Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Othello published in 2015.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
"When my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.67-71
Explanation and Analysis:

Iago and Roderigo have been arguing over the fact that Roderigo paid Iago to help win the hand of Desdemona, only for Desdemona to elope and marry Othello, a Moorish Venetian general. Iago has assured Roderigo that, although he appears to be devoted to Othello, in reality he hates Othello. In this passage, he explains that his outward behavior does not reflect his inner feelings, saying that this would leave his heart vulnerable "for daws (birds) to peck at." Throughout the play, Iago expresses the view that honesty is a sign and cause of weakness. Although Iago's deception is presented as morally wrong and and dangerous, his statement in this passage comes to be proven correct by Othello and Desdemona, whose earnest, trusting personalities leave them vulnerable to manipulation.

The famous, ambiguous last phrase in this passage, "I am not what I am," proves just how deep Iago's duplicity really goes. His choice of words suggests his dishonesty is so extreme that he does not even have a stable personality beneath his strategic manipulation of others.


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Othello quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
"Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!
For I'll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid, so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, t'incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight."
Related Characters: Brabantio (speaker), Othello, Desdemona
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.2.82-90
Explanation and Analysis:

Brabantio and his men have arrived at the inn where Othello is staying. Iago has advised Othello to go inside in order to avoid a confrontation with Brabantio, but Othello has decided to stay, declaring that he is a loyal soldier and husband to Desdemona and thus he has nothing to be ashamed of. Brabantio, having learned about his daughter's marriage, accuses Othello of enchanting Desdemona and binding her in "chains of magic"; he claims there is no other explanation for why she would choose to marry Othello. He uses racist language to describe Othello, calling him a "thing" with a "sooty bosom," and saying that it would make more sense to fear him as opposed to love him.

This speech is a pertinent example of the racial prejudice directed at Othello by the other characters. Brabantio's words reflect the widespread idea that Othello is not a normal human, but is either an animal-like "thing" or a fantastical being with supernatural powers. Note that Brabantio's horror emerges in particular from the thought of his daughter, whom he describes in terms that evoke pure white womanhood ("a maid, so tender, fair, and happy"), being intimate with Othello ("run... to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou"). Desdemona is presented as de-sexualized, an innocent child, whereas Othello is suggested to have sinister sexual powers akin to magical enchantment. As well as indicting Othello, this idea robs Desdemona of agency; Brabantio considers it impossible that she has chosen to marry Othello of her own free will.

Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
"Rude am I in my speech,
And little bless'd with the soft phrase of peace:
For since these arms of mine had seven years' pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used
Their dearest action in the tented field,
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle,
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver
Of my whole course of love."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 1.3.96-107
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello and Brabantio have arrived at a meeting between the Duke of Venice and his men, and Brabantio has brought up the issue of Desdemona's marriage. Othello has promised that if they summon Desdemona, she will confirm that she married him willingly, and in the meantime the Duke allows Othello to explain how the marriage came about. In this passage, Othello confesses that he does not consider himself a refined speaker, but that he will nonetheless endeavor to describe how he and Desdemona fell in love.

There are multiple levels of irony to Othello's claim to be a bad speaker. In this speech and in others, he uses evocative, lyrical, and persuasive language in order to elicit sympathy from the other characters––the very definition of rhetorical skill. Furthermore, after this statement he goes on to describe the fact that Desdemona fell in love with him while listening to the stories he told while visiting Brabantio's house as a guest. Thus if there is any truth to Brabantio's accusation that Othello "enchanted" his daughter, this enchantment was achieved through the decidedly civil art of rhetoric as opposed to sinister magic.

It is possible that Othello misrepresents his own rhetorical skill because he has internalized the racist idea that being a Moor makes him "rude in speech" in comparison to the supposedly more refined white Venetians. On the other hand, his humility is itself a useful rhetorical tactic, as it allows him to suggest that his true talents lie in the noble, masculine domain of battle.

"I do perceive here a divided duty."
Related Characters: Desdemona (speaker)
Page Number: 1.3.209
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has told the story of how Desdemona fell in love with him, and promised the other characters that if they ask Desdemona, she will confirm that she loves him and married him willingly. Desdemona arrives, and when Brabantio asks her who she obeys, she responds that she feels she has a "divided duty," although after this quote she admits that, because he is now her husband, her primary allegiance is to Othello. The behavior of Desdemona and Othello in this scene proves that they are both honorable, truthful people who are honest about their allegiances––a characteristic that puts them in direct contrast with Iago.

The fact that Desdemona is questioned about her "duty" reveals that, in the world of the play, women are not considered people in their own right, but only ever exist in relation to men––first their fathers and brothers, and then their husbands. Indeed, one reason why Desdemona and Othello's marriage is considered so scandalous is because Desdemona has willingly chosen to marry a man her father did not select for her. Aside from this one act of rebellion, however, Desdemona unfailingly performs the submissive, dutiful role expected of women, as is evidenced in this quote. When asked about her marriage to Othello, Desdemona speaks of a "divided duty" between her husband and father, ignoring her own feelings altogether.

"The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.3.442-445
Explanation and Analysis:

Roderigo has confessed to Iago that he is miserable at the thought that he has lost Desdemona to Othello; Iago has told him not to indulge these sentimental emotions, and has promised to help Roderigo win Desdemona if Roderigo pays him. Alone onstage, Iago reflects on his own hatred of Othello and details his plan to bring about Othello's downfall. In this passage, Iago notes that Othello is an open, trusting person, and that because of this, manipulating him will be easy, like leading a donkey by the nose.

This is one of the many instances in the play in which Othello is compared to an animal. Iago's reference to an ass (donkey) in particular highlights that the racist view of Moors as animalistic is closely entwined with the idea that Moors are naturally subservient and unintelligent. Iago's view that Othello is feebleminded is clearly false; Othello has already demonstrated that he is not only a highly skilled soldier, but also talented in rhetoric. On the other hand, Iago's observation that Othello is overly trusting is correct. Indeed, Othello's readiness to believe in appearances is the fatal flaw that––as Iago predicts––ultimately leads to his downfall.

However, the extent to which this trusting nature is actually a flaw remains ambiguous. Othello's "free and open nature" is contrasted with Iago's duplicitous cunning, and although Shakespeare shows that gullibility is dangerous, it is still presented as morally preferable to selfish scheming and deceitful appearances.

Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"Oh heavy ignorance! Thou praisest the worst best."
Related Characters: Desdemona (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 2.1.158-159
Explanation and Analysis:

Desdemona and Iago have arrived in Cyprus, and while they wait for Othello's ship to join them they engage in flirtatious conversation. Iago has entertained Desdemona by telling riddles about "foul and foolish" women; Desdemona laughingly accuses him of "heavy ignorance" for praising such qualities. To some extent, their exchange confirms Desdemona's sweet and earnest nature, as she rebukes Iago for praising negative characteristics. On the other hand, the decidedly flirtatious element of their conversations suggests that Desdemona is perhaps not entirely morally innocent. At the same time, she might also simply be fulfilling the expectation that women should always behave in a pleasant, agreeable manner, rather than expressing strong opinions. Such ambiguity highlights the difficulty of adhering to the strict, complex, and in some ways contradictory code of behavior demanded of women.

In any case, the fact that Desdemona is at least mildly flirting with Iago lends a hint of plausibility to Othello's paranoia about her possible infidelity. A further layer of tension emerges from Desdemona's accusation that Iago "praisest the worst best." Although Desdemona is referring to Iago's humorous banter, she has unwittingly made an accurate judgment of Iago's fundamental personality. After all, Iago is a Machiavellian villain who does indeed value the worst qualities––selfishness, duplicity, and ruthlessness––over moral attributes such as fairness and honesty. The fact that Iago can jokingly present himself this way without Desdemona catching on to his true nature demonstrates both Desdemona's trusting innocence and Iago's deceptive charisma.

"If I were now to die,
Twere now to be most happy, for I fear
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort like to this
Succeeds in unknown fate."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 2.1.205-209
Explanation and Analysis:

While they wait for Othello to arrive, Cassio has a brief private conversation with Desdemona, inspiring Iago to trick Othello into thinking that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Othello arrives, and declares that he could not be any happier and thus wouldn't mind if he died then and there. Othello's innocent joy in this scene could be said to tempt fate. Indeed, without realizing it, in this speech Othello accurately foreshadows that he will never be this happy again--and that he will soon die as well. The added tragedy underlying this statement is that Othello's wish to die happy will go unfulfilled; both his marital bliss and good reputation will be ruined before he dies.

"Her eye must be fed."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 2.1.246
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio have exited to start celebrating the victory over the Turks, leaving Roderigo and Iago alone onstage. Iago assures Roderigo that Desdemona's feelings for Othello will not last, proclaiming confidently that "her eye must be fed"––meaning she'll want a more handsome lover soon. This assertion conveys the stereotype that women are fickle and shallow, and emphasizes the idea that Desdemona and Othello's union isn't viable. It also reiterates the racist view that Othello is unattractive because he is a Moor. This comment therefore demonstrates the way in which strong racist and sexist prejudices affect Othello and Desdemona as individuals and as a couple, threatening the stability of their marriage.

"I'll [...] make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me
For making him egregiously an ass."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.330-331
Explanation and Analysis:

Having established a plan with Roderigo to provoke Cassio into a fight, Iago is once again left alone and delivers another soliloquy about his evil scheme. He has proclaimed that winning Desdemona for himself would be the best possible form of revenge against Othello, but that he will settle for driving Othello mad with jealousy by tricking him into thinking Desdemona has been unfaithful. Iago finishes his speech with the alarming boast that he will make Othello "thank me, love me, and reward me" for making a fool out of him, again using the racist imagery by saying he will turn Othello into an ass (donkey).

This passage is a reminder of Iago's scheming nature––he wants to destroy Othello not only for the pleasure of vengeance, but also for the "reward" of advancing his own career. It also reveals the truly perverse, sadistic extent of his desire for revenge. It is not enough for Iago to ruin Othello; he wants Othello to "thank" and "love" him for it.

Act 2, scene 3 Quotes
"Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial."
Related Characters: Michael Cassio (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.3.281-283
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello charged Cassio with keeping an eye on the victory celebration, instructing him to make sure the men on guard do not get too drunk; Iago, meanwhile, manipulated the situation so Cassio himself got drunk and ended up fighting and injuring Montano. Having discovered this, Othello demanded to know what happened, and Iago described the fight while making it seem like he was reluctant to implicate Cassio. A shocked Othello has said he will have to dismiss Cassio as an officer, and with Othello gone, Cassio mourns the loss of his position and reputation. In this passage, Cassio refers to his reputation as "the immortal part of myself," and says that without it he is no better than a beast.

Cassio's statement confirms the huge value placed on reputation at the time; the immediacy with which he is ruined despite his otherwise flawless record highlights the danger of mistaken appearances and foreshadows Othello's fall from grace later in the play. His comment that "what remains is bestial" emphasizes the importance of honor as the characteristic that distinguishes men from animals, again connecting Cassio's predicament to the racist distrust of Othello as animalistic.

Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.100-102
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has promised Desdemona he will reinstate Cassio, though he has also seen Cassio sneak away in a seemingly guilty manner, and remains confused and suspicious about what he is really going on. He has asked Desdemona for some time alone, and after she leaves he reflects on his love for her in mixed terms, on the one hand saying that not loving her would mean "chaos," while at the same time calling her "excellent wretch." Note that Othello is speaking to himself in this passage, seemingly unaware that Iago can hear him. This moment thus pertinently represents the way that Iago has successfully manipulated and weakened Othello without Othello realizing it.

"Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; tis something, nothing;
Twas mine, tis his, and has been slave to thousands.
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed"
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 3.3.182-190
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has noticed Cassio avoiding him and is suspicious; nonetheless, he has promised Desdemona to reinstate Cassio, but first asks for some time alone. With the other characters gone, Iago asks seemingly innocent questions about Cassio, and gives Othello advice that likewise appears to be well-intentioned, yet is actually designed to increase Othello's suspicions. In this passage Iago emphasizes the importance of reputation, saying that for a person's money to be stolen is ultimately meaningless, yet if his "good name" is ruined that leaves him "poor indeed."This passage shows the power of Iago's cunning strategy of undermining Othello. On the surface, he appears to be helping Othello by providing rational and wise advice; in reality, he is laying the foundation for Othello's coming frenzied paranoia.

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 3.3.195-197
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello, having been cautioned by Iago about the importance of reputation, demands to know what Iago is really thinking. Iago evades the question, and instead warns Othello to beware of jealousy, famously likening it to a "green-eyed monster" that mocks the jealous person. As in the rest of this exchange, Iago's words are technically correct, and in a different context would constitute good advice. Indeed, his warning directly prefigures the chaotic impact that jealousy will have on Othello's life, and foreshadows the way in which Othello's irrational jealousy will make a fool out of and destroy him. At the same time, Iago knows that telling Othello not to be jealous will only increase his suspicions. The "green-eyed monster" he describes in fact reflects Iago's own role as an envious, parasitic influence who mocks Othello even as he ruins him.

"This honest creature doubtless
Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.283-284
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has requested that Iago ask Emilia to keep an eye on Desdemona, and has urged Iago to report anything he sees back to him. As Iago leaves, Othello says to himself that Iago is honest and probably knows more than he is letting on. Once again, Othello has made an accurate observation without realizing its true meaning. Iago does know more than what he says, though of course he deliberately conceals and misrepresents information in order to undermine Othello––a far cry from the behavior of an "honest creature." Note that, although Othello thinks he is alone when he makes this statement, immediately afterward Iago briefly returns. Depending on the production, Iago is likely to be shown overhearing Othello, a fact that adds further dramatic irony to Othello's words.

"This fellow's of exceeding honesty,
And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit
Of human dealings."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Page Number: 3.3.299-301
Explanation and Analysis:

Iago, returning briefly, has urged Othello not to think about the matter anymore for the moment, and entrust Iago himself to assess what is going on. Othello has agreed, and with Iago gone again he repeats that Iago is exceedingly honest, with strong insight into how people behave. Once more, Othello's impression of Iago contains elements of truth, yet is nonetheless fundamentally mistaken. It is correct that Iago has "a learned spirit of human dealings"; his keen understanding of human psychology is what allows him to manipulate others so easily. Yet while Othello appears to think that Iago's intelligent nature makes him honest and moral, in reality the opposite is true.

The question of whether knowledge and ability make a person morally trustworthy is a central question in the play, and relates to a debate about the ethics and power that continues to this day. Both Othello and Iago are highly intelligent and skilled, and yet Iago understands a sphere of human behavior that Othello seemingly does not; namely, people's capacity to be act deceitfully and in the pursuit of their own interests. Although in many ways the audience is encouraged to admire Othello's moral goodness and faith in other people, his misestimation of Iago is notably naïve, and proves fatal. This dilemma provokes the question of who makes the better leader––Othello, who is righteous but gullible, or Iago, whose evil and cynical view of humanity is arguably more accurate.

"Haply, for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years – yet that's not much –
She's gone."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 3.3.304-3.3.308
Explanation and Analysis:

Still alone, Othello reflects on his conversation with Iago and frets that perhaps it is unrealistic to expect Desdemona to truly love him, considering he is black, uncivilized in speech, and older than she is. Here we see the result of Iago's tactic of reverse psychology; while Iago encouraged Othello not to think too much about the situation before there was more evidence, Othello is left in a fretful, paranoid state, trying to evaluate if he is good enough for Desdemona. It is also clear from Othello's words that his fears are far more emotional than rational, and are rooted in the incoherent logic of racism.

This is the second time that Othello has referred to himself as a crude and unskilled speaker, and yet all evidence points to the falseness of this statement. Meanwhile, the fact that he is older than Desdemona is hardly significant, considering it was common for young women to marry older men at the time. The only objective fact that in this speech is that Othello is black; however, at no point in the play does Desdemona express even the slightest concern over this fact. On the other had, Othello's experience of racism at the hands of the other characters is frequent and severe. Thus, regardless of what Desdemona thinks, he cannot escape the internalized racist idea that their racial difference makes their marriage unviable.

"Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 3.3.412
Explanation and Analysis:

Emilia has picked up Desdemona's handkerchief, which Iago had requested she bring to him, and dutifully presented it to her husband. Iago takes the handkerchief with the plan of leaving it in Cassio's room, when Othello suddenly enters in a frantic, enraged state, and demands that Iago show him "ocular proof" of Desdemona's infidelity. The fact that Othello behaves aggressively and threateningly to Iago––whom he has multiple times praised as honest and righteous––shows that Othello has already been driven wild by jealousy and is no longer capable of making rational assessments of the situation. Perhaps because he is aware of this, he insists that Iago show him visual evidence of Desdemona's supposed crime, implying Othello believes "ocular proof" is beyond doubt.

The fact that Iago is carrying the handkerchief during this interaction, however, reminds the audience that appearances can be just as misleading as rumors. Now that Iago has reduced Othello to a state of paranoid jealousy, it is easy for Iago to manipulate visual evidence to support his false claim that Desdemona is unfaithful. Othello's trust in visual appearances reflects his mistaken trust of Iago––and both will soon bring about his downfall.

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"Her honor is an essence that's not seen;
They have it very oft that have it not."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Desdemona
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 4.1.20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

Iago has told Othello that he knows Cassio and Desdemona slept "naked in bed" together, but pretends to still want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Iago has repeatedly referenced the handkerchief, saying that it belongs to Desdemona and that she could therefore give it to whomever she wants; Othello asks if she could likewise give away her honor, and Iago replies that her honor is intangible, and that many seem honorable when they are actually not. Following Othello's obsession with "ocular proof," Iago now fixates on the distinction between visible and invisible evidence, and stresses the unreliability of evaluating Desdemona's "honor" because honor is not visible.

Note that Iago's statement "they have it very oft that have it not"––meaning many people appear to be honorable but aren't––does not actually apply to Desdemona, but does accurately describe Iago himself. Indeed, the phrasing is reminiscent of Iago's statement earlier in the play, "I am not what I am." Once again, Iago is making wise and astute observations about the nature of human behavior, yet uses these observations to further his deceptive and evil plan.

"A horned man's a monster and a beast."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 4.1.77
Explanation and Analysis:

Overcome with anguish about Desdemona, Othello has had an epileptic fit, during which time Cassio briefly enters and advises Iago on how to revive Othello. With Cassio offstage gain, Othello has regained consciousness and immediately accuses Iago of mocking him. Iago, bewildered, says that he hasn't, to which Othello responds "a horned man's a monster and a beast." At the time, folklore held that a cuckold––a man whose wife was unfaithful––would grow horns, making his humiliated status visible to the rest of society. Although irrational, this clearly represents a significant fear for Othello. Not only would Desdemona's infidelity ruin his reputation as a noble and manly husband, it would confirm the racist beliefs that, as a Moor, Othello is more like an animal or supernatural creature than a human.

Act 4, scene 2 Quotes
"Upon my knee, what doth your speech import?
I understand a fury in your words
But not the words."
Related Characters: Desdemona (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 4.2.37-39
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello has interrogated Emilia about Desdemona and Cassio, but Emilia insisted that there is nothing between inappropriate about their relationship. Unsatisfied, Othello has dismissed Emilia and summoned Desdemona. Noticing her husband's emotional state, Desdemona kneels before him and asks what's wrong, saying she hears from his tone that he is angry but doesn't understand why. Desdemona's words here convey her total innocence, and emphasize that despite her husband's irrational behavior she remains completely loyal and devoted to him. The fact that she kneels before him demonstrates how willing she is to play the role of a submissive and subservient wife, and highlights her honesty and vulnerability. Her enduring deference to Othello (which remains even after she knows he will murder her) makes her death at his hands even more tragic.

"O thou weed
Who art so lovely fair, and smell'st so sweet,
That the sense aches at thee, would thou hadst never been born"
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 4.2.77-80
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello weeps as he addresses Desdemona, who tells him she hopes she is not the reason why he is upset. However, Desdemona's innocent behavior only further infuriates Othello, who believes she is deliberately deceiving him, and in this passage he calls her a "weed" and tells her he wishes she had never been born. Othello's language here conveys the sexist stereotype that women's attractive appearance and seductive capabilities were a dangerous trap designed to mislead and ruin innocent men. The sensual reaction caused by women's beauty ("the sense aches at thee") was thought to impair the wise and rational judgment men were supposed to naturally possess.

At the same time, this passage also reveals the impossible contradiction many women found themselves in. Society demanded that they be "lovely fair," and held that a sweet, pure appearance reflected inner goodness and honesty. Yet the moment a woman's honor was brought into question, her attractive appearance could be used as evidence of her supposed duplicity.

Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
"Put out the light, and then put out the light.
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore,
Should I repent me; but once put out thy light,
Thou cuning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. When I have plucked thy rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again;
It must needs wither."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 5.2.7-16
Explanation and Analysis:

Othello, holding a light, has entered the bedroom where Desdemona lies sleeping. Watching her, he remarks on the purity of her snow-white skin, and vows not to shed her blood when he kills her. In this passage, he draws a parallel between putting out the light he is holding and extinguishing the light of Desdemona's life, and contemplates the finality of murdering her. Unlike a candle which can be relit, once Desdemona dies she will be gone forever. It seems as if Othello can almost predict the regret he will come to feel after murdering Desdemona and discovering her innocence.

At the same time, the light in this passage can also be interpreted as a symbol for purity, and Othello's resolve to murder Desdemona is stoked by the fact that he believes she has already destroyed her purity and innocence by having an affair with Cassio. Both these metaphors emphasize the fragility of women's existence in the play, as both their honor and even their lives are at the mercy of men, who––as Othello demonstrates––cannot always be trusted to act rationally.

"I told him what I thought, and told no more
Than what he found himself was apt and true."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Page Number: 5.2.212-213
Explanation and Analysis:

Emilia has discovered that Othello has murdered Desdemona; Othello has told her that it was her husband, "honest, honest Iago," who made him aware that Desdemona was supposedly having an affair with Cassio. Emilia has begun to understand Iago's plan, when Iago, Montano, and Grazio arrive. Emilia informs them of Desdemona's murder and demands that Iago assure her he did not tell Othello that Desdemona was unfaithful; Iago responds by insisting he only told Othello what he thought, which was also what Othello believed to be true. Although Iago is clearly presenting a veneer of false innocence here, his sly choice of words mean that what he is saying is arguably accurate.

Note that Iago claims to have told Othello only what he "thought" and not what he knew, and mentions that this cohered with Othello's own suspicions. Of course, what Iago doesn't mention is that he skilfully manipulated Othello into these delusional suspicions in the first place. Once again, Iago's cunning influence over the other characters' thoughts and actions blurs the distinction between appearance and reality, and obscures the evidence of what really happened.

"When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him—thus."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.401-417
Explanation and Analysis:

Thanks to Emilia, Othello has finally discovered Iago's scheme, and after Iago kills Emilia, Othello stabs Iago, wounding him but not killing him. Lodovico, meanwhile, has told Othello that he must accompany him back to Venice and give up his position of general. In response, Othello delivers a speech in which he asks the other characters to describe him in the future as he is and not to exaggerate either his good or bad qualities. He admits that, due to being "perplexed in the extreme," he threw away something more precious than anything else. At the end, he asks that they remember the time he killed a Turk with a sword, and parallels the act by stabbing himself.

Othello's final speech is complex, and betrays Othello's ambiguous judgment of himself and the situation. His request that he neither be overly praised or condemned after death suggests that he is frustrated by a lifetime of being judged according to racist stereotypes, in addition to the pressure of maintaining an honorable reputation. His use of the word "base" in the reference to the Judean who threw the pearl away shows that he blames his own misjudgment for having killed Desdemona. At the same time, however, he notes that he is not "easily jealous" by nature and thus emphasizes Iago's role in misleading him.

Othello's final words about killing the Turk indicate that he wishes to be remembered as a loyal Venetian soldier; by comparing that act to stabbing himself, he implies that his suicide is almost a kind of service to the state of Venice. This aligns with the narrative arc of classical tragedy, which dictates that once the tragic hero has died, a proper, stable hierarchy of power can be restored.

No matches.