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Othello Act 5 Commentary

By ebradley1 Nov 03, 2014 797 Words

Act 5, Scene 2 (lines 334-352)

Act 5 Scene 2 is the last speech made by the eloquent Othello in this tragedy, taking place on the secluded island of Cyprus, a world apart from Venice and the rest of the world. It occurs in the last scene of the play where Othello has recently smothered his wife with the believe that she had been unfaithful to their marriage and later been made aware it had all been a plot of manipulation at the blame of Iago, the man he had trusted and sought advice from. The main goal behind this speech is to make sure his spectators are left with a dignified view of him, making it clear he is intending on the end of his life to follow shortly. Othello seems obsessed with, not only love, perhaps the main and obvious theme of this speech and the whole play, but also his reputation and the name he has worked so hard to make for himself.

I could be argued that love is the main subject of this tragedy. It begins with the winning of consent of Desdemona’s father, fueled by the great and passionate love the couple feel for each other, and ends in it being the cause for Othello’s madness, jealousy and later lethal act. During this speech, line 340 demonstrates Othello making his strong love for his late wife continuously obvious to his audiences with “of one that loved not wisely, but too well”, referring to himself having been bewitched by love, and later controlled uniquely by the apparently jealously with which it came. He claims to have “thrown a pearl away” (line 342) using the imagery of a pearl as a representation of Desdemona and her perfection, beauty and innocence, a common motif of the play. Othello, after having committed an act he would consider deserving of torture as he earlier expresses in lines 277-8, “Roast me in sulphur! Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!” is remorseful and repeatedly expresses the sorrow he has for the true and love which he did “too well”, which he has now lost forever.

However, in this speech, the theme of his passionate love is not the most noticeable one presented through his eloquence. It almost seems he refers to his late wife as only a second thought to him, with a lesser personal importance to his than his position in society and the state he serves. Throughout, it is clear his main intention is to leave the Venetian officers with a good and respectful memory of him. He begins his speech, in line 335, by asserting and reminding them of the service he has done for the state of Venice and that they should do well to remember that. The tone of his speech is calm and collected, almost as if he had previously prepared this for an audience. This can be seen as being done as if to reinforce his declaration and surety of his loyalty and pride. This self-propaganda is a clear representation of his obvious strong egotistical characterisation. In lines 340 and 341, he refers to himself in the third person, as if to give himself a greater importance and social standing, repeating this for clarity and emphasis. He presents a hint of his famous life story, describing himself as “the base Indian…richer than all his tribe” using heroic language to explain his proud origins and highlight the powerful man he has become. Othello makes a show of his conquests, his “pearl” Desdemona, one of the most desirable Venetian women, and his military success, such as the “malignant and turbaned Turk” (line 349), all in order to protect his reputation and ensure that his great name will live on after his death. This seems more important to him than the death of his wife.

Line 338, “speak of me as I am” shows a statement of great irony as he continues on to misrepresent himself and his motives. He describes himself as “not easily jealous” although this it is this exact fatal flaw that has lead to the greatest tragedy of his life. Perhaps the real tragedy is that Othello, right up to the moment of his death, had never realised his fatal flaw. The overall significance of this final speech is to showcase the death of the play’s protagonist. He is one of Shakespeare’s most uniquely human characters, as his flaws and follies make him such a compelling tragic figure. He incessantly to highlight his difference to other men, such as his black background, yet he continues to fight to be a respected member of Venetian society, making a great importance around his ambivalent status as an insider and outsider, simultaneously.

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