Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1226
Act 5 opens with Roderigo and Iago. Iago tells Roderigo to lie in wait for Cassio and be ready to kill him. In an aside, Iago tells the audience that no matter whether Cassio kills Roderigo or Roderigo Cassio, he will come out on top. Ideally, they will kill each other. Cassio enters, and Roderigo stabs at him, but Cassio is wearing armor. Cassio retaliates, wounding Roderigo. Iago comes behind Cassio and stabs him in the leg before running away. Cassio cries out, and Othello enters and comments on how loyal a friend Iago is. Believing that Cassio has been killed, Othello retreats to his bedchamber, claiming that Desdemona is next.
After Othello leaves, Lodovico and Gratiano enter, hearing the cries. Iago also enters, in bedclothes, pretending to have been roused by the sounds. Cassio again cries for help, saying that villains have attacked him. Roderigo also cries for help, but Iago stabs him, claiming he is one of the villains that has attacked Cassio. Ludovico and Gratiano move in to help Iago, who binds Cassio’s leg wound with his shirt. Cassio faints as Bianca enters. Iago claims that Bianca must be to blame for the attack and places Cassio on a chair to transport him. As Roderigo’s body and Cassio are carried away, Iago interrogates Bianca and accuses her of plotting against Cassio. Emilia enters, and Iago sends her to tell Othello and Desdemona about the fight.
The final scene of the play opens on Othello standing over Desdemona in their bed. He delivers a lengthy soliloquy about how he does not want to kill her but must do so. He leans over to kiss her one last time, but she wakes up. He tells her to pray, because he does not want her to go to hell before he kills her. She asks what she has done to deserve death, and he explains that she has given her handkerchief to Cassio. He tells her that there is no use in lying, as she is on her deathbed, and nothing will change his mind. When she protests, Othello tells her that Cassio confessed. When she wishes to hear it from Cassio, Othello tells her that Iago has already killed him. She pleads to live just a bit longer, but Othello smothers her.
After the deed is done, Emilia calls for Othello from offstage. Othello believes the sound to be coming from his wife, so he continues to smother her. Othello eventually comes to his senses and realizes that Emilia is calling him, and he debates whether or not he should let her in. He draws the bed curtains and opens the door, and Emilia tells him that Cassio has killed a young Venetian named Roderigo. She also tells him that Cassio is still alive. At that moment, Desdemona wakes up and with her last breaths exclaims that she has been killed; she then dies. Othello admits that he killed her because she was unfaithful, but Emilia curses him and tells him that Desdemona was faithful until the end. Othello implicates Iago as the one who caught Cassio and Desdemona together, and Emilia curses her husband as well, calling him a liar.
Emilia calls for help, and Montano, Gratiano, and Iago enter. Emilia demands that Iago tell her if he spread such rumors, and she accuses him of causing murder. The others are shocked, and Emilia threatens to kill herself out of grief. Othello attempts to defend his actions, claiming that Desdemona “was foul.” Gratiano exclaims that Brabantio has recently died and that he is glad Desdemona’s father is not alive to witness such an end for his daughter.
Othello explains that Desdemona had been sleeping with Cassio and cites the handkerchief as evidence, but Emilia explains that she had stolen it for Iago. Othello, realizing that he has been tricked, rushes toward Iago, but Iago stabs Emilia for uncovering the truth and runs away. Montano tells Gratiano to guard the door so that Othello does not escape and chases after Iago. Othello asks Gratiano to come back in. Othello takes a sword from hiding but tells Gratiano not to worry, as he does not intend to fight. Lodovico and Montano enter, carrying Cassio in his chair, and holding Iago prisoner.
Othello stabs Iago but does not kill him. Othello asks for Cassio’s forgiveness in plotting his death, and he asks Iago to explain why he manipulated Othello. Iago refuses to speak, but Lodovico produces letters from Roderigo that help to explain the plot. Cassio also explains that he simply found Desdemona’s handkerchief and that Iago had placed it there for him to find. Lodovico explains that they are going to torture Iago for his crimes and attempts to take Othello prisoner. Othello tells the men to remember him as he is, as one who loved foolishly but with honor, and he stabs himself. He falls and kisses Desdemona before he dies. Lodovico turns Iago over to Cassio, giving Cassio permission to torture Iago, and leaves to tell Venice the story of Othello.
Throughout act 5, the idea of deflowering is linked to death. For instance, Othello states that “Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted.” Although the blood he is referring to is the blood of his murder victim, it also seems to describe the blood of a virgin. We have already seen similar imagery with the handkerchief, which is a white cloth spotted with virgin blood. While the handkerchief may indeed represent Desdemona’s innocence (now being toyed with as others possess it), for Othello it is indicative of a rotting or dead relationship. Throughout the actual murder scene, Othello is oddly gentle, attempting to kiss his wife before the act and careful to “not shed her blood.” Later in the scene, he also insists that he “would not have [her] linger in [her] pain.” All of these seem to point to the innocence that Othello is destroying by killing Desdemona. Her innocence is further highlighted by the fact that Othello, at several moments, describes how White she is, almost as white as the unsullied sheets upon which she is murdered. It remains unclear if Othello and Desdemona ever consummated their marriage, and it is through this murder that Othello seems to be doing his husbandly duty. During his soliloquy, he does not seem particularly angry or vengeful. Instead, he repeats, “it is the cause,” as though there is a higher purpose in his action—a duty that, as Desdemona’s husband, he must perform.
Othello has been referred to as a claustrophobic play because of how quickly the situations and settings seem to enclose the characters. The play begins in the open streets of Venice, a large city, then moves to the smaller island of Cyprus. As the play progresses, more time is spent indoors, until the play ends within a closed bedchamber, where one of the characters is literally smothered. This sense of physical claustrophobia accompanies Othello’s discomfort and frustration with his wife. The more evidence Iago is able to produce, the less choice Othello feels he has when he decides that “the cause” is to kill his wife. The shrinking environment is one way that the audience might be able to experience Othello’s mounting unease.
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