In Othello, what does "Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul But I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again" mean?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This quote is spoken in "Othello" Act III, Scene 3.  It is spoken by Othello, the title character.  When he says this line, he is speaking of Desdemona, his wife.  What the quote means is that he loves her and he will always love her.

Perdition means "Hell."  So he is saying that he will go to Hell if he does not love her ("but I do love thee" means "if I do not love you").  So he's saying "damn me if I ever do not love you (or if I ever stop loving you).

He then says that "chaos" will return if he does not love her, meaning that the whole world will fall apart, back to the way it was before God created it (the creation story in Genesis uses the word "chaos" for what there was before God started creating).

enotechris's profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Othello expresses his deep love for Desdemona in this exclamation. The word "perdition," meaning Hell, comes from the Latin perdere ,which means "to put completely to destruction." He is therefore expressing that he loves her boundlessly, even to the point where his love for her threatens his own soul.

Throughout the play, there are many references to Hell and the Devil, incarnated in the character of Iago.  He is able to manipulate Othello through his intense love of Desdemona, and indeed leads him and others to destruction by play's end.

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