O monstrous, monstrous!
Nay, this was but his dream.
But this denoted a foregone conclusion.
'Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream,
And this may help to thicken other proofs,
That do demonstrate thinly.
Othello—the brave, romantic, and somewhat credulous Moor of
Venice—has fallen under the evil spell of his ensign Iago. Here,
Iago pretends that a certain Lieutenant Cassio has been
dreaming—audibly—of Othello's chaste wife Desdemona. Othello
believes that Cassio's alleged dreams must reenact the "foregone
conclusion" of adultery. In Othello's mind, this speculation
quickly "thickens" into proof that Desdemona has betrayed him.
When he coins this phrase, Othello seems to mean an adulterous
act ("conclusion") which has preceded the dream, or what one editor
calls a "previous consummation." But the matter isn't settled, no
less in the original than in modern-day speech; "foregone
conclusion" becomes only more confusing the more you think about
Today we use it to mean "predetermined outcome"—something
anybody could have anticipated; but how we got from Othello to here is a mystery. Just
as we now judge a person's dreams more as a wish for the future
than a replay of the past, "conclusion" has come to refer to an
inference of what will happen rather than an act that has already