Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English


Liberal Studies

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, 47 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Ineke Murakami

Committee Members

Nancy Newman


Adaptation, Othello, Verdi, Women and gender, Desdemona (Fictitious character), Emilia (Fictitious character : Shakespeare), Sex role, Agent (Philosophy)

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Music


This thesis explores the characters of Desdemona and Emilia in Shakespeare’s Othello and productions of Giuseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boito’s operatic adaptation, Otello (1887). Shakespeare structures the play’s meditation on the limitations of feminine agency in early modern England with Desdemona and Emilia’s detached acts of defiance. When both women succumb to the parasitism of their marriages, Shakespeare illuminates the unjust danger defiant women face under the unyielding power of early modern patriarchy. Surprisingly, Verdi and Boito diminish the agency of these female characters in their opera, instead favoring male characters while adapting Shakespeare’s play to the form and audience expectations of 19th-century opera. Franco Zeffirelli, in his 1986 film adaptation of the opera, further depreciates the agency and roles in general of Desdemona and Emilia. While Bartlett Sher attempts to reinstate some of the women’s Shakespearean agency through staging, his reverence to Verdi and Boito’s canonical opera prevents a full restoration.