Act 5 Scene 2
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Othello's farewell to Desdemona is a return to his former eloquence, though it is also a farewell to his own peace and his life. Though he believes Desdemona's soul to be black, he can only focus on her whiteness; he pledges not to mar "that whiter skin of hers than snow," although he is determined to take her life. The metaphor highlights Desdemona's innocence, as does comparing her to a "light" to be put out. There is irony in Othello's references to Desdemona here; he describes her with words that suggest her brightness and innocence, yet he is determined to condemn and kill her. She is also "the rose" to Othello, another beautiful, innocent image to relate her with. Othello's allusion to Prometheus explains his wish to put out Desdemona's light in order to restore her former innocence; even when the act of murder is drawing near, Othello seems intent upon dwelling in beautiful images and poetic metaphors to hide the ugliness and wrongness of his deed. And where before Othello felt only hatred and anger, now he is forced to feel his love, along with his mistaken determination to see Desdemona die.
Here, Desdemona learns too late of the trap that was set for her with the handkerchief; this symbol of her love has come back to condemn her, just as all her protestations of her love and devotion for Othello do not soften his resolve to kill her. Othello refers to the belief of the time, that to die with all one's sins repented of meant that the soul was saved for heaven; that he asks Desdemona if she has prayed, and urges her to do so if she hasn't, shows a strange kind of mercy built into Othello's determination to have her killed. But Othello takes Desdemona's cries for mercy, and her remorse at Cassio's misfortune, as proof of her indiscretion; although his rage is tempered, he is still set on having her dead.
Othello's reaction after smothering Desdemona shows an even greater rift between his resolve and his emotion. He does not want to admit that Desdemona is dead; he speaks to her, ponders her stillness, and seems very hysterical. He is also grieved by this action; "methinks it should be now a huge eclipse of sun and moon," he says, referring back to the light/dark imagery of the play to communicate how unsettled and unhinged he feels.
Desdemona's last words are especially cryptic; when asked who killed her, she remarks, "nobody, I myselfcommend me to my kind lord." This could be seen as a kind of condemnation of Othello for killing her; but, taking into account her resigned behavior before her death, she might be trying to absolve her husband of blame with her last breath, or trying to express her love for the one who has killed her. If this is so, it certainly does not sit well with her line, "falsely, falsely murdered," which seems to refer both to Desdemona's death, as to Emilia's mention of the death of Roderigo and wounding of Cassio.
Othello's reaction upon Desdemona's death is a mixture of shock, hysterics, and anger; still, he is very conflicted at this act he has committed. The greatest irony of the play is that it is only after killing Desdemona that Othello learns the truth about her; he finds out that she was blameless, and that Iago was manipulating him into believing otherwise. Still, even after the murder is exposed, Othello cannot let go of the idea that Desdemona really did cheat on him; but his fixation on the handkerchief is ended when Emilia reveals how the token was used to make him believe in the affair.
Emilia's fate is parallel to Desdemona's; although she was more realistic than Desdemona, she too was betrayed by her husband, had a good sense of perception, but yet died through other's wrongs. Desdemona might be a more central figure in the play, but Emilia is the conscience; she makes Othelo finally feel remorse for his act, and undoes some of the damage that Iago's allegations wreaked, which not even Desdemona was able to allay. Emilia knows, almost as well as her husband, how human nature works; she knows of husbands' jealousies, of how men believe women are less human, of how people are naturally prone to folly. She is the sole voice of reason in the play, the only besides Desdemona who is uncorrupted by Iago's manipulations.
At last, Othello's grief comes to its fruition, as his reason and speech are finally fully restored. "Roast me in sulfur! Wash me in steep-down gulfs of molten fire!" Othello laments, the images of pain and torment reflecting the feelings which are coming over him. He juxtaposes heaven and hell to explain his despair, and the virtue he knows again that Desdemona did possess. But though Othello has some sense again, he still wounds Iago; this act seems to be done as a distraction of his pain, and makes Othello's character seem even more deeply flawed.
Othello insists that he is an "honorable murderer"; but Iago was surely killed out of anger, and Desdemona out of jealousy and offended pride. Othello is driven to kill out of his own shortcomings; and although his beautiful language and his remorse at the end of this scene make him seem noble again, yet Othello still denies the flaws in himself that have led him to this end. Iago was definitely the catalyst for Desdemona's death and Othello's jealous rages; but the seeds of jealousy and suspicion were already inherent in Othello, though not yet grown. It certainly makes the resolution of the play more neat to believe that Othello is returned to his nobility; but, since he still denies the deep wrong he has committed, and his own part in this dirty act, he cannot be fully redeemed or forgiven.
Of course, all threads are wrapped up in this last scene of the play; letters are produced that expose Iago's part in these unfortunate events, even though these letters have not been mentioned or shown earlier in the play. Cassio seems to have been kept alive merely to testify about his part in this whole debacle; and Lodovico and Gratiano are conveniently there as witnesses of the Venetian state, with Montano representing the law and order of Cyprus. Although the plot is brought to its conclusion in this last scene, there are still questions and issues to consider, especially in Othello's last speech.
Othello has always been concerned with his reputation and public image; this was one of his reasons for killing Desdemona. His last speech reveals that he is still fixated on this cause; "speak of me as I am," he tells them, yet there is great irony in this statement, since he goes on to misrepresent himself and his motives. He says that he is "not easily jealous," although it is apparent from Iago's first insinuations that he is very jealous and possessive of his wife. He also says he is one who "drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees their med'cinable gum"; however, Othello found it difficult to be sorry for killing his wife, until he found out that his motives were wrong. This last speech is filled with heroic language; he reduces his foul, treacherous murder to "[throwing] a pearl away richer than all his tribe," which is a beautiful metaphor, but hardly does justice to the brutality and cruelty of Othello's behavior. Othello tries to die with honor and some reputation intact; but his speech shows that his preoccupation with his image is still keeping him from the truth, as is his penchant for storytelling. Still, Othello is uniquely human, like Hamlet; his flaws and follies make him a compelling tragic figure, and his more noble aspects also make him sympathetic. Although Iago steals most of the spotlight during the play, in the end, the tragedy is Othello's; it is his pain, folly, and misfortune which reverberate, and make this drama so compelling and so telling of human nature.