To what extent does Othello’s final speech affect our assessment of him? What is the effect of his final anecdote about the Turk?
Certainly, Othello’s final speech is not
all that one might wish for—his claim to be “one not easily jealous”
is open to question, and his claim that he “loved not wisely but
too well” seems both an understatement and an exaggeration (V.ii.
At the same time, however, Othello’s final speech does seem to restore to him somewhat the nobility that characterized him at the beginning of the play. From almost the first time he opens his mouth, Othello demonstrates—and the other characters confirm—his hypnotic eloquence when he speaks about his exploits in battle. Othello’s final speech puts us in mind of his long speech in Act I, scene iii, so that we see him, even if only for a moment, as we saw him then. This process of conflating two different times and views of Othello is similar to the rhetorical effect achieved by Othello’s dying words, where he makes his suicide seem a noble and heroic deed by conflating it with the killing of a Turk in service of the state.
does incoherent language play in
At the beginning of the play, Othello has such confidence in his skill with language that he can claim that he is “rude” in speech, knowing that no one will possibly believe him (I.iii.
Such moments, when Othello shifts from his typical seemingly effortless verse to near inarticulateness, demonstrate the extent to which Othello’s passion has broken down his self-control. In Act III, scene iii, he is still speaking in mostly coherent sentences or phrases; but this is no longer the case in Act IV, scene i. This scene begins with Iago saying, “Will you think so?” and Othello can only helplessly and automatically echo, “Think so, Iago?” (IV.i.
The various words and images Iago has planted in Othello’s mind over the course of the play are transformed into impressionistic, sporadic eruptions out of Othello’s mouth: “Lie with her? ’Swounds, that’s fulsome! Handkerchief—confessions—handkerchief” (IV.i.
Analyze Desdemona’s role. To what extent is she merely a passive victim of Othello’s brutality? How does her character change when she is not with Othello?
At the end of
Desdemona’s first speech, in which she defends her recent marriage, is confident and forthright. When she gives it, she is the only female character onstage, surrounded by powerful men who include the duke, her husband, and her father, but she is not ashamed to assert her belief in the validity of her desires and actions. Unfortunately, Iago recognizes Desdemona’s forthrightness and uses it against her. He exploits her willingness to demand and justify what she wants by making Cassio her cause and, simultaneously, Othello’s enemy.
In Act III, scene iii, Desdemona asks Othello to forgive Cassio and persists, in spite of Othello’s rising consternation, until her husband declares, “I will deny thee nothing” (III.iii.
The terrible effect of Othello’s brutality is most obvious in Desdemona’s scenes with Emilia. Emilia is cynical and bawdy, and she gives Desdemona every possible opportunity to bad-mouth Othello. Men, she says in Act III, scene iv, “are all but stomachs, and we all but food. / They eat us hungrily, and when they are full, / They belch us” (III.iv.