Othello Act 5, Scene 2 Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

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

This lesson provides a summary of Act 5, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's 'Othello', which includes the murder of Desdemona, and the whole plot at last revealed to all.

The End

Oh the things humans are capable of when jealousy takes hold. Act 5, Scene 2 is the last act in Othello, and, as is typical of Shakespearean tragedies, we find a pile of dead bodies at the end. Let's take a look and see who is left standing!

Othello Pines and Plots

The scene opens as Othello finds Desdemona sleeping. He loves her, admires her, and plans to kill her all in the space of his opening soliloquy (which when a character in a play talks to himself, and therefore the audience, instead of to other characters on stage). 'This sorrow's heavenly,' Othello says, 'it strikes where it doth love.'

Desdemona wakes while Othello hovers over her--both murderous and loving. Ominously, he asks her if she said her prayers that night, adding 'I would not kill thy unprepared spirit.' 'Talk you of killing?' Desdemona asks in disbelief--she has seen Othello angry with and even unkind to her in the previous scenes, but now he wants to kill her? That is surely unexpected news.

The Cursed Handkerchief

Desdemona soon finds out that he believes she has had an affair with Cassio. 'I never did offend you in my life,' Desdemona protests. Iago's poison has done its work, though, and the handkerchief he stole from Desdemona and planted in Cassio's room is a 'proof' Othello clings to: 'By heaven, I saw my handkerchief in 's hand,' he insists.

Desdemona, like any sensible innocent person, begs Othello to check her story. She asks Othello to call for Cassio: 'Send for him hither; let him confess a truth.' Othello tells her Cassio has already confessed to having sex with her (which, of course, is not true, Iago just made it sound like that's what he was saying.) Desdemona can't believe it (because it isn't true) and presses Othello to ask again at which Othello tells her Cassio is dead (which is also not true, Othello just thinks it is).

Despair and Death

In despair, and seeing her husband intent on killing her, Desdemona begins to weep and beg for her life. Othello, in his poisoned state of mind, interprets this as evidence of her guilt and he smothers her. At one point, Desdemona makes a sound and Othello says 'Not yet quite dead? ... I would not have thee linger in thy pain. So, so.' In the 18th Century it was popular to show Othello stabbing Desdemona during the 'So, so' part, but it is not clear that that was Shakespeare's intent.

In the midst of this murder, Emilia arrives and calls to them from outside the door. Once he is satisfied that Desdemona is dead, Othello lets her in. Not knowing of Othello's involvement, Emilia brings him news of Cassio's injury and Roderigo's death. Instead of being concerned, Othello is irritated: 'Not Cassio killed? Then murder's out of tune and sweet revenge grows harsh.' Just then, as dead people often do in Shakespeare, Desdemona stirs in her bed and begins to speak.

Discovery

'Alas, that was my lady's voice!' Emilia says, and rushes to the bed. She finds Desdemona and cries out in alarm, 'O who hath done this deed?' Desdemona, ever meek and submissive, answers, 'Nobody; I myself. Farewell.'

Othello sets the story straight, however, by saying 'She's like a liar gone to burning hell. 'Twas I that killed her.' Emilia, understandably, is horrified. 'Thou art a devil,' she tells him.

Othello defends himself by saying, 'Cassio did top her: ask thy husband else.' 'Top her' here means 'have sex with her.' (They had slang for such things even in Shakespeare's time). At the mention of her husband, Iago, Emilia begins to see things in a new light. She rises up here in strength and proclaims 'Thou has done a deed...I'll make thee known....' At this, Emilia calls out for help.

Emilia's Death

Upon Emilia's calling out, Montano, Gratiano, and Iago enter the room. Emilia immediately lays into Iago, saying, 'O, are you come, Iago? You have one well, that men must lay their murders on your neck' and 'You told a lie, an odious, damnèd lie.' The reader should remember here how unexpected these words would be from a woman. This is some real gumption from Emilia!

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