Summarize Othello's soliloquy in Act 5, Scene 2, lines 1-22.

Quick answer:

One can summarize Othello's soliloquy in lines 1–22 of act 5, scene 2 of Othello by saying that he's psyching himself up to murder Desdemona. Thanks to Iago, Othello has got it into his head that his wife's been cheating on him. Though he's decided to kill Desdemona as punishment for her alleged infidelity, Othello makes it clear that he doesn't really want to do it. Nevertheless, he concludes that he must nonetheless punish the woman he loves.

Expert Answers

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It's a sign of how little self-confidence Othello has left that even now, when he's made the fateful decision to kill Desdemona, he still has to psych himself up to do it. That's not to say that Othello entertains any doubts about Desdemona's supposed infidelity; it's simply that he cannot ignore the fact that, despite everything, he still has feelings for her.

In this soliloquy, Othello's mixed feelings for Desdemona are beautifully captured in one particular line:

Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature, (5.2.8)

In other words, Desdemona is cunning but still beautiful. Try as he might, Othello cannot ignore Desdemona's extraordinary beauty, and he breaks off his soliloquy a few times to kiss her as she lies there, sleeping. In fact, the smell of Desdemona's sweet breath is almost, but not quite, enough to make Othello think twice about killing her:

Oh, balmy breath, that dost almost persuade
Justice to break her sword! (5.2.16–17)

No wonder, then, that Othello has to psych himself up to perform this dastardly deed. But by the end of the soliloquy, it's clear that Othello has managed to get himself into the right frame of mind to murder Desdemona. He sees himself almost as an avenging angel. Yes, he weeps over what he's about to do, but he knows that he must be cruel. As far as Othello's concerned, Desdemona has cheated on him, and so she must pay the ultimate price.

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