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Deaths in Othello: Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Iago
  • 0:46 Desdemona Dies
  • 1:40 Emilia Dies
  • 2:36 Roderigo Dies
  • 3:40 Othello Dies & Iago Doesn't
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

Death is a part of every Shakespearean tragedy, and Othello is no exception. This lesson provides a postmortem examination of the play, those who die in it, and the purpose those deaths serve.

Iago

The song ''Let the Bodies Hit the Floor'' by Drowning Pool would be a fitting soundtrack for the last act of Shakespeare's Othello, or really for any of Shakespeare's tragedies - they all end with a pile of dead bodies. Instead of hitting the floor, though, most of the bodies in Othello end up on a bed, and all are the result of the actions of one man: Iago. Iago is Othello's ensign. Everyone thinks him an honest and helpful friend, but really he's a nasty spider weaving a web of death and destruction. Regarding the bed full of dead bodies, Lodovico says to Iago at the end, ''look on the tragic loading of this bed: this is thy work.'' Shakespeare uses the senseless deaths in Othello to drive home its tragic elements.

Desdemona Dies

Desdemona's death is tragic not just because she dies, but because it's her husband, Othello, who kills her. He loves her dearly, but he's been an idiot and has allowed Iago to convince him not only that Desdemona has cheated on him, but that killing her is the only sensible thing to do now. ''I will kill thee and love thee after,'' he decides. The dramatic irony (which is when the audience knows what is going on but the characters don't) is pretty thick at this point. We're all shouting in our heads at Othello, ''Don't do it! You've been fooled!'' But he goes and does it anyway, smothering Desdemona with a pillow in her bed.

Reviving herself (as dead people sometimes do in Shakespeare) Desdemona finds strength to say to Emilia, ''A guiltless death I die.'' Guiltless she is, and tragic, too. Desdemona is innocence personified, and by killing her character, Shakespeare makes a cynical commentary about how innocence cannot survive in the fallen world.

Emilia Dies

Emilia's death is tragic on a different level. She isn't all pure, simple innocence (she may or may not have slept with Othello in order to get her husband a promotion), but she's strong and she speaks out for what is right in a world where women were not allowed to be or do those things. When she discovers it was Desdemona's handkerchief which served as the primary evidence in convincing Othello of his wife's alleged affair, she knows her husband Iago is at the bottom of it.

''Be wise and get you home,'' Iago warns her, but she answers defiantly, ''I will not.'' Emilia speaks the truth, though it costs her life. She tells all assembled that Iago begged her to steal Desdemona's handkerchief for him, and she reveals that he has intentionally framed Desdemona and manipulated Othello. For this, Iago stabs her with his sword, killing her. ''Lay me by my mistress' side,'' Emilia asks with her last breath, and thus she becomes another body to lie in the bed's ''tragic loading.''

Roderigo Dies

As the play wears on, one may be torn between being irritated by Roderigo and feeling sorry for him. Iago has been manipulating him from the very start of the play. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona. Iago has been giving Roderigo 'advice' about how to woo her despite her marriage to Othello. Suspiciously, much of this advice requires Roderigo to give Iago large sums of money and jewels. We watch as Iago perpetually makes a fool of Roderigo, finally inducing him to face Cassio in a battle that becomes his undoing.

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