My Husband! My Husband?

So I was flipping through Othello today helping somebody look for a monologue, and I was struck by Emilia’s reaction to Othello right at the end of the play, where Othello basically says “Iago told me everything” and it all falls into place for Emilia.  Check it out:


Cassio did top her; ask thy husband else.
O, I were damn’d beneath all depth in hell,
But that I did proceed upon just grounds
To this extremity. Thy husband knew it all.


My husband!


Thy husband.


That she was false to wedlock?


Ay, with Cassio. Nay, had she been true,
If heaven would make me such another world
Of one entire and Perfect chrysolite,
I’ld not have sold her for it.


My husband!


Ay, ’twas he that told me first:
An honest man he is, and hates the slime
That sticks on filthy deeds.


My husband!


What needs this iteration, woman? I say thy husband.

Emilia repeats the exact same line 3 times.  Othello even asks her “Why do you keep repeating yourself?”

Somebody get into her head for me.  How do you play that? Is it denial?  Not necessarily that her husband is a bastard, I’m sure she knows that – I’m thinking more that Emilia recognizes that if *she’d* seen through Iago sooner, then Desdemona might still be alive.

Or is it more like “That son of a b*tch I’ll kill him!” Like she’s not even listening to Othello, she’s already put everything together in her head and now the fact that she keeps saying “My husband” over and over again has nothing to do with Othello.

Or, something else?

Mostly just curious. If she’d said it once, or if she’d worded it differently each time, I wouldn’t even have noticed.  But the repetition is obviously there for a reason, so as an actor or director how do you make it work? Why does she do that?

14 thoughts on “My Husband! My Husband?

  1. From my perspective, as an actor once, I would deliver each of the three "My husbands!" diffrently to reflect Emilia's growing horror, rage and disgust as she realizes what her husband has done. The first communicates outright shock and disbelief; the second, quaking acceptance of the shattering truth; and the third, rage that her husband could have abetted Desdemona's murder–all against Othello's persisting in his belief that the murder was justified.

  2. I always thought that Emilia never really knows just how awful her husband is until that moment. I think she knows that he can be a total jerk, and that he's a pretty crappy husband, but I don't think she realises that he's capable of pushing someone to murder through blatant lying. I think that realising your husband was essentially a murderer would take three utterances to really comprehend.

    I'd vary slightly from Wayne's suggestion and go with two disbelieving and one where it's really sunk in. Roughly. The first would be along the lines of, "wait, did you say 'MY husband'?"; the second would be the inability to believe that Othello was right; and the third would be the voicing of that huge cavern that would open up inside you when you realise you're in love with a psychopath. That couldn't be described with only one emotion.

  3. Another case of insidious editorial punctuation. I've started getting really irked at how often modern editions — and the Arden and the online MIT version are particularly bad about it — change question marks, semicolons, and periods into exclamation marks just because… they feel like it, apparently. This is a good example of how that can hinder rather than help comprehension. These lines make way more sense with question marks, because you get that sense of (and progression through) confusion, disbelief, and horror.

    Rhetorically, of course, any time an actor repeats him- or herself, there should be something different informing each iteration, thus giving each iteration a different color and delivery. And JM makes a great point about Emilia asking us as much as herself — Emilia could use at least one of those to quite literally ask the audience for confirmation of what they've seen (since they've been complicit in Iago's machinations all along).

  4. This is how I would play it:

    It's not news to Emilia that her husband is a jerk, but this is not the standard Iago nastiness that she's become inured to. This is very, very bad.

    Her first exclamation is startled and suspicious: "Not surprising to hear that Iago was intrigued by something foul – but wait, this couldn't possibly be true, tell me more."

    Her second exclamation a gasp of dismayed understanding: "Oh God, you went and trusted him."

    And her third, emphasizing "my" and feeling the impact of what her marriage-partner has done – and perhaps, how her acceptance of him has allowed things to get to this point.

  5. What edition, Quarto, has Emilia's lines ending with an exclamation mark? I checked my Riverside Shakespeare (1974) after I posted my response and found the lines, indeed, ended with question marks. And, of course, that makes a big difference in meaning and how they might be delivered by an actor.

  6. JM – Yeah, I've learned to check *everything* against at least the Folio, if not Qs when they're available. And I don't always change everything back — commas, particularly, seem to have a slightly different use and consistency now than then — but exclamation points seem to be the biggest transgressors of editorial transmission.

    Wayne — Nope, the Q has question marks as well. The exclamation marks are totally scurrilous.

    For anyone interested in looking at the originals, I recommend Internet Shakespeare Editions — — and hopefully posting this link won't make blogger think I'm spamming. 😉 Very easy to navigate, good quality scans.

  7. I won't attempt to go into the myriad of facets an actor and director can explore in this reveal. Analysis on this one segment just from the point of view of Aemilia could fill up the pages of a thesis.

    As can be seen by just two responses, Choice is paramount, governed by what is most meaningful and, hence, what is most powerful in the mind of the actor at this point. Also, the ability of the actor to play layered subtlety comes to bear. Of course, all of the previously mentioned emotional reactions could, or might, legitimately come into play.

    But first and foremost I'd look at the text itself. At this point, I think both characters are living somewhat in their own worlds. They speak to each other and hear what's being said, but it's evident that in terms of carrying on a real conversation, the incredible shock of circumstance has driven them both into their own separate sphere, for obvious and different reasons.

    Understanding the beginning of this retreat and how it might be played from the point of view of the character begins with the text itself. This is where the editor, many times, is the enemy of the actor.

    Rage, horror, disgust, anger, etc. have all been mentioned and, within the context, can all be valid. And the favorite choice, unfortunately, of editors, when it comes to "explaining" those emotions, is the all purpose "!"

    Simply replace the exclamation point with a question mark following every "My Husband" (as is written in the Folio). The source of the initiation of our thoughts about the quality and intent of her emotions immediately changes. The hidden power of Aemilia's responses takes on the possibility of adding an additional layer *while* we explore the faceted variations already mentioned here as legitimate choices by Wayne and Sarah.

    Aemilia is *asking us* as much as she is asking herself.

  8. Unfortunately, Cass, as you know, those editors are editors of editors that edited the editors of other editors, always in acceptance of passing on as holy writ, some of the editorial decisions of every editor since Rowe, Theobald, and Pope, with the added 'gift' of their own editorial changes. It's like a virus. 🙁

    I'm not even totally pleased with the RSC "folio-based" edition. That's why I ALWAYS refer to F1 and/or the Quartos first.

  9. Duane, you brought up an interesting possibility. Of course it presupposes the change in punctuation in order to be a viable approach. You wrote:

    "Like she's not even listening to Othello, she's already put everything together in her head and now the fact that she keeps saying "My husband" over and over again has nothing to do with Othello."

    –Suppose for a second that Othello is driving the scene, madly attempting to "explain" his actions, make sense of them (to her, but MAINLY to himself). The fact that he is in fact driving it is evidenced by the single verse line devoted to her short responses to him. She isn't always 'finishing' his verse line. Her responses are simple questions; two words given the time and weight of a full line of verse. Certainly underlying those questions would be thoughts–what those thoughts might be is up to the actor.

    The possible dramatic power of what ensues could be generated by the juxtaposition of the two totally opposite displays of emotion. His buzzing around like a madman vs. her simple, yet mesmerizing action of asking a simple question over and over.

    She 'comes to her senses' when Othello asks: "What needs this iteration…?" After that, she actually asks him *again*: "My Husband says she was false?"

    The reiteration of a simple question, asked like one, can be very powerful, as long as the underlying thoughts behind it remain unshaken and unassailable.
    Ah, choices…

  10. Wayne! –some versions of Othello! 🙂

    –Complete Works 1973 (Bevington; Craig). Based on The Globe Editions
    –Globe Edition–very popular as the basis for "modern" editions, esp. online versions.
    –MIT online version
    –The Alexander Text edition of 1951 (I have a newly 'revised' publication of it) described by Gary Taylor as…"the most esteemed and influential British edition of the 20th century."

    These came from doing the slightest bit of research; my own library and online. There are others.

  11. P.S. Wayne,

    I realize from reading my post that it could seem as though what I wrote:

    "These came from doing the slightest bit of research; my own library and online. There are others."
    Could seem snarky. It was only intended to illustrate how prevalent the danger, of what I believe to be, in Cass words, "scurrilous" editing, actually is.

  12. We're getting old, JM – I read your comment about the "slightest bit of research" and thought "Damn, that was unnecessarily snarky." And then I read your next comment. 🙂

    I was at a company offsite yesterday so while I saw the conversation go by I couldn't really jump in. I love that it turned to the difference between ! and ? — notice how I wrote the subject line? It was in my brain even if I didn't explicitly come out and say it. 😉

    And, wow, that original post came out really poorly in the formatting, didn't it. I'll have to fix that. Silly Blogger software. 🙁

  13. when the rebels did this 2 summers ago, one of the girls nailed the my husband my husband so hard that you could FEEL the audience getting it that SHE was getting it and the whole handkerchief, disbelief, MY FREAKING HUSBAND told you this…

    it was perfect. and her RAGING at othello about how horrible and horrible and horrible iago is, is one of the most amazing "dawn on Marble Head" moments ever.

  14. I don't think that Emilia will ever rank up their with Juliet and Lady M in the list of roles that every actress is dying to play. But that slow transformation (remember how she attempts to stand up to her husband in the "What do you need the handkerchief for?" scene) into that great climax is something you can absolutely sink your teeth into. Talk about Shakespeare having a handle on human psychology? You've got a woman who is both mentally and physically abused by her husband *in public* and yet she still puts up with it. Until this scene.

    And then just as the audience gets their moment to cheer for Emilia standing up for herself we're reminded of just how much of a monster Iago really is when he *kills her right there in front of everybody*. I love that Shakespeare even writes in a character (don't have the script in front of me) saying "Holy sh*t did he just stab his wife right in front of us?" It is *that* shocking.

    In fact, I smell another post brewing…;)

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