Character Analysis in Othello
Othello: Othello is a revered general in the Venetian army. He is of Moorish descent, and thus represents one of the few African characters to appear in Shakespeare’s works. His race made Othello a scandalous, underperformed play until recently in its production history. Othello establishes himself early on in the story as a wise, even-keeled man, tempered by his many years on the battlefield. His calm demeanour is increasingly put to the test as rumors of infidelity cast a shadow on his relationship with Desdemona.
Desdemona: Desdemona is a beautiful Venetian noblewoman and the daughter of the senator Brabantio. Desdemona falls in love with the older Othello over of the war stories he tells her. Desdemona is consistently strong-willed. She endures her father’s rage and social ostracization to elope with Othello. Despite her loyalty and commitment, she falls prey to the ruthless schemes of Iago.
Iago: Iago, the play’s antagonist, is a lower-ranking officer in Othello’s army. After Othello offers a promotion to Cassio instead of him, Iago steps into the role of villain with skill and psychopathic flair. His goal is to destroy Othello and Cassio. Iago works as a puppeteer, orchestrating the play’s events without detection. The great irony of Iago’s character is the pristine reputation he maintains while instigating events with supreme malice. Othello himself calls the man “honest Iago,” but the audience knows this is not so. As Iago tells us in an early aside: “I am not what I am.”
Character Analysis Examples in Othello:
Act I - Scene I
"you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have coursers for cousins, and gennets for germans...." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Iago continues to use animal imagery to evoke scenes of Othello and Desdemona making love. Once again, this is an instance of overt racism on Iago’s part. These lines are illustrative of Iago’s character: he is duplicitous and crude, yet eloquent and witty. He displays his penchant for poetry in alliterative phrases such as “neighbors neigh” and “coursers for cousins.”
"I am not what I am...." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
This classic line brings the audience in on Iago’s schemes. There is a deep dramatic irony at the core of this statement: while Iago declares that he is not what he appears to be, he admits to the nature of his façade. Thus the audience knows who Iago is, even if the rest of the play’s characters do not.
"In following him, I follow but myself;..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Though Iago plans to remain under Othello’s charge, he admits that he serves his own goals. This establishes Iago’s duplicitous nature, particularly in relationship to his general.
"his lieutenant,..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
“His” refers to Othello, general of the Moorish army in Venice. Throughout the scene, Othello is never referred to by his name, but by pronouns and crude nicknames such as “Barbary horse.” This is reflective of the contempt Iago, Roderigo, and Brabantio have for Othello. In a sense, the audience is primed to view Othello disfavorably.
"I follow him to serve my turn upon him..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Iago is furious with Othello, the great Moorish general, for promoting Cassio over himself. Iago admits to Roderigo, who is in love with the woman Othello has just married (Desdemona), that he only serves Othello because he plans to seek his revenge. Iago encourages Roderigo to join him and win Desdemona's hand.
"heart upon my sleeve..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Iago admits to Roderigo that he only seems to be loyal to Othello. By confessing that he has ulterior motives (a "peculiar end," or selfish aim), he has made himself vulnerable to betrayal. Iago accepts this risk: he effectively wears his heart upon his sleeve for the "daws" (jackdaws, which are crow-like birds common to Europe) to peck at, meaning he is being honest even though he will probably be betrayed.
"spinster..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Iago uses this metaphor to compare Cassio's knowledge to the knowledge of a spinster. Cassio has never actually been in battle and only knows about military matters from books and stories. Notice that the comparisons Iago uses to describe Cassio characterize him as effeminate.
"Offcapp'd..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
"Offcapp'd" is a word Shakespeare invented that only occurs in this play, meaning to remove one's cap in honor or reverence of another. Here, Iago says that the great leaders of the city took off their caps for Othello, a mercenary, in order to convince him that Iago should be his lieutenant. Notice this account of the story, which paints Iago as an extremely important and recognized military person, comes from Iago's perspective.
"strings were thine..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Purse in this context means a bag for coins typically held closed by drawstrings. In the simile, Roderigo implies that Iago has access to his money or perhaps is indebted to Iago in some way. Roderigo's negative response to whatever Iago has told him sets Iago up as a dislikable character.
Act I - Scene II
"By Janus, I think no...." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
Iago’s choice to swear by Janus is important for two reasons. Janus is the Roman god of transitions, of beginnings and endings. In this transitional moment, on the brink of Brabantio’s clash with Othello, Janus is the pertinent god. Janus, in his looking forward and backward through time, is also two-faced. Shakespeare draws a comparison between Janus and the deceitful, two-faced Iago.
"Ancient, what makes he here?..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
In this case, “ancient” would have been pronounced “ensign,” Iago’s rank in the troops. The ensign would have been the lowest-ranking commissioned officer. The rank of ensign is particularly fitting for Iago because it was traditionally the ensign’s role to bear the general’s flag. This is an apt metaphor for Iago in that he is a character who holds up a thin image of loyalty to Othello.
"I must be found. My parts, my title, and my perfect soul Shall manifest me rightly...." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
The opposing reactions of Iago and Othello in the face of Brabantio’s approach speaks volumes about their differences in character. Iago’s impulse is for Othello to hide. Othello, ever authentic and secure in himself, chooses to stand his ground.
"For know, Iago, But that I love the gentle Desdemona, I would not my unhoused free condition Put into circumscription and confine For the sea's worth...." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
In the audience’s first encounter with Othello, the man himself is clearly different from the portrayal offered forth by Iago. Othello is not the beastly figure Iago portrays him as. He is refined, well-spoken. By his own word, he married Desdemona out of love, not animal lust as Iago has suggested. Othello also understands the confinements of marriage and finds Desdemona worthy nonetheless.
"Nine or ten times I had thought to have yerk'd him here under the ribs.(5) OTHELLO: 'Tis better as it is...." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
Iago has just told Othello of Rodrigo’s desire for Desdemona, and here he claims to wish to have attacked Rodrigo. This is, of course, a lie. Othello’s response is typical of his character: just and even-keeled.
"I lack iniquity..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
This statement perfectly encapsulates Iago’s character. Iago is deeply iniquitous—or immoral—and all the more so for the fact that he claims not to be. A great many of Iago’s words are steeped in irony.
Act I - Scene III
"'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are(340) gardeners;..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Iago’s thesis is that human emotions must be controlled by reason, lest they run our lives. Iago firmly believes in a self-aware cultivation of the soul, and that industry and moderation can be practiced through rational thought. While Iago’s message of self-control is valid, it goes hand in hand with his ruthlessness of character.
"For your sake, jewel,..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
In other contexts, a father calling his daughter a “jewel” would register as a mark of affection. Considering Brabantio’s pattern of referring to Desdemona as valuable property, this line takes on a different meaning. Brabantio is lamenting the loss of a prized possession as well as a daughter.
"But here's my husband, And so much duty as my mother show'd(200) To you, preferring you before her father, So much I challenge that I may profess Due to the Moor, my lord...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Not only does Desdemona make it clear that she has married Othello by her own choice, she evokes her mother’s path in life—husband before father—as a justification for her dedication to Othello. In an interesting way, she reverses Brabantio’s notion of nature’s course. Her love for Othello is natural because it was her mother’s way.
"and found good means To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
According to Othello, his relationship with Desdemona has blossomed out of their connection over his war stories. Othello’s language blurs any sense of which side held the greater interest. He first says that Desdemona would “with a greedy ear/Devour up my discourse,” indicating her intense interest. He then claims to have “found good means/To draw from her a prayer” to continue telling his stories. Othello thus intends to paint a picture of mutual infatuation in order to defend their marriage.
"as truly as to heaven I do confess the vices of my blood,..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Othello addresses his race, understanding that his position as a Moor is problematic in his courtship of Desdemona. Most intriguing is that he depicts his race in a negative light: he “confesses the vices of [his] race.” It is not clear whether Othello actually considers his race a vice, or whether he means to debase himself to appeal to the Duke and Brabantio.
"the valiant Moor...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
The Duke and senate have not heard of Othello’s elopement with Desdemona, nor his subsequent clash with Brabantio. To them, he is still the prized general and the Venetians’ best chance to repel the Turks.
"Put money in thy purse..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Roderigo, who is hopelessly in love with Desdemona, frequently falls into Iago's snares. Iago convinced Roderigo to send gifts (via Iago) to Desdemona, though Iago always keeps them for himself. Whenever Roderigo becomes frustrated and discouraged by his lack of success with Desdemona, Iago urges him to "put money in thy purse"; of course, Iago will just keep the money for himself.
"'twas strange, 'twas passing strange;..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
"Passing strange" means "stranger than strange," or "exceedingly strange." Othello is telling the story of how he convinced Desdemona to marry him; not with black magic, as he is accused, but with anecdotes. The "passing" strangeness of his story effectively seduced Desdemona, who responded with "a world of sighs" and fell in love with him.
Act II - Scene I
"I cannot believe that in her; she's full of most blest condition. IAGO: Blest fig'send! The wine she drinks is made of grapes...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
The opposing views of Desdemona shared by Roderigo and Iago in this exchange represent two archetypes of Shakespearean characters. Roderigo is a romantic; Iago is a classicist. Romantic types—think Romeo—are driven by emotion and idealism. Classical types are colder and more analytical. The dialogue between Roderigo and Iago in Act I about emotion versus reason is a perfect example of a clash between romanticism and classicism. In this exchange, Roderigo idealizes Desdemona. Iago, who idealizes nothing, retorts with the humorous, sobering truth that “the wine she drinks is made of grapes.”
"who stands so eminently in the degree of this fortune as Cassio does? A knave very voluble;..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Iago paints an ironic portrait of Cassio as the right “knave” to steal Desdemona’s heart: he is charming, sly, handsome, and young. Good qualities aside, Iago’s personal hatred for Cassio finds its way into the description: “a devilish knave!… a pestilent complete knave.” Despite Iago’s speech in Act I about using reason to control the emotions, Iago often allows his emotions to guide his words and actions.
"If she be fair and wise, fairness and wit, The one's for use, the other useth it...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Iago’s praise for Desdemona comes down to her combination of “fairness and wit”—her beauty and intelligence. As he puts it, beauty is a resource meant to be used by one’s wit. The rhyming couplets Iago uses to praise Desdemona underscore the irreverence and frivolity of his words.
"I am not merry, but I do beguile The thing I am by seeming otherwise...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Desdemona subtly admits to putting on a lively façade. She claims that she is not truly merry, but that she appears so in order to amuse herself. This statement adds depth to Desdemona and parallels Iago’s infamous utterance: “I am not what I am.”
"Sir, would she give you so much of her lips(110) As of her tongue she oft bestows on me, You'ld have enough...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
As soon as Emilia enters the play, we come to understand the nature of her relationship with Iago. Disrespectful as ever, Iago publicly scolds Emilia for “her tongue she oft bestows on me”—in other words, her talkativeness.
"our great captain's captain,..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Cassio’s characterization of Desdemona cleverly places her in a militaristic hierarchy above Othello. Though Othello is used to a position of command, his love for Desdemona puts him in a position of servitude.
Act II - Scene III
"How am I then a villain To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,(335) Directly to his good? Divinity of hell! When devils will the blackest sins put on, They do suggest at first with heavenly shows, As I do now...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Iago again uses the tension between heaven and hell to describe his motives. Iago is a “Divinity of hell,” a devil whose “blackest sins” project “heavenly shows.” This passage shows why Iago is such a perplexing character. Whereas many unfavorable characters think themselves noble, Iago is a villain who owns his villainy. He is a devil who admits to his sins and relishes them.
"My blood begins my safer guides to rule, And passion, having my best judgement collied, Assays to lead the way. If I once stir, Or do but lift this arm, the best of you(200) Shall sink in my rebuke...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
For the first time in the play, we witness Othello subject to his own temper. It is uncharacteristic of him to leverage his authority in such a tyrannical way. Once again, we see the interplay between emotion and reason; in this case, Othello’s passions collie—or control—his “best judgment.”
"How poor are they that have not patience!..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Iago tries to convince Roderigo to remain in Cyprus, where his evil plot is in full force. Iago pretends to help Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona, while at the same time cheats him out of money. Roderigo, however, is impatient to return to Venice. Impatience is the undoing of many of Shakespeare's characters; those who "have not patience" are usually ill-fated.
Act III - Scene III
"My friend is dead, 'tis done at your request;(525) But let her live...." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
As the scene draws to a close, Othello agrees to the plot Iago has devised. When Iago beseeches Othello to let Desdemona live, he may be employing his often-used tactic of reverse psychology. By expressing a desire to let her live, Iago further coaxes Othello into choosing to kill her.
"Arise, black vengeance, from thy hollow cell!(495) Yield up, O love, thy crown and hearted throne To tyrannous hate! Swell, bosom, with thy fraught, For 'tis of aspics' tongues!..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Othello expresses his internal shift from love to hate. He characterizes his vengeance as “black,” drawing upon both racial and moral connotations. Othello’s self-awareness in this passage is fascinating. He understands how toxic his shift in perspective is—“‘tis of aspics’ tongues”—and yet he is helpless in controlling his emotions.
"Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore; Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof;..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
For the first time in the play, Othello directs his anger towards Iago, calling him “villain.” It is a shallow label; Othello does not understand the depths of Iago’s villainy. Rather, he projects his confusion and rage about the possibility of Desdemona’s faithlessness onto Iago, demanding “the ocular proof.”
"Think'st thou I'ld make a life of jealousy,(200) To follow still the changes of the moon With fresh suspicions? No!..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
True to his character, Othello does not believe in Iago’s stance of jealousy. In a reiteration of the theme of emotion versus reason, Othello uses reason to suppress any potential flarings of emotion. As he judiciously puts it, “I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove.”
"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul,(100) But I do love thee!..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Othello refers to himself as an “excellent wretch,” an oxymoron that characterizes his status as a foolish, out-of-control lover. Othello acknowledges that his love for Desdemona has the power to influence him negatively. Iago knows this well and capitalizes on it.
"My lord shall never rest; I'll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;(25) His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift; I'll intermingle everything he does With Cassio's suit...." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Desdemona promises to take up Cassio’s cause and to torment Othello about it incessantly. The scene she paints represents a fascinating overlap between the domestic and the political. The images of Othello’s home life—his bed, his dining table—become political locations where affairs of state are discussed. That Desdemona characterizes her relationship to Othello in this way indicates the level of power she commands in both her marriage and the political sphere.
"Who steals my purse steals trash..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Iago pretends to be reluctant to reveal the fictitious affair between Cassio and Desdemona because stealing a person's honor is far worse than stealing his/her money. According to Iago, "Who steals my purse steals trash" because money doesn't compare to honor; honor can only belong to a specific person, whereas money doesn't change based on who possesses it. The idea of reputation is the idea on which Iago will build all of his deceit.
"Into the vale of years..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
A "vale of years" is the flat stretch between middle age, beyond the slope of youth. In Shakespeare's time, a vale (which is a broad, flat valley) was often used as a metaphor for the span of life between the peaks of life and death. Othello thinks that his decline into the vale of years may be a reason for Desdemona to cheat on him.
"Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
"Pomp, and circumstance" are the glories and ceremonies of warfare. Othello swears off his profession, as well as marital bliss, because Iago has convinced him that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Othello can no longer enjoy the "pomp, and circumstance" of his occupation because he believes he has been cuckolded (betrayed by his adulterous wife).
"But this denoted a foregone conclusion:..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Iago has convinced Othello that Desdemona had an affair with Lieutenant Cassio; however, Iago is pretending to downplay it by insisting that he only heard Lieutenant Cassio dreaming (audibly) about Desdemona. Othello, however, interprets Cassio's dream as a "foregone conclusion" that Desdemona betrayed him.
"Chaos is come again...." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Othello insists that only the collapse of form and order (chaos) would cause him to fall out of love with his wife, Desdemona. Desdemona is essentially tasked with maintaining the sanity of her husband.
Act III - Scene IV
"'Tis very good; I must be circumstanced...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Bianca echoes the disgruntlement Emilia often expresses. Emilia operates according to Iago’s orders, and she feels like nothing more than “food” to his “stomach,” to use her metaphor. In much the same way, Bianca feels that she “must be circumstanced,” as if she were a tool or resource to be used.
"I have seen the cannon, When it hath blown his ranks into the air(145) And, like the devil, from his very arm Puff'd his own brother...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Iago appears stunned by the news of Othello’s temper. He offers an anecdote to illustrate Othello’s typically calm demeanor. In battle, an enemy cannon once killed Othello’s own brother and the general remained undisturbed.
"My advocation is not now in tune; My lord is not my lord,..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Desdemona accurately detects that Othello has become divided in his dealings with her. Now that Othello has fallen into Iago’s schemes, he is two-faced like Iago. Thus, Shakespeare reshapes Iago’s signature line: “I am not what I am.”
"'Tis not a year or two shows us a man: They are all but stomachs and we all but food; They eat us hungerly, and when they are full They belch us. Look you! Cassio and my husband...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
In these lines, Emilia attempts to offer words of consolation to Desdemona. According to Emilia, men reveal their true nature “a year or two” into marriage. To her, men are driven by their appetites and view women as nothing “but food.” Emilia’s perspective tells us more about her personal experience than about marriage in general. Emilia inaccurately projects her frustrating marriage to Iago onto Desdemona’s situation.
Act IV - Scene I
"Ay, let her rot, and perish, and be damned tonight, for she shall not live. No, my heart is turned to stone; I strike it, and it hurts my hand. O, the world hath not a sweeter creature. She might lie by an emperor's side, and(195) command him tasks...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
In this exchange, we can see how Othello struggles with his shifting view of Desdemona. He begins with “Ay, let her rot” but loses this steely edge when he says “O, the world hath not a sweeter creature.” Indeed, after each of Othello’s lines, Iago must renew the general’s anger for Desdemona with a “Nay, you must forget that” or a “Nay, that’s not your way.” Despite the evidence of adultery before him, Othello’s feelings for Desdemona are mixed.
"Now will I question Cassio of Bianca, A housewife that by selling her desires Buys herself bread and clothes. It is a creature That dotes on Cassio, as 'tis the strumpet's plague(110) To beguile many and be beguiled by one...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Iago claims that Bianca is a prostitute: a “strumpet” in Middle English. As he puts it, Bianca draws in many men but loves only Cassio. Iago plans to use this relationship between Cassio and Bianca to his own ends. Iago will encourage Cassio to talk about Bianca while the eavesdropping Othello will believe that Cassio is discussing Desdemona.
"My lord is fall'n into an epilepsy: This is his second fit; he had one yesterday...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
It is up for debate whether or not Othello’s fit is a result of epilepsy or entirely triggered by his rage at the thought of Desdemona’s adultery. As is the case with much that Iago says, the truth is difficult to discern. If Othello is not epileptic, his fainting indicates the extremity of his jealousy.
Act IV - Scene II
"I tell you 'tis not very well. I will make myself known to Desdemona: If she will return me my jewels, I will give over my suit and repent my unlawful solicitation; if not, assure yourself I will seek satisfaction of you...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Having handed his money over to Iago in exchange for the promise of Desdemona’s affections, Rodrigo understands that Iago has lied to him. With the exception of Emilia, Rodrigo is the only character who suspects that Iago is not as “honest” as his reputation suggests.
"Hath she forsook so many noble matches, Her father and her country and her friends, To be call'd whore? Would it not make one weep?..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Emilia gets to the heart of Desdemona’s suffering. Desdemona sacrificed a great deal in order to marry Othello. She abandoned her family and her status for her husband, only to be abandoned by him now as well.
"Was this fair paper, this most goodly book, Made to write “whore” upon?..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
This is a fascinating and, in some ways, accurate metaphor. Othello compares Desdemona to a book upon whose pages “whore” has been written. We can indeed think of Desdemona’s reputation as a book that Iago has soiled with stories of adultery. Othello does not recognize that the word “whore” is a lie in Desdemona’s book.
"But there, where I have garner'd up my heart, Where either I must live or bear no life;(65) The fountain from the which my current runs, Or else dries up; to be discarded thence!..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Othello claims that any other hardship would be preferable to Desdemona’s adultery. He could accept disease, shame, poverty, and scorn. The thought of Desdemona’s faithlessness leaves Othello with a feeling of desolation. He refers to her as “the fountain from the which my current runs.” Much of his pain comes from the idea that her womb—the “fountain” her refers to—has been violated.
"Your wife, my lord, your true and loyal wife...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
This is a tragic and powerful line. Desdemona defines herself in terms of her faithfulness to Othello, but he does not trust her. Shakespeare chose to construct Desdemona’s statement as a line of perfect iambic pentameter in order to heighten its impact.
"I understand a fury in your words, But not the words...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Othello has undergone a significant shift since the play’s beginning. In the opening act, the general is calm, collected, and eloquent. After hearing and believing the lies about Desdemona, Othello can no longer express himself coherently. His communication here is defined by his snarling tone since his words do not explain his anger.
"She says enough; yet she's a simple bawd That cannot say as much. This is a subtle whore, A closet lock and key of villainous secrets: And yet she'll kneel and pray; I have seen her do't...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Not only does Othello discard Emilia’s words of reason, he calls her a “bawd”—a brothel mistress—responsible to the “subtle whore” that is Desdemona. Othello believes that the two women are colluding and concealing the truth. Othello’s reaction reveals his inability to consider reason and his broader disrespect for women.
Act IV - Scene III
"Then let them use us well; else let them know, The ills we do, their ills instruct us so...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
In Emilia, Shakespeare has created a spokeswoman with a female perspective on the play’s events. In this speech, Emilia calls into question the causes for the supposed failures of women, citing the thoughtless actions of men. Emilia humanizes women too, for women “see and smell/And have their palates for both sweet and sour/As husbands have.” Emilia’s perspectives are central to the play’s approach to gender relations.
"Why, the wrong is but a wrong i' the world; and hav-(85) ing the world for your labor, 'tis a wrong in your own world, and you might quickly make it right...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Emilia’s cleverness and pragmatism shine through in this exchange. While Desdemona would not cheat, even if the prize were the world itself, Emilia claims that she would. Her argument is that by gaining the world, one could judge adultery to be moral, thus undoing the crime. This shows us the difference in character between the classical—that is, practical—Emilia and the romantic Desdemona.
"I have heard it said so. O, these men, these men! Dost thou in conscience think—tell me, Emilia— That there be women do abuse their husbands(65) In such gross kind?..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
These lines illustrate how innocent Desdemona is—innocent of the crime of adultery and innocent about the ways of the world. That Desdemona doubts whether women are capable of cheating underscores how distant she is from committing such an act.
"Get you to bed on the instant; I will be returned forthwith: Dismiss your attendant there; look it be done...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Othello’s command to Desdemona to go to bed and dismiss Emilia is suspicious, and it foreshadows events to come. It is curious, too, that Desdemona follows these orders without question despite her recent dispute with Othello. This is evidence of her continued, if unwise, devotion.
Act V - Scene II
"Where is that viper? Bring the villain forth. OTHELLO: I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable. If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
The “fable” of Iago’s feet refers to his metaphorical nature as a serpent, as suggested by Lodovico. Othello equates Iago’s snake-like character to that of “a devil” who cannot be killed. This equation originates in the Bible, wherein the devil appears in the form of a serpent. Much like the serpent in the garden of Eden, Iago is a tempter and corrupter.
"That's he that was Othello. Here I am...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Just as Iago’s famous line “I am not what I am,” Othello’s alludes to the Bible passage in which God utters “I am that I am.” Othello is dissociated from himself, pointing to a self that “was Othello.” This dissociation of self marks his fall from grace. Where Othello once had a sense of divine wholeness, now his identity has become separated into a past and present self.
"O! O! O!..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
In his lament over Desdemona’s death, Othello resorts to wordless moans. The letter “O” is of critical importance here. As the first letter of Othello’s name, the cry of “O!” signifies that Othello equates his identity with his own suffering.
"Here is my journey's end, here is my butt(310) And very seamark of my utmost sail...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Othello understands that he has reached the end of his life. The word “butt” takes on two meanings here. First, a “butt” refers to the end, or bottom, of an object. Second, a “butt” is a target, which in this context suggests the scorn and hatred Othello will receive for his actions. A “seamark” is a navigation mark to help guide sailors home on their journeys. Othello can sense his own end.
"[Sings.] Willow, willow, willow. Moor, she was chaste; she loved thee, cruel Moor; So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true; So speaking as I think, I die, I die...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
In her final words, Emilia reiterates The Willow Song that Desdemona sang in Act IV. This reiteration both touches upon Othello’s guilt and expresses Emilia’s undying affection for her mistress. In her final breaths, Emilia believes that her truthfulness will lead to salvation and her “soul to bliss.”
"O thou dull Moor! That handkerchief thou speak'st of I found by fortune and did give my husband;..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
As the play comes to a close, Emilia’s great importance becomes clear. Emilia is the truth-teller, the sole character capable of unraveling Iago’s schemes. In this way, Emilia represents the play’s heart. She is the one who sees clearly amid the confusion created by Iago.
"Good gentlemen, let me have leave to speak; 'Tis proper I obey him, but not now. Perchance, Iago, I will ne'er go home...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Throughout the play, Emilia champions the perspective of women, who are consistently accused and derided by men. In this moment, Emilia makes the bold move of disobeying her husband in order to share the truth. Emilia understands that there is a finality to this moment since she admits that she “will ne’er go home.”
"He lies to the heart. She was too fond of her most filthy bargain...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
By “most filthy bargain,” Emilia refers to Desdemona’s marriage to Othello. The word “bargain” frames the relationship as a financial transaction, specifically an unbalanced one. Emilia seems to think that Desdemona received the worse side of the deal.
"Nobody; I myself. Farewell; Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell!..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Desdemona’s final act is to protect Othello from the guilt of the murder. Her desire to protect him despite his actions represents one of the play’s most tragic moments. Othello can not forgive Desdemona’s alleged adultery, but Desdemona can forgive his murder of her.
"Think on thy sins. DESD: They are loves I bear to you...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
As Desdemona looks back on her actions, her only misdeed was her decision to marry Othello. Those “loves” she bears to Othello are sinful in the sense that their marriage is considered scandalous to many. The tragedy here is that her choice to commit the sin of loving Othello has led to her undoing.
"Of one that loved not wisely but too well..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Othello argues that he was driven to suffocate Desdemona because he "loved not wisely but too well," meaning he simply got carried away after hearing the (erroneous) charges made against her. He believes he is guilty of loving too deeply, as opposed to being jealous, rash, and violent.
"chaste stars..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
The word "chaste" is an intriguing adjective to apply to the stars. They seem cold and isolated, as well as desirable and yet infinitely unattainable. Since Othello is inside a room, he is presumably looking out a window. Perhaps he does not even look at the sleeping Desdemona until he says, "but once put out thy light..." At that point he would have to turn and look at her. If this is what Shakespeare intended, then the audience would perhaps assume that Othello was not only reluctant to kill his wife but was even afraid to look at her. He looks at the stars, he looks at the flaming torch, and finally he turns and looks at the woman he loves and intends to murder.
"O, banish me, my lord, but kill me not..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Faced with death, Desdemona realizes how precious every moment of existence can be. She starts by asking to be banished rather than killed. Then she reduces her request and asks just to live for one more night. Then when Othello remains adamant, she asks for "But half an hour!" And finally she pleads, "But while I say one prayer!" In other words, she is just begging for a minute or two more of precious life before entering eternal darkness. Shakespeare had an uncanny ability to places himself in his different characters' positions. He can be Othello and then Desdemona, moving back and forth in his imagination as he creates his moving dialogue.
"Demand me nothing; what you know: you know. From this time forth I never will speak word..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Iago's villainy drives the action throughout the entire play, yet many people have wondered about his motivation. Here at the very end he is refusing to explain himself even under the threat of torture. He remains a mystery.
"else she'll betray more men..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
This is an example of specious reasoning and rationalization. In all likelihood, Othello is not concerned about any "betrayal" of other men. More pressingly, he can't stand the thought of what Desdemona might do with "more men" if he were to divorce her or separate from her and allow her complete freedom to indulge in the sort of dissolute behavior of which he wrongly suspects her. Othello is characterized as a man who is governed by his emotions rather than by his reason.