Suggest what a director could do to prevent the scene in act 5, scene 2 (lines 23-85) of Othello from becoming too melodramatic.

DESDEMONA: Who's there? [...] OTHELLO: It is too late. (he smothers her)

 

What a director might do to prevent act 5, scene 2 of Othello (the scene of Desdemona's death) from becoming melodramatic is to consider that Othello is more in conflict with himself than he is with Desdemona. Othello has the intention of killing Desdemona firmly in mind, but he must overcome his revulsion at what he believes he must do and his overwhelming love for Desdemona in order to fulfill that terrible objective.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To avoid any sense of the melodramatic in act 5, scene 2 of Shakespeare's Othello—the scene of Desdemona's death—Othello should move calmly and deliberately throughout the first part of the scene. Othello has resigned himself to doing what he believes must be done, but even though nothing will dissuade him from killing Desdemona, he's nevertheless suffering the conflicting and overwhelming emotions of love and hate, caring and jealousy, and the revulsion and hatred he feels towards himself for deciding to take her life.

When Othello enters the scene, he should come into the room only a few steps, then stand still, looking at Desdemona asleep in the bed, while he says his first lines.

OTHELLO. It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!
It is the cause. Yet I'll not shed her blood,
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow
And smooth as monumental alabaster.
Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men.

Desdemona stirs slightly in the bed. Othello is quiet for a moment, then continues with his speech.

OTHELLO. Put out the light, and then put out the light.
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me; but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. When I have pluck'd the rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again,
It must needs wither; I'll smell it on the tree.

Othello walks to the bed, sits next to Desdemona on the bed, bends down over her, smells her hair, and kisses her gently.

He stays bent over her, wanting to be near her, through his next lines.

OTHELLO. O, balmy breath, that dost almost persuade
Justice to break her sword! One more...

He kisses her.

OTHELLO. ...one more...

He kisses her again.

OTHELLO. Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,
And love thee after. One more, and this the last...

He kisses her.

OTHELLO. So sweet was ne'er so fatal.

Othello touches her hair, then moves away from her, either sitting on the bed or standing quietly at the side of the bed, with tears in his eyes, for the next lines.

OTHELLO. I must weep,
But they are cruel tears; this sorrow's heavenly,
It strikes where it doth love.

Desdemona stirs in bed again.

OTHELLO. She wakes.

Desdemona opens her eyes and looks around, half asleep.

DESDEMONA. Who's there? Othello?

Othello, now standing at the side of the bed, quickly wipes away his tears, not wanting to be seen by his wife with tears in his eyes.

OTHELLO. Ay, Desdemona.

DESDEMONA. Will you come to bed, my lord?

Othello pauses for a brief moment, then resolves to prepare for what's to come.

During the next sequence of lines, 26-88, Othello maintains a deadly calm and a quiet, controlled voice.

Desdemona becomes increasingly concerned about what Othello is saying, but she doesn't overreact. She's confused, but she resolves to remain calm while she tries to understand the situation in which she finds herself.

As the dialogue progresses, Othello sometimes stand still, and sometimes paces back and forth a few steps, gradually moving closer to Desdemona.

Othello becomes more emotionally intense in this dialogue with Desdemona, but he doesn't lose control of his emotions or his demeanor until Desdemona expresses concern for Cassio.

At that point, Othello's jealousy overtakes him. The dialogue in lines 88-100 moves at an increasing pace. Tension rises between Othello and Desdemona, and events move inexorably to the point when Othello pushes Desdemona back on the bed and suffocates her. Even then, Othello's actions must be deliberate and controlled, not frantic or overwrought with emotion.

When Othello starts to suffocate Desdemona, rather than desperately grab at Othello's arms, hands, or clothing, Desdemona might try to save herself for only a moment. Once she's resigned herself to her fate, she should simply hold onto his arms, almost lovingly, until she succumbs to suffocation, then let her hands and arms fall slowly and naturally to the bed.

For the next sequence of lines, 101-122, and with Emilia at the door while he's suffocating Desdemona, Othello is desperate to kill Desdemona but incredibly saddened and distraught by the act he's committing. He wishes her dead but hopes against hope that she's still alive.

The realization that Desdemona is truly dead comes as an emotional shock, and he cries out in tremendous pain.

OTHELLO. If she [Emilia] come in, she'll sure speak to my wife.
My wife! My wife! What wife? I have no wife.

The shock also brings Othello back to reality. He composes himself, unlocks the door for Emilia, and behaves as if nothing at all is amiss.

The rest of the scene plays out with the understanding that at this point, having killed Desdemona, Othello truly doesn't care if he lives or dies.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team