Literature Study GuidesOthelloAct 5 Scene 2 Summary

Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 5, Scene 2

Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 5, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play Othello.

Othello | Act 5, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

In the play's final scene, Othello enters his bedchamber with a candle and finds Desdemona asleep in their bed. He won't shed her blood, he whispers, but he must kill her or else "she'll betray more men." He kisses her, she wakes up, and he encourages her to confess her sins. He tells her he's going to kill her and brings up the handkerchief. She pleads with him, saying, "I never did/Offend you in my life; never loved Cassio/But with such general warranty of heaven/As I might love: I never gave him token." He refuses to believe her and smothers her.

He closes the curtains around the bed and lets Emilia in, who discovers Desdemona nearly dead. Desdemona professes her love for Othello and tries to take the blame for her death; after proclaiming her guilt, she dies.

When Othello tells Emilia he killed Desdemona because of an affair with Cassio, Emilia, who knows this is a lie, realizes her husband is the culprit. She cries out "murder!" Iago, Montano, and Graziano come running, and when they arrive, Emilia accuses her husband. Othello, finally realizing the truth, tries to attack Iago, but is disarmed by Montano. In the confusion, Iago stabs Emilia, dealing her a fatal wound. He flees but is caught. Othello again attacks and wounds him.

When pressed, Iago refuses to explain why he did the evil things he did. Othello admits his fault, and asks them all to think of him as "one that loved not wisely, but too well." Then he stabs himself, falls upon the bed, and dies kissing Desdemona: "I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this,/Killing myself, to die upon a kiss." Lodovico brings the blame squarely down on Iago. He tells Montano to make sure Iago is tortured, and declares that he will bring the sad news to Venice.

Analysis

The scene begins with Othello holding a candle, which he uses to construct a metaphor for killing Desdemona: if he puts out a light, he can put it on again, but if he snuffs out her life, he can't bring her back to life. Yet despite his reservations, in the end he decides to go through with the murder.

One of the most difficult issues in the play's resolution is Desdemona's lack of resistance. She tries to talk him out of his violent intent, but she doesn't do anything about it. She doesn't call out or try to escape.

This leads us to reconsider her actions leading up to this moment. She began the play as a romantic, naive young girl, shut in by her father and desperate for adventure. Through Othello she found it and ran away at the first opportunity. When accused of adultery, she barely fights back, instead deciding to succumb to Othello's accusations and violence with resignation. Note her decision to put her wedding sheets on her bed, just before the Willow song. This passive response isn't what we'd expect if this were a comedy and she were about to fight for what she wants.

Rather, she's fulfilling the romantic role of a tragic heroine, as if imitating the female characters in the stories she's so fond of. In the scene's climax, Othello realizes too late that he has been fooled all along by the man he has repeatedly called "Honest Iago." Instead of returning to Venice, he takes the soldier's way out by stabbing himself after a speech in which he implores the Venetians to remember his service to the state.

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