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Iago and Roderigo wait outside the brothel where Cassio visits Bianca. Iago positions Roderigo with a rapier (a type of sword) in a place where he will be able to ambush Cassio. Iago then withdraws himself, although Roderigo asks him not to go too far in case he needs help killing Cassio. Cassio enters, and Roderigo stabs at him but fails to pierce Cassio’s armor. Cassio stabs and wounds Roderigo. Iago darts out in the commotion, stabs Cassio in the leg, and exits. Not knowing who has stabbed him, Cassio falls. At this moment, Othello enters. Hearing Cassio’s cries of murder, Othello believes that Iago has killed him. Inspired by what he believes to be Iago’s successful vengeance, Othello returns to his bedroom to kill Desdemona.
Lodovico and Graziano enter and hear Cassio’s and Roderigo’s cries. They can see nothing because of the darkness, and they are wary of helping the crying men in case it is a trap. Iago enters carrying a light. He first pretends to discover Cassio, who begs him for help, and then stumbles upon Cassio’s assailant, Roderigo, whom Iago stabs without hesitation. Graziano and Lodovico are still unable to see Iago, and they are unaware of what he is doing. Finally, the three men come face-to-face, and they question Cassio about his injuries.
Bianca enters and begins to cry out when she sees the wounded Cassio. Iago questions Cassio about his assailant, but Cassio can provide no explanation for what has happened. Iago suggests that Roderigo is to blame. Cassio says that he does not know Roderigo. Attendants carry off Cassio and Roderigo’s corpse. Emilia enters, and Iago tells her what has happened, adding the explanation, “This is the fruits of whoring” (V.i.118). He and Emilia chastise Bianca, at whose house Cassio had dined that evening. Iago takes Bianca under arrest, and sends Emilia to tell Othello and Desdemona what has happened. Iago ends the scene with an aside: “This is the night / That either makes me or fordoes [undoes] me quite” (V.i.130–131).Read a translation of Act V, scene i →
Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe. . . .
Holding a candle, Othello stands over the sleeping Desdemona and prepares to kill her. He bends down to kiss her once before he does the deed, she wakes, and he tells her to prepare to die. Growing frightened, Desdemona asks her husband why he means to kill her, and Othello responds that she has been unfaithful to him with Cassio—he has seen the proof in the handkerchief. Othello refuses to believe Desdemona’s denial of the charge, saying that Cassio has confessed but will speak no more, since he has been killed by Iago. Desdemona begins to weep for Cassio, which only drives Othello into a greater rage. Wrestling with her as she begs to be allowed to live just a little longer, Othello finally succeeds in smothering his wife. Emilia calls from outside the door, and Othello, apparently delirious, confuses her cries with his wife’s and concludes that Desdemona is not yet dead. Thinking himself to be merciful, and not wanting to have his wife linger in pain, he smothers her again.
Othello draws the bed curtains and lets Emilia in. Emilia informs Othello that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Othello asks if Cassio has been killed as well, and Emilia informs him that Cassio is alive. As Othello begins to realize that his plans have gone awry, Desdemona cries out that she has been murdered. She stays alive long enough to recant this statement, telling Emilia that she was not murdered but killed herself. She dies. Othello triumphantly admits to Emilia that he killed Desdemona, and when she asks him why, Othello tells her that Iago opened his eyes to Desdemona’s falsehood. Unfazed by Othello’s threat that she “were best” to remain silent, Emilia calls out for help, bringing Montano, Graziano, and Iago to the scene (V.ii.168).
As the truth of Iago’s villainy begins to come out through Emilia’s accusations, Othello falls weeping upon the bed that contains the body of his dead wife. Almost to himself, Graziano expresses relief that Brabanzio is dead—the first news the audience has heard of this—and has not lived to see his daughter come to such a terrible end. Othello still clings to his belief in Iago’s truth and Desdemona’s guilt, mentioning the handkerchief and Cassio’s “confession.” When Othello mentions the handkerchief, Emilia erupts, and Iago, no longer certain that he can keep his plots hidden, attempts to silence her with his sword. Graziano stops him and Emilia explains how she found the handkerchief and gave it to Iago. Othello runs at Iago but is disarmed by Montano. In the commotion, Iago is able to stab his wife, who falls, apparently dying. Iago flees and is pursued by Montano and Graziano. Left alone onstage with the bodies of the two women, Othello searches for another sword. Emilia’s dying words provide eerie background music, as she sings a snatch of the song “Willow.” She tells Othello that Desdemona was chaste and loved him.