Lecture 11 OTHELLO THE MOOR OF VENICE Critical focus and Overview of Act 5 Scene 2
Death toll; In memoriam • RODERIGO, R.I.P. • EMILIA, R.I.P. • BRABANTIO, R.I.P. • OTHELLO, R.I.P. • DESDEMONA, R.I.P.
All these R.I.P. awards served by Alive still — IAGO • All thanks to, or no thanks to • none other, than— IAGO, the Destroyer
End of Days; Journey’s End In the Act 5, Scene 1, Desdemona’s bedroom was changed into a hubbub of stabbing and shouting • Darkness broken by moving lights • Confused and rapid action • Agitated questioning and discussion
Act 5, Scene 2What does the audience see? Setting: A Bedchamber in the Castle • Desdemona in bed, asleep
Purposes of Act 5, Scene 2 • To present the MURDER of Desdemona • To present the unmasking of IAGO • To tie up of loose ends of the plot • To recapture for the audience some of Othello’s former dignity • To present the audience with a last look at Desdemona and Emilia
And this final scene, what do we see? • We see a silent stage; a troubled stillness • and darkness • except for the pale shape of Desdemona’s bed • and there is a hushed instant of waiting before Othello enters • Othello’s eyes staring white in the light of his candle, his black face glistening
One of the finest closing scenes in Shakespearean Tragic Drama • Othello looks at the sleeping Desdemona • He is moved by her innocent beauty and • troubled by what he sees because of the shocking contrast between • her heavenly appearance and • Her sinful soul
How might Othello speak his opening lines at this moment in the play? It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul – Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars – It is the cause, • And an instant later: Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men, Put out the light, and then put out the light—
Dramatic effects Reflects a mind torn by conflicting feelings • Her beauty: thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature and her balmy breath • momentarily shake his resolution to kill her
The ‘cause’? • Desdemona’s imagined sexual infidelity How will the audience hear these lines? • These lines are surely intended to be spoken slowly… • with a strange, heavy emphasis, and • with the diction voiced to show the pitch of madness to which he has been brought
Other drama critics / stage directors? • Othello’s opening speech should be delivered with poignancy • This speech is oratorically magnificent (Think of other speeches of Othello) • Othello enters Desdemona’s bed-chamber in boundless sorrow • though he is still intent on killing her; • We note he even bends over to kiss her
And finally, just before Desdemona awakes, as Othello stands looking down at her: This sorrow’s heavenly; It strikes where it doth love…
From these lines it seems Othello has managed to move beyond the agony of personal jealousy • His mind has found relief from its torment in taking on a sense of almost god-like responsibility. • That his shame is no longer his alone, but the burden of all mankind
This is his megalomania • Born of Othello’s earlier pride in himself • in which the personality has no conception of actual or possible error • but acts with a calm conviction arising from complete justification • He has recovered some of his composure
Saint Othello? Angel Othello; Pious Othello or Sacred Monster? • Othello now speaks as a man on a divine mission • He exonerates himself from all crime • One acting not from selfish bitterness • But on behalf of justice and all mankind (even the Iagos and Roderigos, and all the other bloody scumbags of the earth) • Desdemona is to be sacrificed, not murdered
Sacred Monster? (Cont) • It is to be a calculated sacrifice to justice It is the cause. • The act of sacrifice pulls at his heartstrings and doth almost persuade / Justice herself to break her sword • He is proud of his own restraint and his own cool command: yet I’ll not shed her blood / Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow
Dramatic Effect: Internal conflict • Othello is torn between his still powerful love for his wife, Desdemona, and the terrible conviction that she must be PUNISHED!!! • And the struggle within himself makes him weep cruel tears • Has he then appointed himself judge, jury, witness and executioner?
He is not about to commit a crime of passion or a vengeful murder I will kill thee, // And love thee after
In this Soliloquy, we note • No references to strumpets and whores • Or to any degrading images of beasts • No reference to revenge, in the ordinary sense
Speaks at first with deadly quiet, patience to his wife DESDEMONA: • Will you come to bed, my lord? OTHELLO: • Have you prayed tonight, Desdemon?
Cont OTHELLO: If you bethink yourself of any crime Unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace, Solicit for it straight. DESDEMONA: Alack, my lord, what may you mean by that?
OTHELLO: Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by: I would not kill thy unprepared spirit; No—heaven forfend!—I would not kill thy soul. DESDEMONA: Talk you of killing? OTHELLO: Ay, I do.
DESDEMONA: And yet I fear you: for you’re fatal then When your eyes roll so. Why I should fear I know not, Since guiltiness I know not; but yet I feel fear. OTHELLO: Think on thy sins.
Note change in rhythms of dialogue From lines 66 to 90 we can see: • Othello’s gradual disintegration • is mirrored in his style of speech • at first swiftly authoritative, • then broken (rhythm); • full of barbaric extremism
For example • No, his mouth is stopped • Had all his hairs being lives, my great revenge / Had stomach for them all • Out, strumpet! Weep’st thou for him to my face? • Down, strumpet! • Being done, there is no pause
Then Desdemona’s pathetic request for time to pray— DESDEMONA: But while I say one prayer! OTHELLO: It is too late. DESDEMONA: O, Lord, Lord, Lord! And Note then, Stage Directions— [He SMOTHERS her]
OTHELLO: I, that am cruel, am yet merciful: I would not have thee linger in thy pain.
Some Critical, Reflective Questions • When Othello enters Desdemona’s chamber, does the burning light symbolize her virtue? Or perhaps her life? • Is he trying to justify his intention to kill her? • Is the reason he gives to save her from her own dishonour convincing, credible?
Further questions; andEchoes of Act 2 Scene 3? • Is Othello so lacking in self-knowledge that he cannot see reason? • We note he cannot help weeping at fate, but this does not soften his heart, or affect his resolve to kill her. So what are we to think? • Have we seen this attitude before in his peremptory dismissal of Cassio in Act 2, Scene 3?
Is his argument that sorrow is from heaven • a suggestion that God punishes those He loves • and that Othello’s pain in killing Desdemona is a sign of the justice of his cause?
Is Othello being sanctimonious in his advice to Desdemona to ask God to forgive her sins? • Is he being self-righteous in his claim that he would not try to kill her soul? Yet, as you would have surely noticed • later he does not allow her time for a single prayer
Re- Is Othello lacking in reason? • Put out the light, and then put out the light • We recall Desdemona was the light of his life • Also light can refer to enlightenment • as in the torchlight of reason (or the flame in CJC) • Symbolical of the light of reason? Othello does not use his reason; ironical; • No genuine proof of Desdemona’s misdeed
The Othello Inquisition Note the form and choice of his words (diction): • be think yourself of any crime… • take heed of perjury • confess thee freely • For to deny each article with oath …thou artto die • O perjured woman He has confess’d
Characterizing the nature of his diction His interrogation takes the form of a legal process in which • Othello is judge, • Othello is counsel for the prosecution, and • Othello is jury, all at once; The language is that of a courtroom • with overtones of the confessional
The unmasking of IAGO • OTHELLO endeavours to justify his killing of Desdemona to Emilia, saying that he proceeded “upon just grounds” • Othello even suggests that Emilia ask her husband about these “just grounds” • This at once arouses Emilia’s suspicions • Confronts her husband in front of OTHELLO
Demands that he “disprove a villain” Emilia: He says thou told’st him that his wife is false, • Iago equivocates at first then acknowledges that he did. • However she only becomes fully convinced when she hears Othello mention the handkerchief
Emilia now understands the whole evil plot • In spite of Iago’s threatening approach to her with a drawn sword Emilia unmasks his part “that handkerchief thou speak’st on, I found by fortune, and did give my husband; For often with a solemn earnestness, More than indeed belong’d to such a trifle, He begg’d me steal it.”
Multiple ironies • Recalling Desdemona’s repeated pleas to Othello to send for Cassio to testify… is not listened to • Othello is unwilling to make himself listen to the woman who has sacrificed so much for him • But is ever ready to listen and accept the deceits from Iago, the man dead set on destroying him
Iago; Famous last words OTHELLO: [to Cassio] Will you, I pray, demand That demi-devil // Why he hath thus ensnar’d my soul and body IAGO: Demand me nothing, what you know, you know, From this time forth I never will speak word
We note Iago’s cool malignity We note at final curtain time • A very unrepentant, remorseless Iago • is still very much alive
The enigma of Iago • When all has been said about Iago’s motivation, and psychology • There remains something in Shakespeare’s dramatic presentation of Iago • That defies rational explanation • The play gives no fully, satisfactory answer to Othello’s baffled request • beyond a baffling response
Critical issues re- Othello’s final speech This speech has long been the subject of divided responses • and hostile comments and reviews • among critics and scholars of the play
The famous critic, T.S. Eliot, suggested • That Othello, in his final speech, is trying to escape reality • That Othello is trying to cheer himself up; • And has ceased to think about Desdemona • That he is now only thinking of himself
For the critic, F.R. Leavis • Though Othello’s final speech begins with quiet authority, it ends in self-dramatization • That Othello is no tragic hero (Note) • Given that he has learned nothing from his misfortune and downfall; • And that he would rather rant, than think;
When Othello learns the truth; and comes to know what he has lost— • [It may be argued] Othello recovers much of his former nobility and dignity • The Othello who sends his final message to the Venetian Senate • is much like the man who faced the same senate body at the beginning • with his impressive rhetorical justification of his marriage
In considering Othello’s final speech; a technical tour de force? In twenty lines, Othello presents a summary of the tragic action; • Given, not when the action the play has been completed • But while its outcome is still awaited
Past and Present When Othello’s account reaches the present • Othello acts out what he describes as • The story of the turbaned Turk whom he once slew in the ancient city of Aleppo • Whichseems to take us back into his past
A very sensational climax As Othello re-enacts • His past image, and present actuality merge • And Othello dies in his double role of killer, and killed • Both as the enemy and champion of his love
For the critic, Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare’s plays • Suggest that the choices people make in love are almost entirely inexplicable and irrational • Express Shakespeare’s deepest perception of existence • His preference for things untidy, damaged, unresolved; his skepticism; • And his refusal of easy consolations;