In act 5, scene 2 of Shakespeare's Othello, Othello kills his wife, Desdemona, in a jealous rage for what he believes is her infidelity. After he kills Desdemona, Othello discovers that his jealousy and rage towards Desdemona was the result of a plot contrived against by his ensign, Iago, who Othello believed was a trustworthy friend.
When the plot is revealed to Othello by Iago's wife, Emilia, wounds Iago with a sword. Iago flees the scene, but not before stabbing Emilia for exposing his plot against Othello.
Montano, former governor of Cyprus, and Gratiano, Desdemona's uncle, have heard the plot exposed by Emilia. After Othello wounds Iago, Montano disarms Othello, and he and Gratiano pursue Iago.
While Montano, Gratiano, and Iago are gone from the scene, Emilia dies, and Othello is left alone. Othello finds another sword in the room, and when Gratiano returns, Othello confronts him.
Othello needs time to think, so he goes on the offensive against Gratiano. He wields his sword and warns Gratiano to keep away from him, reminding Gratiano that he's a formidable swordsman.
OTHELLO. Behold, I have a weapon;
A better never did itself sustain
Upon a soldier's thigh. I have seen the day
That with this little arm and this good sword
I have made my way through more impediments
Than twenty times your stop. (5.2.302-307)
Othello's boast, "I have made my way through more impediments / Than twenty times your stop" might be hyperbole, but it might also be true. Othello is widely known for his bravery and his skill in battle.
Othello realizes the emptiness of his threats and the futility of his false bravado. His life is over.
OTHELLO. But, O vain boast!
Who can control his fate? 'Tis not so now. (5.2.307-308)
Gratiano backs away from Othello, but Othello lowers his sword and assures Gratiano that he has nothing to fear. If Gratiano stood up to him, Othello says, he would simply surrender.
OTHELLO. Be not afraid, though you do see me weapon'd;
Here is my journey's end...
And very seamark of my utmost sail.
Do you go back dismay'd? 'Tis a lost fear:
Man but a rush against Othello's breast,
And he retires. Where should Othello go? (5.2.309-310, 312-314)
In these lines Othello asks two seemingly rhetorical questions: "Who can control his fate?" and "Where should Othello go?" The first questions is clearly rhetorical, since it's essentially unanswerable. However, the second question reveals Othello's state of mind, and is, in a sense, a real question. Where should Othello go? Where can he go? What should he do?
Othello has no idea where to go or what to do. He killed his wife in anger out of misplaced jealousy. He goes to Desdemona, lying dead on the bed. Othello thinks about Judgement day ("at compt"), and he knows that Desdemona's death with surely condemn him to hell.
OTHELLO. Now, how dost thou look now? O ill-starr'd wench!
Pale as thy smock! When we shall meet at compt,
This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven,
And fiends will snatch at it. (5.2.315-318)
Othello touches Desdemona, and compares the coldness of her dead body to her faithfulness to him. Desdemona never had the fire of passion for Cassio that Iago led Othello to believe she had, and which wrongly inflamed Othello's jealousy.
OTHELLO. Cold, cold, my girl
Even like thy chastity. (5.2.318-319)
The full realization of what he's done drives Othello's self-hatred and despair. Using powerful medieval imagery, Othello condemns himself to the fires of hell.
OTHELLO. O cursed, cursed slave!
Whip me, ye devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight!
Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steepdown gulfs of liquid fire! (5.2.319-323)
These punishments are similar to those found in Dante's Inferno. Oddly, Othello alludes to the punishment of being "blown about in winds," which is suffered by those in the Second Circle of Hell who committed lustful acts. Perhaps Othello wishes to suffer the poetic justice of the punishment of those he accused of being lustful. The punishment of "liquid fire" is a variation of Dante's punishment for the violent sinners who lie on burning sand while fire rains down on them.
Finally, Othello cries out in anguish at the unbearable loss of Desdemona.
OTHELLO. O Desdemon! dead, Desdemon! dead!
O! O! O! (5.2.324-325)
Compared to other of Othello's speeches, this speech has few words of two syllables or more. This is a technique that Shakespeare uses to force the actor to slow down the delivery of the words in the speech. This tactic imparts greater importance to the words and emphasizes Othello's anguish, remorse, and despair.
The final line, which consists of three single syllables, cried aloud in emotional pain, absolutely stops the play for a moment while Othello and the audience contemplate Othello's terrible deed in killing his beloved Desdemona.