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Act V, Scene 2
Othello stands by the side of the bed in which his wife is sleeping. As he stares at her, he is shaken by his love and anguish. He cannot restrain himself from kissing her, which wakens Desdemona. "Will you come to bed, my lord?" she asks. Othello, though tortured in spirit by her apparent infidelity, does not wish to scar Desdemona’s body or hurt her soul. She must have time to say her prayers before he kills her, and he tells her so.
The terrified Desdemona tries to protect herself with the little skill she has. She struggles to make Othello realize that she is innocent, but it is of no use. She speaks to a madman who is unable to listen. Then she learns that Cassio is dead, and nobody is left who can testify in her defense. She accepts her fate, abandons her useless weapons, and pleads for time. "Kill me tomorrow; let me live tonight," she begs. Othello does not dare to wait, for he knows that his resolve may weaken. He speaks the final line, "It is too late." Then he smothers her.
There is noise from the other side of the door. Emilia is calling. Othello presses harder until he is sure his wife is dead. He then draws the bed curtains to hide what he has done. He admits Emilia, who tells him that Cassio is not killed, only wounded. Emilia then hears a faint sound from the bed and finds her mistress dying. The frantic maid tries to find out who has committed the murder. Desdemona has just enough strength left to protect her husband. She says, "Nobody, I myself, farewell."
In a fury of grief and rage, Emilia turns on Othello, and he admits that he has killed his wife. He also tells her that Iago has convinced him that she has been unfaithful. Othello then threatens her, but she begins to scream, attracting Iago and several others. Her husband tries to silence her, to no avail. She tells Othello who made her steal the handkerchief. To retaliate and silence her, Iago stabs Emilia. Before she dies, she utters, "She loved thee, cruel Moor."
Othello’s sword is taken from him, but there is another hidden in the room. Realizing that the villainous Iago has duped him, he stabs and wounds him. Othello then stabs himself and dies as he gives a final kiss to his departed wife.
This great, emotional scene is a marvel of stagecraft. It is divided into three parts. The first is the pathetic and terrible murder of Desdemona. The second is the revelation of Iago’s villainy by Emilia and her subsequent death. The third is Othello’s agony and his suicide.
The Othello pictured in this scene is a very different man than pictured elsewhere in the play. He is no longer proud and self- confident; neither is he angry or mean. Instead, he is a picture of sad resolve. He stands by Desdemona’s bed and is overcome with both love and grief for his beautiful, young wife. Unable to openly name her sin, he talks about "the cause." Then he reaches down and gently kisses her. He also resolves not to spill her blood or scar her beauty. As he decides to smother her, he weeps over what he must do. He is portrayed as the perfect tragic hero.
When the pure and innocent Desdemona wakens and realizes what is happening, it is a scene of great pathos. She first tries to reason with her husband. She truthfully denies betraying her husband and explains she did not give the handkerchief to Cassio. Her words fall on deaf ears. When Othello tells her to pray, she become terrified about what is about to happen to hear. She begs for mercy, both from her husband and from the Lord. When she sees that Othello is still determined to murder her, she begs him to simply send her away or at least give her more time. When these requests are denied, she begs for more time to pray, but Othello knows he cannot give her more time or he may lose his resolve. He puts the pillow over her face.
Othello immediately knows what a monstrous thing he has done to murder his fair wife, and he half expects for there to be some horrible natural event, such as an eclipse, to mark his vile deed. When Emilia enters and sees her dying mistress, she immediately understands what has happened and cries out about the foul murder. She then listens, with Othello, to Desdemona’s dying words, which are a lie to protect her beloved husband.
At first Othello denies having killed Desdemona. He then confesses the murder and tries to justify his actions by calling her a whore and saying, "She was false as water." He admits that the honest Iago has convinced him of her unfaithfulness. Without hesitation, Emilia calls her husband a liar and screams out for help. Iago, Montano, and others answer her call. Emilia turns on Iago and questions what he has done. She also discloses that she has given the missing handkerchief to him. Suddenly Othello realizes his error and lunges toward the villain with his sword. Montano stops the attack, giving Iago the opportunity to stab his wife and then escape. As she dies, Emilia again proclaims the innocence of Desdemona.
Iago is quickly captured and is brought back on stage by Lodovico, Montano, and several officers. Cassio is also carried on stage in a chair. Enraged by the sight of his enemy, Othello lunges at Iago and wounds him, while saying that death is too good for the villain. After he is disarmed, Othello listens to Cassio’s words of innocence and begs forgiveness from him. He then listens to the reading of a letter from Roderigo that tells of Iago’s villainous machinations, including the stealing and planting of the handkerchief. Othello shouts that he has been a fool!
Othello regains some of his composure and speaks his final lines. He chastises himself for his stupidity in being blindly led and begs to be remembered as someone who "lov’d not wisely but too well." He then stabs himself and dies on the body of Desdemona.
Structurally, the scene ends, in a sense, where it began. Othello’s first "justice" is on Desdemona; his last justice is on himself, so those false and true justices respectively begin and end the scene. Each justice is accompanied by Othello giving Desdemona a kiss, the first reluctant and the second penitent -- but both given in love. The kisses underscore the fact that Othello is truly a romantic tragedy.