Act 5 Scene 2
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"Othello claims that he, a Christian, once killed a Muslim Turk, a “circumcised dog” (5.2.355) who had murdered a Venetian citizen. Othello tries to use religious prejudice against Muslims to cement his place within mainstream Christian Venetian society.
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?
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."
Yes, he gives a fair description of himself. He loved well, was jealous without reason, easily led, and he threw away the most valuable of pearls; his wife.