdamson's strong in a stateof 'grace,'" and thatthisis "an absolutely thatDesdemonastands"howevervulnerably, positivemoral standing"(p. 183).

. . .To-morrow dinner then? . . . Why then to-morrow night, [or] Tuesday



here" [1. 284]) to cuckoldry ("I have a pain uponmyforehead, obliquereference of symabout a headache. Her speech is an expression as a simplecomplaint to join the otherin feeling("I am verysorrythatyou are pathy,an attempt not well" [1. 289]), while his is implicitand covertaccusation,a deliberate the other.Theirspeech now becomes a series of short-circuits, dividingfrom on his words as he imposeshis own secretmeanings Othello's doublethinking in him. They are divorcedinitially makingit impossibleforher to understand as thesignof lust,she presumes their speech. Whenhe readsherhand's warmth Her "I cannotspeak of this" (III.iv.48) he reads it as a sign of generosity. whilehis extended, their the nature of division, entirely impenetrable suggests offfromone another. cut themcompletely about the handkerchief ramblings It is in thisdesperatecondition, then,thatshe is driven,uncharacteristically, to lie, to appease his incomprehensible rage: "It is notlost . . . I say, it is not here suggestsshe is aware of lost" (III.iv.83-85). The deliberaterepetition theworldof herown speech ("I say") beingdivorcedfrom what's happening, of thedramatic and tightening fact.Then, in a wonderful rhythm, heightening Desdemonapleadingfor thescene becomesa duetof mutualincomprehension, She cannotunder"the handkerchief!" Cassio, Othelloobsessivelyrepeating standhim, and he, because he has decided whather meaningis, will not understand her.21 Between thesetwo kindsof speech, the divorceis final. To the audience,however,Desdemona's speech remainssensible, specific, exquisitely physical. As usual, too, she can balance feelingwithsupple reain minute details of a physicalnature: her generalizations soning,anchoring inferior with Men's natures things, wrangle onesaretheir object.'Tis evenso; Though great Forletourfinger ache,andit endues evento a sense members healthful Ourother Of pain. (11.144-48) Her tone is at once toughand emotional,sensible in everysense, suggestive which is itselfthe burdenof the particular of thatbalanced sympathy image she chooses. Whatwe respondto here,I believe, is Desdemona's capacityas a speaker: in her speech we can locate her moral life, her speech itselfthe in theworld.It is natural, moralact of heridentity then,thatthefinal enduring as an issue of speech. breakbetweenher and herhusbandshouldbe portrayed Cassio to Lodovico (just come from WhenDesdemonamentions Venice), OthWhatfollowsis thedrawhichshe cannotunderstand. ello mutters something theoutward maticenactment, sign, of thedivorcethathas alreadytakenplace since he has her. His questionsmeannothing, he strikes betweentheir speech: the his ears his made mind, good sense against pragmatic blocking already up of her answers. At Act IV.ii.40-41 againsther "To whom, my lord? With one another), whom?How am I false?" (wherereasonand feelingsubstantiate he can only replywiththe silencing"Ah Desdemon! Away, away, away!" short-circuits reason). But since speech is all she (where feelingdeliberately can relyon, she persistsin seekingdialogue and, knowingthe charge,she is passionateand logical in her own defense:
21 "What Desdemona can 'speak' at Othello's repeatedurgingsis of no avail. ... concludes as it does because Othellowill hear no voice but Iago's" (Wall, p. 363).

The play


SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY No, as I am a Christian. If to preserve thisvesselformylord From foulunlawful touch anyother I am none. Be notto be a strumpet, (11.82-85)

Since Othellocontinues to refuseher a hearing,she mustturnhervoice elsewhere:"0, heavenforgive us!" (1. 88). Her speechhas been effectively driven out of this world.22 WhenOthellois notpresent to stifle herspeech,Desdemonaremains capable of utterance a potentassertionof her freedom thatconstitutes to love and to such utterance takes the form of a prayer, diexpressthatlove. Significantly rectedin part(ironically)to Iago, butdirected to God, to an ear she primarily can be sure is not incapacitated by egotismand deafening jealousy. Hers is a honestwithitself: speech of grave and passionaterealism,a voice entirely HereI kneel: If e'er mywilldidtrespass hislove, 'gainst in discourse Either of thought or actual deed, Or that mine ears,or anysense eyes,mine them form; [in]anyother Delighted I do notyet,andeverdid, Or that Andeverwill(though he do shake me off To beggarly lovehimdearly, divorcement) me! Unkindness Comfort forswear maydo much, Andhis unkindness maydefeat mylife, Butnever taint mylove. (IV.ii.151-61) This remarkable mixture of legal, religious,and emotionallanguage fittingly characterizes Desdemona's speech as theoppositeof Othello's wild, unbridled of utterance. sensuality Enactinga vow, herspeech and its accompanying gesturemustrecall his (and Iago's) kneelingvow (III.iii.460-69). Wherethey, and remotely, however,swear, extravagantly "by yond marbleheaven" and the "ever-burning lightsabove," to injureher,theplainnessand personalimmediacyof her prayer(essentiallyagainstherselfif she is in the wrong)are its moststriking is rootedin genqualities. And once again moralconviction erousfeeling,herspeech notthedescription buttheenactment of thisfeeling. In a worldthatechoes withprotestations of love of one kindor another-lies or high-sounding and self-regarding half-truths that thelanguageof love corrupt as well as love itself-it is onlya speech like Desdemona's thatcan win from an audienceitsuntainted ithas no powerin Othello'sworld, approval.Although herearnest,plain, and generousspeech mustserveas the moralmeasurenecof theexperience of theplay. The understanding essaryto any comprehensive nervousidentification betweenher whole self and her speech shows withpeculiarclarity in her inability to utter the word "whore." Insteadshe is driven "Am I thatname, Iago? . . . Such as she said my lord to the circumlocutory of her speech did say I was" (IV.ii.118-19). It is this implicitidentification
22 Her another us" suggests thatshe takessome of theblameforthissituation, "forgive example of the way her speech seems instinctively Her deicticreference to generousand non-egotistical. herown body as "this vessel," however,shows (as well as a conventionally distinction Christian betweenbody and spirit)how well-grounded in the physicalare such spiritual inclinations.



and being (in a refinement of feelingthatcarriesno trace of coyness) that Othellomustnow confirm, from thedisallowanceof herspeech by proceeding to the absolutesilencingof death. III The scene withwhichthisessay began is over. The violence in the outside worldhas been accomplished.We are in the bedroom,symbolically the most area in the world,but fittingly here the scene of greatest enclosed, protected violence. Othello has deliveredhis extraordinary soliloquyof heroic self-deof action to ceptionand magnificent Now, adding sentimentality self-regard. thatof speech,he bends over his sleepingwifeto kiss herbeforehe kills her. Waking,she asks, simply,"Will you come to bed, my lord?" (V.ii.24). Her languagesteadiesitselfin thephysicalworldof present fact,whilehis ("Have Desdemon?" [1. 25]) revealsthefatalshort-circuit in their you pray'dto-night, communication. she defends herself in theonlyway Learningof his intention, available to her,withher speech. Regarding Cassio's possessionof thehandkerchief she says bluntly"He foundit then;/ I nevergave it him. Send for him hither; / Let him confessa truth"(11.66-68). Her appeal is to the here and now, whilehis is to someremote, ritualistic invented "reality"of his own. concrete clauses stress thefunctional of herspeech,itsimmediate Short, energy to circumstance. In this it is the positive counterpoint to Iago's adaptability adaptable mendacity.Othello, on the otherhand, exemplifies Iago's wicked skill at this point, heightening the contrast betweenhimselfand his wife in moraltermsthatlocate themselves in speech. In sayingthatCassio has confessed and is dead, he unwittingly lies, his speech abusingthe factsthather speech wishes to clarify.Her speech wantsto align itselfwithwhatis actual; his triesto make its own actuality accordingto his need.23 Since thespeechof reasonhas been voidedby Cassio's "death," Desdemona turnsto a speech of pure emotion,beggingforless and less life, her murder to be understood as a progressive denial of any efficacy to her speech: "0, banishme, mylord,butkill me not! / . .. Kill me to-morrow, let me live tonight!/ . .. But halfan hour! . . . But whileI say one prayer!"(11.78-83).24 action conEssentiallyOthello is deaf to her speech. The way the dramatic centrates on thegradualextinction of herspeechintensifies thetragic terror we mustfeelat herdeath.Her lastrequestis forbreath thespeechof prayer. itself, This too he denies her-smothering her,muffling her, silencingher. Contrary to theenlargedand self-justifying way in whichOthellowould call his murder "a sacrifice"(11.64-65), we see theact itselfas simplyan attempt to stopher make Othellorevisehis belief, voice, to smother speech thatwould otherwise his self. As Desdemona arguespassionately forthe life of her body, it is the (the speech) itselfthatOthello smothers, argument takingaway her life. Loss of speech, in herforwhomit was theexact embodiment of self,is loss of life.
23 To say thather speech is deictic and his is non- (or anti-) deictic would also be a way of thedifference between them.Othelloseemscommitted stating to some narrative form of "reality," while Desdemona is alignedwitha truly"dramatic"form of it. See Elam on Emile Benveniste's terms,histoireand discours (p. 166). The ironythat,in his statements about Cassio, Othello is wrongon bothcountssuggests, perhaps,thepointat whichtheplay's actuality beginsto reassert itselfagainst theperverting speech of Othelloand Iago, andfor thehonestspeechof thewomen. 24 The echoes of Faustus of himself at thispointas a justly may suggestOthello's own estimate revenging deity.



In thisway her death,her murder (its manner symbolicin her way and not in the way of Othello's full fancy-dress her life. "sacrifice") confirms The awful,utter silence thatmustfollowher death-an audience, I would this, feel her death as a silence-is brokenby a woman's say, mustregister voice crying out forspeech: "What ho! my lord, my lord! / ... 0, good my lord, I would speak a word withyou! / . . . I do beseech you / That I may sucha moment mustalso speak withyou" (11.89-102). Theatrically powerful, have symbolic of thedramatic I have been pursuing: weightin terms argument Othello cannotevade thedemandsand implications of women's speech. As if to confirm of theexternal violenceis interrupted this,Emilia's report by a cry from Emilia begs forspeech:"O lady,speakagain! Desdemona,whom,in turn, /. . sweetmistress, thisdesperate speak!" (11. 120-21). Desdemonagrants request(the womenare always askingforand givingspeech; the men always it, refusing it).25Her last wordsare an extraordinary mixture, denying sealing and going beyond the rest of her life's speech. First she acknowledgesand plainlystatesthetragicfact: "A guiltlessdeathI die" (1. 122). Then, to Emilia's question,"who hathdone thisdeed?" she answers"Nobody; I myself. Farewell!" (11. 123-24). This complexresponseshows,once again,thebalance in herspeechbetweenemotional ("I myself") layers ("Nobody") and rational of her being, both of themengaged in the defenceof her husband. It could also suggestsomething in thatat theverymoment of herremarkable strength, of herdeathshe is capable of an ironic,buttypically serious,use of language, since "I myself" could be her way of saying(because of the absolutecommitment she feelsto thesacramental unionof marriage) "my husband,"at once him.Andwhileitmayseemmysterious, the(literal) accusinghimand forgiving lie is in facttheproperculmination of Desdemona's honesty of speech. For in the interests of love her last engagement to speech is to denyspeech, thereby in action thatspeech can only reach so faras truth, and that acknowledging untruth can be a speechembodying thehigher of love. Havingreached morality this point thereis nothing forher to do but simplyassertthatlove and die: "Commendme to mykindlord. 0, farewell!" (1. 125). Her speech,paradoxreachesthefarthest in a lie (Othello icallybutappropriately, pointof generosity is anything but "kind"). Closing themoralcircleof her speech-as-action, her last breathis a protective lie. In being at odds withthe truth of "fact" but consonant withthe truth of love, her speech here achieves its mysterious fulfillment and release. Speech, in its own denial, becomesthefinalembodiment of Desdemona's moralidentity, and in its generosity of feeling themoralmeasure forthe restof the experienceof the play.26 WhereDesdemona (the truth-teller) dies tellinga lie to protect herhusband, Emilia (responsibleforthefoundinglie of the plot) dies tellingthe truth that will condemn in speech.) hers.(Again,in their thewomen harmonize differences, Fromhermistress's deathuntilherown, it is Emilia's speech-its content and its unsuppressible existence-that dominates thestage. Stunned the reasons by forthe murder, which she has forcedOthello to speak at last, her obsessive indictment: speechbecomes a powerful "My husband?. . . That she was false
25 The of varying moral of highly be said, end in a flourish chargedutterances women,it might and hermeneutic implication. 26 At thismoment to speak aboutin any exact way, I am thatis difficult of paradox,a moment reminded of the way Austinends How to Do ThingsWithWordsby claiming"to play Old Harry fetish"(p. 150). Desdemona's . .. viz. (1) thetrue/false withtwofetishes fetish, (2) thevalue/fact distinctions. theseconventional speech at her deathalso unsettles



to wedlock? . . . My husband?. . . My husband? . . . My husbandsay she was false?" (V.ii.140-52). Commandedon her life to be silent,she refuses, murther!" thestagewithhervoice: "Help, help, ho, help! . . . Murther, filling the (11. 166-67). The sheerfactand presenceof her voice is whatconstitutes at thismoment, dramatic and ourtheatrical experience openingOthello's action in to the world. Her speech, thatis, becomes the agentof moralrestoration of moral conthe public world, whereDesdemona's had been the guarantee tinuancein the privateworld. Emilia's answerto Iago, who adds his commandsforsilence to Othello's, mightbe her emblem: "I will not charmmy tongue;I am bound to speak" (1. 184). "Good gentlemen,"she appeals to the assembledcompany,"let me have leave to speak" (1. 195), an act thatlinksherto hermistress by returning us to the startof the play, the public worldwaitingupon a woman's words. Even though,havingdiscoveredabout the handkerchief, it is her own faults thatmustbe brought to light,she will notbe bulliedby Iago intosilence. She claims her right to speak, defying her husband,men, religion,the world: 'Twillout,'twill out!I peace? as thenorth: No, I willspeakas liberal Let heaven andmenanddevils, letthem all, All, all, cryshame me,yetI'll speak. against (11. 219-22) The subjecthere being her right to speak and the nature of her utterance, her she is, at this mo(even "meta-performative"): speech is fullyperformative which ment,all speech.27 truth, Calmly,then,she recitestheplay's resolving is simplicity thou speak'st of / I foundby fortune, itself:"that handkerchief and did give my husband" (11.225-26). Quietlyshe repeatsit, her speech in its simplicity and repetition on thepalpable, unambiguous status of fact: taking "I foundit, / And I did give't my husband" (11.230-31). Such simplespeechprecipitates chaoticviolence, actionbeyondspeech,the inchoatefuryof passions speech cannotmasteror embody:in this wordless scuffle Othello woundsIago; Iago mortally woundshis wife. Fittingly, then, at least in thelightof thepresent discussion,Emilia's last speechis to herdead For Desdemonashe recallstheir Othello,and to herself. lady, to an inattentive recentscene together: "What did thysong bode, lady? / Hark,canstthouhear me? I will play the swan, / And die in music" (11.246-48). Again, a word ("bode," see IV.iii.59) is enoughto linkthewomen,as is thefactthat,even in deaththeyare, in a sense, listening to one another.28 The snatchof thesong she sings createsa deeplypatheticeffect, evokingDesdemona, Barbary,and the infinite line of women undone by love and men. To Othello, then, she in thesewords: Desdemona'ssimpletruth, to hermistress herself repeats binding "Moor, she was chaste;she lov'd thee,cruelMoor; /So come mysoul to bliss, as I speak true" (11.249-50). That she hazards eternity on her speech gives vivid endorsement to the notionthatforher, as forDesdemona, speech and moralidentity and to are the same thing.Her last words,then,are to herself, for these victims: theaudience,who musthearin them thefitting tragic epitaph
27See Elam on "metalanguage,"pp. 154-56. The way "Hark, canst thou hear me?" echoes "Hark, who is't thatknocks?" (IV.iii.53) enhancesthis harmonious effect, especiallygiven thatEmilia is about to "die in music" (counDesdemona's deathin a struggling silence). terpointing



"So speakingas I think,alas, I die" (1. 251).29 Speech, moral identity, and forthe last time. life itselfare here, in this utterance, unified the play is not yetquite over, it seems to me thatup to its endAlthough I neverwill speak word" silence ("From thistimeforth through Iago's terrible [V.ii.304]) and the high, heroic eloquence of Othello's farewells-we must This is made easy by thefactthatthey continue to keep thewomenin mind.30 lie on the stage beforeour eyes, achievingin the repose of deatha curiously own: theirsilence speaks to us. In thistheyare emblematic eloquence of their moral to theirhusbands.31 And afterwards, efficient when again counterpoints theplay is assessed as moralexperience,it is essentialto give due weightand to thatexperience.In thisessay I have meaningto the women's contribution triedto show thatin factthe women are at the verycenterof thismoralexis justlyand fully embodiedin their periencewhich,no abstract thing, speech, theirsong, and finally theirsilence. It is theirvoices, in a play of remarkable to a satisfactory voices, that necessary understanding providethemoralmeasure of the play, the factof theirspeech itselfa thematic in sub-text illuminating moral of the action. the tragic surprising "meaning" ways
29 the Folio edition;in the Quarto The line as quoted herefrom the Riversidetextderivesfrom I worth text,the line containsa repetition noting.There the line reads, "So speakingas I think, the density of honestpresencein the women's speech. die, I die." Such doublenessillustrates 30 Othello's magniloquent at the farend of a perforit might be said, are utterances farewells, mativespectrum from thoseof the women.Iago's silence, perhaps,suggeststhe moralvacuumat his is the centerof all his speech acts. And wherethe women's finalsilence reveals theirtruth, an attempt to prevent the truth fromever being fullyknown. His silence, in fact,mightbe understoodas thatelementin the worldof matter (and of morals) whichmustalways, in the end, elude the grasp of speech. 31 Such possibilitiesmake it easy to agree with Elam's observation about Othello, that "the moral and the semioticissues are indivisiblein the play" (p. 163).