What is the turning point in William Shakespeare's play Othello?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Perhaps the crucial turning point in William Shakespeare’s play Othello occurs in Act 4, scene 1, when Othello resolves that he will kill both Cassio and Desdemona. Thus, in 4.1.170, he asks Iago, concerning Cassio, “How shall I murther him, Iago?”  However, the truly darkest moment of this scene occurs later, when Othello first thinks that he will poison Desdemona.  Iago then intervenes:

IAGO  Do it not with poison; strangle her in her bed,

even the bed she hath contaminated.

OTHELLO  Good, good; the justice of it pleases; very good. (4.1.207-10)

This moment might justly be called the pivotal point of the play because Othello has now not only decided to kill Desdemona but has even decided on a method – the method he actually does employ later in the play.  From this point forward, the play moves swiftly to its horrific climax.

Iago’s suggestion that Othello should strangle Desdemona rather than poison her is typically diabolical. While any method of killing would be bad, strangling Desdemona is in some ways the worst of all options. If she were poisoned, she might have died out of Othello’s sight. If she had been stabbed or shot, she might have died quickly. By agreeing to strangle her, Othello guarantees she will die slowly and painfully at (and in) his own hands. He will not be able to distance himself in any way from the murder or from the memory of the act of killing. She will see him killing her and know before she dies that he is the one responsible for her death, and she will have moments – perhaps even minutes – to contemplate this fact and suffer from it psychologically. If she had died from poison, she might not even have realized that she had been poisoned, and she might not even have realized who was responsible for the poisoning even if she did suspect poison.

Iago, with his typical love of evil, manages to suggest exactly the method of killing that will be worst both on Desdemona and ultimately on Othello as well.

This turning point of the play should be represented in the film starring Anthony Hopkins, since that film is very faithful to Shakespeare’s text.  A very memorable enactment of this turning point can also be found in the film starring Kenneth Branagh as Iago and Laurence Fishburne as Othello.

 

 

 

 

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