Detailed Summary of Othello, Act 5, Scene 2

Page Index:
Enter Othello with a candle and Desdemona in her bed asleep:
Othello is hovering over the sleeping Desdemona, and he has been there for some time, trying to prepare himself to kill her.

(The stage directions may seem strange to us. How can Desdemona enter "in her bed"? The bed, with Desdemona on it, was probably pushed out by stagehands who were invisible to the imaginations of the audience. The bed is the four-poster type, with curtains that can be closed, which they will be later in the scene. At the moment the curtains are open, and we know that Othello has been there for some time because his thoughts are the result of looking at his beautiful wife.)

Othello says, maybe whispers, "It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,-- / Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!-- / It is the cause (5.2.1-3). He means that he is going to kill Desdemona because of "the cause," the crime that she has committed, a crime so horrible that he can't say its name even to the stars. Thus he denies to himself that he is killing her for himself, because he is jealous, because his sense of honor has been wounded.

Othello continues, "Yet I'll not shed her blood; / Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, / And smooth as monumental alabaster. / Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men" (5.2.3-6). The last time we saw Othello he was saying to the Desdemona of his imagination, "Forth of my heart those charms, thine eyes, are blotted; / Thy bed, lust-stain'd, shall with lust's blood be spotted" (5.1.35-36). He meant that he had stopped loving her, so that her eyes no longer shone in his heart, and therefore he was ready to shed her blood. Now, however, even with her eyes closed, Desdemona's beauty is tempting him to change his mind. Now he doesn't want to shed her blood or scar her skin, and he has to remind himself that what he is doing is just. His self-justification -- that if he doesn't kill her "she'll betray more men" -- is extremely feeble, but he would be ashamed of his real reason. He's not being hypocritical; he just can't face the truth.

Othello tries to focus on the steps he must take: "Put out the light, and then put out the light" (5.2.7). All he has to do is blow out the candle, then kill her, but another thought stops him. He looks at the candle and says to it, "If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, / I can again thy former light restore, / Should I repent me" (5.2.7-10). A "minister" is a servant, one who carries out the orders of others. The candle, the "flaming minister," is completely at Othello's command; once he blows out the light, he can easily light it again if he decides he has made a mistake. But Desdemona is not a candle, though the whiteness of her skin shines in the night. Othello, looking at her, says, "but once put out thy light, / Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature, / I know not where is that Promethean heat / That can thy light relume [rekindle]" (5.2.10-13). Today the word "cunning" connotes deceit, but Othello is not using the word in that sense. A thing that is "cunning" has been made with great, even magical, knowledge. And a "pattern" is an original, something which can only be imitated, not equaled. Othello feels he is about to destroy a woman who is so wonderful that nature will never produce another like her. To bring her back to life after he kills her would require the fire that Prometheus stole from the gods.

Othello knows he is not Prometheus. He says, "When I have pluck'd the rose, / I cannot give it vital growth again. / It must needs wither: I'll smell it on the tree" (5.2.13-15). (At this point editors usually put in the stage direction "Kisses her." Although Shakespeare didn't write the stage direction, we know that Othello does kiss her because at the very end of the play his dying words are "I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee: no way but this; / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss" (5.2.358-359). He kisses her and his struggle to be cruel becomes even more difficult. He says,
Ah balmy breath, that dost almost persuade
Justice to break her sword! One more, one more.
Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,
And love thee after. One more, and this the last:
So sweet was ne'er so fatal. I must weep,
But they are cruel tears: this sorrow's heavenly;
It strikes where it doth love.   (5.2.16-22)

One kiss leads to another, and then another. All the while he reminds himself that he is an agent of justice, that she must die, and that even though he can't stop himself from weeping, his tears are "cruel tears." His sorrow is "heavenly" in the sense that he feels the agony of the Christian God, who punishes those He loves, because He loves them. (You personally may have doubts about the validity of this bit of theology, but no one in Shakespeare's time, though it was a time of great religious controversy, challenged this fundamental doctrine.) Despite Othello's reminders to himself, it almost seems that if Desdemona had continued to sleep, Othello might not have killed her. But she wakes up.

Desdemona awakes:
From the time that Desdemona awakes to the time Othello smothers her, the scene becomes more gut-wrenching from moment to moment. Every word that Desdemona says brings her closer to death.

Coming out of her sleep, Desdemona asks "Who's there? Othello?" (5.2.23). He identifies himself and she asks him if he wants to come to bed. He doesn't answer her question, but asks if she has prayed. She says she has, perhaps thinking that they are having a normal conversation, as praying was a usual thing to do before going to bed. But then Othello says, "If you bethink yourself of any crime [sin] / Unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace, / Solicit for it [ask forgiveness for it] straight " (5.2.26-28). "Straight" means "immediately," and now Desdemona realizes that a crisis is upon her. She asks him what he means, and he replies, "Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by: / I would not kill thy unprepared spirit; / No; heaven forfend! I would not kill thy soul" (5.2.30-32). "I will walk by" is an offer to step out of earshot so that she can confess God before she dies.

In offering to let Desdemona confess her sins before he kills her for them, Othello may be guilty of monumental arrogance, but he's sincere, just as parents sometimes really do mean it when they say to their children "this is for your own good." But Desdemona is very frightened at the word "kill." She says that she hopes that he doesn't mean to kill her, but he just grunts and rolls his eyes. She says, "And yet I fear you; for you are fatal then / When your eyes roll so: why I should fear I know not, / Since guiltiness I know not; but yet I feel I fear" (5.2.37-39). Fear of the unknown that lurks in our loved ones is the essence of terror; it is the effect aimed at by horror movies in which the bodies of wives, husbands, children, and friends are suddenly taken over by evil aliens. Desdemona feels this fear; she sees the fatal danger in Othello's eyes, but has no clue as to what she could have done to bring this on.

Othello, on the other hand, wants to believe that she knows "guiltiness." If she truly doesn't then he is a murderer, not an agent of the cause of justice. He demands that she "Think on thy sins", but she answers, "They are loves I bear to you" (5.2.40). She means that loving him like a god is as close as she has come to sin. He responds, "Ay, and for that thou diest" (5.2.41). He means that her betrayal of that love is the crime for which she must die, but she believes herself to be innocent of any betrayal and protests, "That death's unnatural that kills for loving" (5.2.42). She's right, love doesn't kill, but being right doesn't help her.

Now there is a moment of frightening suspense. Othello has said that Desdemona must die, but he's not attacking her. As she pleads for her life we see a man who is staring, pacing, gnawing his bottom lip. She says, "Alas, why gnaw you so your nether lip? / Some bloody passion shakes your very frame: / These are portents; but yet I hope, I hope, / They do not point on me" (5.2.43-46). He commands her to be quiet, and she says she will, but still he gnaws his lip and does nothing.

After a few moments of silent fear, Desdemona asks what's the matter, and Othello gives voice to what he has been holding back: "That handkerchief which I so loved and gave thee / Thou gavest to Cassio" (5.2.48-49). This is Othello's last chance to prove to himself that he's in the right, that he knows the truth, but the evidence of the handkerchief does not make her confess. She denies everything and continues to deny it, even when he warns her against perjury. To him, her denial is an attack on his honor. He says, "O perjured woman! thou dost stone my heart, / And makest me call what I intend to do / A murder, which I thought a sacrifice: / I saw the handkerchief!" (5.2.63-66). He wants to believe that he is about to kill his love as a sacrifice to the cause of justice, but she won't confess that she deserves to be sacrificed. If she's innocent, he's a murderer, so she must be lying.

Desperately, Desdemona says that Cassio must have found the handkerchief and asks Othello to send for him so that he can tell the truth. Othello answers that Cassio has already told the truth, that he has used Desdemona unlawfully. Desdemona says that Cassio wouldn't say that, and Othello counters, "No, his mouth is stopp'd; / Honest Iago hath ta'en order for't" (5.2.71-72). This is a kind of triumph for Othello; his one true friend, "honest Iago," has stopped Cassio's lying mouth by killing him. Desdemona is terrified; her one possible witness is dead, and his death makes her understand that Othello is dead serious about killing her, too. She weeps. Desdemona's weeping only further enrages Othello. Once again he misinterprets what he sees before his eyes. He says, "Out, strumpet! weep'st thou for him to my face?" (5.2.77). She's not weeping for Cassio, but out of pure fear, and it's too late for explanations.

She pleads to be banished, not killed; to live the night and be killed tomorrow; to live an hour; to live while she says a single prayer. None of her pleas are answered. He is upon her. She struggles to escape, but he, saying, "Nay, if you strive" (5.2.81), easily overpowers her.

Emilia calls at the door:
Moments after Othello begins to smother Desdemona, Emilia calls from the other side of the locked door: "My lord, my lord! what, ho! my lord, my lord!" (5.2.84). Hearing Emilia, Othello checks on the state of Desdemona, finds that she's not yet dead, and says, "I that am cruel am yet merciful; / I would not have thee linger in thy pain: So, so" (5.2.86-87). At this point editors usually add the stage direction "Dispatches her," which means that he finishes her off.

(About two minutes later Desdemona will revive enough to proclaim her innocence and say farewell to Othello, which brings up an interesting question for the reader of the play. What did Othello do to hasten Desdemona's death, and how could she have briefly revived from whatever he did? It doesn't seem that Othello could have dispatched her by continuing to smother her, since that wouldn't have speeded things up. Perhaps Othello dispatches Desdemona with the dagger he uses on himself at the end of the scene. However, these speculations are for the reader only. When we view the play the scene moves so quickly and is so powerful that we believe whatever the actors do.)

Guessing that Emilia has come with news of Cassio's death, Othello tries to decide what to do. Desdemona isn't moving, so it appears that she's dead, but if Emilia comes in, "she'll sure speak to my wife" (5.2.96). Saying this, Othello hears himself and begins to understand what he's done:
My wife! my wife! what wife? I have no wife.
O insupportable! O heavy hour!
Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse
Of sun and moon, and that the affrighted globe
Should yawn
[gape] at alteration.   (5.2.97-101)
Desdemona was Othello's light, his sun and moon. Now that she is dead, he feels that a great darkness should descend from an eclipse of the sun and moon, and that the earth, seeing this "alteration" should split open. The current cliché for this kind of feeling is "His world is changed forever."

For a moment, Othello is lost in his sense of loss, but Emilia again calls, and he decides he needs to let her in. He tells her to come in, but then tells her to wait. Before he lets Emilia in, he draws the curtain of the bed to hide Desdemona's body. As soon as she appears, Emilia starts talking about murders being done, and Othello pretends ignorance of the reason, saying It is the very error of the moon; / She comes more nearer earth than she was wont, / And makes men mad" (5.2.109-110). When Emilia delivers the news that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Othello asks if Cassio has been killed too, and when Emilia says that he hasn't, Othello comes near to giving himself away by saying, "Not Cassio kill'd! then murder's out of tune, / And sweet revenge grows harsh" (5.2.115-116).

Just then Desdemona revives and cries out from behind the bed curtain, "O, falsely, falsely murder'd!" (5.2.117). Emilia asks what that was, and Othello again pretends total ignorance. "That? what?" (5.2.118), he says, as though he hadn't even heard anything. However, Emilia isn't put off. She recognizes Desdemona's voice, opens the bed curtains, and starts calling for help. Emilia also urges Desdemona to say more, and Desdemona responds, "A guiltless death I die" (5.2.122). Emilia asks her who has done this to her, and Desdemona answers, "Nobody; I myself. Farewell / Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell!" (5.2.125).

It may be possible to interpret Desdemona's last words as an example of the victim taking the blame on herself, but even if that is what's she's doing, she's also protecting her husband, and he knows it. He pretends surprise that she has been murdered, then says to Emilia, "You heard her say herself, it was not I" (5.2.127). Emilia confirms it, saying, "She said so; I must needs report the truth" (5.2.128). Othello now has a witness to his innocence, so Desdemona has succeeded in protecting her husband, but in a minute Othello will throw away that protection.

For a few moments Othello has been pretending ignorance and surprise, as though he wanted to get away with the murder of his wife. Now, with Emilia's testimony, he could get away with it. But he's not a criminal. He doesn't want to get away with it; he wants to justify it. He says, "She's, like a liar, gone to burning hell: / 'Twas I that kill'd her" (5.2.129-130). In other words, Desdemona lied, and like a liar she's gone to hell for her sins. And he sent her there, where she belongs. Emilia immediately springs to Desdemona's defense: "O, the more angel she, / And you the blacker devil!" (5.2.130-131). Still trying to justify himself, Othello answers, "She turn'd to folly, and she was a whore" (5.2.132). Emilia shoots back, "Thou dost belie her, and thou art a devil" (5.2.133). Then, to prove his point, Othello says, "Cassio did top her; ask thy husband else" (5.2.136).

Emilia is stunned. Four times she asks if her husband said that Desdemona was an adulterer, and each time Othello answers that he did. Othello also continues to justify himself, saying that if she hadn't been false to him, he wouldn't have exchanged Desdemona for another whole world, even one made entirely of a precious gem. But Emilia isn't interested in Othello's justifications and she won't change her mind about Desdemona, even if Iago did say that she was false. Othello, on the other hand, thinks that she should believe whatever came from her husband, and he describes him as "My friend, thy husband, honest, honest Iago" (5.2.154). Emilia answers, "If he say so, may his pernicious soul / Rot half a grain a day! he lies to the heart: / She was too fond of her most filthy bargain" (5.2.155-157).

In her anger, Emilia has just delivered a powerful insult. In her view, Desdemona's marriage to Othello was a "most filthy bargain" because she gave up everything for Othello, who has shown himself to be corrupt therefore filthy. (Perhaps the insult is also racist, and she means that Othello is filthy because he is black.) Naturally, this angers Othello, who makes a gesture -- perhaps puts a hand on his sword -- that Emilia takes to be threatening. She defies him, saying, "Do thy worst! / This deed of thine is no more worthy heaven / Than thou wast worthy her" (5.2.159-161). Othello tells her to shut up, and she answers, "Thou hast not half that power to do me harm / As I have to be hurt" (5.2.162-163). In other words, she can handle twice as much as whatever he dishes out. Then she calls him three kinds of fool, and swears that she will make his crime known, which she immediately proceeds to do by shouting "Help! help, ho! help! / The Moor hath kill'd my mistress! Murder! murder!" (5.2.166-167).

Enter Montano, Gratiano, Iago, and others:
Emilia's cries for help are answered by Montano, Gratiano, Iago and "others." (The "others" have no real part in the scene except to restrain Iago and Othello when things gets rough.) Montano asks what's the matter, but Emilia ignores him and says to her husband, "O, are you come, Iago? you have done well, / That men must lay their murders on your neck" (5.2.169-170). Gratiano also asks what the matter is, and he, too, is ignored by Emilia. Vehemently she demands that Iago prove Othello a liar. She says to her husband, "Disprove this villain, if thou be'st a man: / He says thou told'st him that his wife was false: / I know thou didst not, thou'rt not such a villain: / Speak, for my heart is full" (5.2.172-175).

For the first time in the play, Iago finds himself in a situation he can't control. If he lies and says that he never said anything about Desdemona, Othello would probably kill him on the spot. This time, he has to tell the truth, and he does. He says that he told Othello what they both thought was true, that Desdemona was false. Emilia, passionately loyal to Desdemona, denounces her husband, saying, "You told a lie, an odious, damned lie; / Upon my soul, a lie, a wicked lie. / She false with Cassio!--did you say with Cassio?" (5.2.180-182). Iago replies that he did say "with Cassio," and tells her to shut up, but she's not about to. She says, "I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak: / My mistress here lies murder'd in her bed--" (5.2.184-185).

The next line of the play is given to "All," who say, O heavens forfend!" (5.2.186). This does not mean that everyone says "O heavens forfend!" in chorus, which would be pretty silly. The men haven't really looked at the bed until this moment. Now they see Desdemona's body and they're naturally shocked. There is a hubbub while each man takes a look at Desdemona's body and exclaims something like "I hope to God it isn't true."

Trying to end the hubbub and get himself out of an extremely sticky situation, Iago commands Emilia to go home, but she refuses. She says, "Good gentlemen, let me have leave to speak: / 'Tis proper I obey him, but not now. / Perchance, Iago, I will ne'er go home" (5.2.195-197). Emilia's display of courage has a profound impact on Othello. He begins to believe that he murdered his love because of a lie, and it makes him throw himself on Desdemona's bed to roar in agony.

Trying to recover himself, Othello declares "O, she was foul!" (5.2.200). Then he recognizes Gratiano as Desdemona's uncle and speaks to him: "there lies your niece, / Whose breath, indeed, these hands [i.e.,Othello's own hands] have newly stopp'd: / I know this act shows horrible and grim" (5.2.201-203). Perhaps Othello feels that if he can get a member of Desdemona's family to understand, then everything will be all right. Gratiano, however, doesn't seem to be interested in listening to explanations. He says that it's a good thing that Desdemona's father died (which is news to us), because if he hadn't, Desdemona's death would have made him turn against God.

Still speaking to Gratiano, and still trying to maintain his belief that he did the right thing, Othello offers his proofs: Iago knew that Cassio had gone to bed with Desdemona a thousand times; Cassio confessed it; and Desdemona gave Cassio the handkerchief which Othello saw in his hand. But the evidence of the handkerchief, which Othello thinks will prove him right, proves him wrong.

At the mention of the handkerchief, Emilia bursts out, "O God! O heavenly God!" (5.2.218). Iago again tells her to shut up, but she says she'll speak no matter what. Iago tells her to go home, but she refuses, and he tries to use his sword on her. Gratiano and others restrain Iago while Emilia shouts out the terrible truth: "O thou dull Moor! that handkerchief thou speak'st of / I found by fortune [accident] and did give [it to] my husband" (5.2.225-226). Iago yells that she's a whore and a liar, but it's too late for him. His attempt to kill Emilia is the proof that he is the one who is a liar.

Unsheathing his sword, Othello says, "Are there no stones in heaven / But what serve for the thunder?--Precious villain!" (5.2.234-235). The rumblings of thunder sound like stones clashing together; Othello thinks that now, if ever, is the time for the heavens to do more than make noise. Now is the time for a thunderbolt to strike Iago dead, but if heaven won't do it, he will, and he swings his sword at Iago.

Othello attacks Iago; Montano and others disarm Othello. Iago stabs Emilia, and runs away:
Because he has just tried to use his sword on his wife, the other men are keeping a close eye on Iago, and when Othello attacks, they restrain him, so that he misses Iago. In the commotion Iago takes the opportunity to stab his wife and run away.

The thrust of Iago's sword is fatal, and, feeling her life slipping away from her, Emilia says, "O, lay me by my mistress' side" (5.2.237). At the same time Montano takes charge of the situation. He gives Gratiano the sword he has taken from Othello and instructs Gratiano to guard the door from the outside, making sure that Othello doesn't escape. Montano and the rest of the men then leave to chase down Iago. Now Othello is alone with the body of Desdemona and with the dying Emilia, who says and sings her farewells to Desdemona and Othello.

(Who lays Emilia by Desdemona's side? The only original stage direction in the whole passage is an "Exit " for Montano, but all of the other actions are clearly demanded by the characters' words. Gratiano is the one who announces that Emilia will surely die of her wound, so perhaps he carries Emilia to Desdemona. Or maybe Othello does it, signalling his acceptance of the truth that Emilia has told.)

Othello says, "I am not valiant neither, / But every puny whipster gets my sword: / But why should honour outlive honesty? / Let it go all" (5.2.244-246). A "whipster" is a contemptible person, one who can make a show of whipping out his sword, but is no good in a real battle. Othello's phrase "puny whipster" expresses contempt for Montano and Gratiano, but much more for himself. He has just let the sword go, and with good reason. His reputation as a valiant man, his "honour," is hollow without true integrity, "honesty." He not only lost the sword, he deserved to lose it.

Next we -- with Othello -- hear Emilia's final words. She says to Desdemona, "What did thy song bode [prophesy], lady? / Hark, canst thou hear me? I will play the swan. / And die in music" (5.2.246-248). According to legend, the swan would sing as it died, and as she dies Emilia sings the song which Desdemona sang and which foretold Desdemona's death. It is as though Emilia, lying beside Desdemona and singing her song, is Desdemona's voice from beyond the grave. That voice then speaks to Othello: "Moor, she was chaste; she loved thee, cruel Moor; / So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true; / So speaking as I think, alas, I die" (5.2.249-251).

At first Othello doesn't seem to react to Emilia. He finds another sword and demands that Gratiano come in. Gratiano, thinking that Othello has no weapon, opens the door, only to find himself face-to-face with an armed Othello. However, although Othello is armed, he's not dangerous. He has seen the truth and heard the voice from beyond the grave. He tells Gratiano that with such a sword as he now has in his hand he has defeated men twenty times as strong as Gratiano, "But (O vain boast!) / Who can control his fate? 'tis not so now" (5.2.264-265). Gratiano shouldn't be afraid, Othello says, because "Here is my journey's end, here is my butt, / And very sea-mark of my utmost sail" (5.2.267-268). By "here" Othello means Desdemona's bed. A "butt" is a boundary, a goal or target, the end of something; a "sea-mark" is a beacon or large structure marking the entrance to a harbor; a "sail" is a voyage. In his voyage of life Othello has come as far as he can; here he must stay, as a ship stays in harbor at the end of a voyage.

Again Othello tells Gratiano to not be afraid. Othello says, "Man [wield] but a rush [reed] against Othello's breast, / And he retires [retreats]" (5.2.270-271). In battle Othello has faced swords and cannons without retreating, but now he is so weak that he can do nothing but retreat. And he has nowhere to go. He asks, "Where should Othello go?" (5.2.271), then looks down upon Desdemona and speaks to her: "O ill-starr'd wench! / Pale as thy smock! when we shall meet at compt [the Last Judgment], / This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven, / And fiends will snatch at it" (5.2.272-275).

Othello is certain that he has done a thing for which there can be no forgiveness. He blames Iago, exclaiming, "O cursed, cursed slave!" (5.2.276), but he is overwhelmed by his own sense of guilt. He is so possessed by the image of his dead love that he feels it would be better to be in hell:
Whip me, ye devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight!
Blow me about in winds! roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!
O Desdemon! Desdemon! dead!
O, O!   (5.2.277-282)

Enter Lodovico, Montano, Cassio carried in a chair, and Officers with Iago, prisoner:
As Othello is roaring out his grief, Lodovico enters at the head of a group of men and asks, "Where is this rash and most unfortunate man?" (5.2.283). He means Othello, who answers, "That's he that was Othello: here I am" (5.2.284).

Lodovico, who was attending Cassio, has now taken charge. Behind him are Montano, Cassio, and Iago, who is guarded by the officers. As we learn a little later, Lodovico has already learned much about the events from things that Iago has said and from letters found on the body of Roderigo. Lodovico's business is now to get the rest of the story by questioning Othello, and to decide what is to be done with Othello and Iago.

As though he were a judge, Lodovico calls Iago forth to stand beside his victim, Othello. Othello says of Iago, "I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable. / If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee" (5.2.286-287). Then he swings his sword at Iago, wounding him. The "fable" which Othello mentions is the one that says that devils have cloven feet. Because it's only a fable, Othello can't tell if Iago is a devil by looking at his feet, so he swings his sword at Iago, to see if he's human and can be killed. Othello's thought may seem strange, but we ought to remember that it wasn't too many minutes ago that Othello thought Iago the most honest man in the world. The transformation of Iago from honest friend to dishonest villain may easily seem devilishly unnatural.

Othello's sword is taken from him, and Iago says "I bleed, sir; but not kill'd" (5.2.288). It's not clear whether Iago is talking to Othello or Lodovico, but neither of them seems to care much if Iago lives or dies, and Othello says, "I am not sorry neither: I'ld have thee live; / For, in my sense [the way I feel], 'tis happiness to die" (5.2.289-290).

Lodovico says nothing about Iago's wound, but gets down to business, saying, "O thou Othello, thou wert once so good, / Fall'n in the practise [evil plot] of a damned slave, / What shall be said to thee?" (5.2.291-293). Where Lodovico uses the word "to" in "what shall be said to thee" we would use "of" or "about"; Lodovico is asking Othello to explain himself, to say what he should be called. Othello responds, "Why, any thing: / An honourable murderer, if you will; / For nought I did in hate, but all in honour" (5.2.295).

(This short speech is extremely important to the interpretation of Othello's character. If he's justifying himself, we're going to think less of him. We are unlikely to think that there's any such thing as an honorable murderer, and earlier in the scene he didn't seem to think so, either. When Desdemona refused to confess to anything, Othello said "O perjured woman! thou dost stone my heart, / And makest me call what I intend to do / A murder, which I thought a sacrifice" (5.2.63-65). And when he could have used his sword to kill Gratiano and escape, he didn't. He said, "why should honour outlive honesty? / Let it go all" (5.2.245-246). In short, it seemed that for Othello, murder and honor didn't go together. Now, however, it sounds as if he's justifying himself by saying that he is an "honourable murderer" and that he did nothing "in hate." This is hard to swallow because we have heard him express fierce hatred of Desdemona and we have seen his rage when he murdered her. On the other hand, the phrase "honourable murderer" may be ironic. His first response to Lodovico is "Why, any thing," as if there was nothing that could be said about him that could express the truth. Then, after he uses the phrase "honourable murderer," he adds, "if you will," as though it doesn't really matter what others think of him. He may still be grappling with himself about what he is, and in using the phrase "honourable murderer" he may be making a bitterly ironic comment on his own mistake about what it means to be honorable.)

Lodovico, going on with his inquiry, asks if Othello conspired with Iago to kill Cassio. Othello answers simply, "Ay" (5.2.298). Cassio says, "Dear general, I never gave you cause" (5.2.299). Othello reassures Cassio that he believes him, and asks his pardon. Then Othello has a question of his own to ask. To Lodovico he says, "Will you, I pray, demand that demi-devil / Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?" (5.2.301-302). Iago's reply is famous. He says, "Demand me nothing: what you know, you know: / From this time forth I never will speak word" (5.2.303-304). Throughout the play Iago has been more than willing to explain himself to Roderigo, to Othello, and to us, in soliloquies. So why does he shut up now? Maybe he can't think of another lie; maybe he doesn't have a clear idea of why he did what he did; maybe he's just making another power play.

Gratiano tells Iago that he'll be tortured into talking, and then Lodovico goes on with the business at hand. He produces two letters that Roderigo meant to send to Iago. The letters reveal what we already know, that Roderigo and Iago conspired to get Cassio fired, and then to kill him. Thus Iago's villainy is proved beyond a doubt, but Othello has one more question. He asks Cassio how he came to have the handkerchief. Cassio answers that he found it in his chamber, and that Iago has already confessed that he dropped it there as part of his plot. Othello exclaims, "O fool! fool! fool!" (5.2.323). He's certainly describing himself.

Cassio adds that Roderigo revived long enough to tell that Iago was the one who killed him. Lodovico then gives orders. Othello is relieved of his duties and is to be taken as a prisoner to Venice for the final determination of his fate. Cassio is appointed governor of Cyprus. Iago will be tortured. Having made these announcements, Lodovico is ready to wrap things up. He says, "Come, bring away" (5.2.337), which is an order to the officers to follow him out of the room with the prisoners, Iago and Othello. But Othello stops everything.

"Soft you," says Othello, "a word or two before you go" (5.2.338). "Soft" means "wait a minute," and the rest of the men do wait to listen to what Othello has to say. He starts, "I have done the state some service, and they know't," as though he thinks that his service should be weighed against his crime, but then he changes his mind, saying, "No more of that" (5.2.339-340). He now wants to speak not of what is to become of him, but of what he is:
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought
Perplex'd in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum. Set you down this;
And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus.    (5.2.341-356)

Othello's assertion that he "loved not wisely but too well" can be the starting point for a long discussion. Was it unwise to love Desdemona at all? How is it possible to love "too well?" Can a passion which leads to murder be called "love"? Is Othello taking responsibility for his actions or making excuses?

However, all of this discussion will come after the performance is over. When we see the play, we see a man who is describing the experience of a terrible mistake. Othello compares himself to the "base Indian," someone in a now unknown tale who threw away a pearl because he was ignorant of its true worth. "Judean" is an alternative reading for "Indian," in which case Othello would be comparing himself to Herod the great, who, in a fit of jealousy, had his beloved wife killed. Both comparisons make good sense; Othello did suffer from jealousy and he threw away Desdemona without knowing her true worth. And he is weeping. His eyes are lowered in grief ("subdued") and the tears flow as fast as all the drops of sap ("gum") in a grove of trees that have been tapped to harvest the fluid.

Many an ordinary man, having made a mistake and feeling genuinely sorry, might feel that he deserved no more than probation or community service, but Othello is not an ordinary man. As he punished the "malignant . . . Turk," so he will punish himself, and so he pulls out his dagger and gives himself a deadly wound.

(What kind of wound? On stage, the actor playing Othello usually stabs into his heart. But Othello had indicated that he cut the Turk's throat, so maybe he cuts his own throat, as well. In real life and death, cutting one of the carotid arteries in the neck can kill as quickly as a stab into the heart.)

As Lodovico and Gratiano shout out their dismay, Othello returns to his love. Making his way to the bed, he says to Desdemona, "I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee: no way but this; / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss" (5.2.358-359). Laying himself by Desdemona's side, he kisses her and dies.

The last thing said about Othello comes from Cassio, who says, "This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; / For he was great of heart" (5.2.360-361).

Finally, in a short speech, Lodovico ties up all the loose ends. He orders the bodies to be hid, which is done by closing the curtains of the bed. Gratiano, Desdemona's uncle, is to have all of Othello's possessions. Cassio, now governor of Cyprus, is given the responsibility of torturing Iago (to death, presumably). Lodovico himself will return to Venice to deliver news of this tragedy.