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The very ending of William Shakespeare’s play Othello is interesting for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Othello is concerned with his reputation – a theme which has been a major motif throughout the play.
- Othello makes a key distinction between loving wisely and loving “too well.” In so doing, he would have reminded many Renaissance readers of the ideal importance of reason (wisdom) in life and of the dangers of excess in practically anything.
- Othello may underestimate how easily he can be aroused to jealousy, but he speaks truly when he says that, once jealous, he became “Perplex’d in the extreme” (another allusion to the dangers of excess and to the ideal of moderation).
- Othello’s reference to a
base Indian, [who] threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe . . .
is a particularly famous “crux,” or difficult passage. Some editors believe that the word “Indian” is a misprint for “Iudean” (that is, “Judean”). Much ink has been spilled over this matter, and it is a good example of the difficulties sometimes posed by the surviving texts of Shakespeare’s works.
- Even as he prepares to die, Othello speaks the kind of beautiful poetry that makes him an especially eloquent tragic hero. For example, he refers to himself as
one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum.
- Othello’s suicide raises difficult ethical and religious issues. Has he just consigned himself to hell by killing himself, or has he performed a noble, self-sacrificing deed? These questions are typical of the kinds of questions Othello’s character can raise for critics. Gratiano seems critical of the suicide; Cassio seems more forgiving.
- Perhaps the most striking aspect of the ending of this play is Iago’s vow of silence. He remains as mysterious at the end of the work as he has been throughout the drama. Little wonder, then, that Coleridge spoke of his fascinating “motiveless malignity” (that is, his evil meanness that cannot finally be explained or understood).
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