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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT V, SCENE I
Night has fallen, and the atmosphere is heavy with tension. Through Iago's devious manipulations, the fate of all of the major characters hangs in the balance. Othello believes his wife guilty of adultery and is determined to kill her. Desdemona is the helpless victim of Othello's suspicions and has premonitions that her death is near. Cassio is slated for death at Roderigo's hands, according to Iago's plan. Emilia suspects that some villain is behind Othello's behavior, but she can't know that her own husband is responsible. Roderigo has already lost most of his fortune and is ready to kill someone, all for the love of a woman who barely knows he's alive. As for Iago, the mastermind behind the entire plot, he must step very carefully. One false move and he could lose everything, including his life. The tension is almost unbearable.
Iago has convinced Roderigo that Cassio must die; they're in a "kill or cure" situation-"it makes us or it mars us," as the saying goes. He puts Roderigo in a hiding place, near a spot Cassio will pass. Iago promises to stay nearby, in case the nervous Roderigo makes a mistake.
Iago will gain no matter who dies in the fight-Cassio, Roderigo, or both. If Roderigo lives, Iago will have to return the gold and jewels he was supposed to have given to Desdemona. As for Cassio, Iago says:
He hath a daily beauty in his life That makes me ugly. Act V, Scene i, lines 21-22
We learn a great deal about Iago in these few lines. Cassio's "beauty"- his goodness, his honesty-is a constant thorn in Iago's side. Evil men often seek a world where everyone is as wicked as they. They're uncomfortable with the virtuous. Iago therefore is determined that Cassio be killed.
When Cassio passes, things happen in a flash! Roderigo jumps Cassio and stabs him, but Cassio's protected by his chain-mail vest (a coat of light steel worn as armor). In defending himself, Cassio stabs Roderigo, and Iago jumps from his hiding place to stab Cassio in the leg. Iago then runs off before he's recognized, and Cassio-wounded by Iago-begins to cry out so loudly that Othello hears him and assumes that Iago has kept his promise and murdered Cassio. Othello hurries off to kill Desdemona.
Cassio's cries have also awakened Lodovico and Gratiano, Brabantio's brother. They rush out, but keep at a distance, afraid of being harmed themselves.
Iago returns, pretending surprise and shock at what has happened. When Cassio points to Roderigo (who lies injured nearby) as one of those who attacked him, Iago rushes to Roderigo and stabs him, leaving him for dead. Ironically, Roderigo, who was the first to be fooled by Iago, is the first to recognize his evil: "O damned Iago! O inhuman dog!" he says.
Lodovico and Gratiano finally come out from their hiding place, and Iago calls them to help as he binds Cassio's wound. Notice how well Iago plays his role of concerned citizen and good friend. Even under pressure, he's a wonderful actor.
Bianca has heard the racket and runs out to see what's happened. Iago immediately points to her and accuses her of being involved in some way because she looks guilty. It seems Iago will do anything to place the blame on someone else. Emilia rushes out and after she hears what's happened, says Bianca must have had a hand in this. Bianca's reply is interesting:
I am no strumpet, but of life as honest As you that thus abuse me. Act V, Scene i, lines 143-44
Bianca may be a "loose" woman, but she's no whore. She is honest, despite what people might think. Bianca is another example of someone whose appearance does not represent accurately her character.
As Iago rushes to help carry Cassio for medical help, he sends Emilia to tell Othello and Desdemona what's happened. Then he admits to us:
This is the night That either makes me or foredoes me quite. Act V, Scene i, lines 150-51
Could Iago be losing control? For the first time, fortune doesn't seem to be in his corner. Cassio is alive by sheer luck-his chain mail vest. Iago's attempts to kill him have faded, too. And, as we shall see, Iago hasn't succeeded in killing Roderigo, either.
Iago makes another mistake when he sends Emilia to Desdemona's bedroom. If he were thinking dearly, he would know that this is the night Othello has planned to murder Desdemona. Perhaps Emilia will get there in time to stop him! Iago's cool facade begins to show signs of crumbling.