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Graziano returns to find Othello armed and defiant, mourning the loss of his wife. They are joined shortly by Montano, Lodovico, Cassio, and Iago, who is being held prisoner. Othello stabs Iago, wounding him, and Lodovico orders some soldiers to disarm Othello. Iago sneers that he bleeds but is not killed. He refuses to say anything more about what he has done, but Lodovico produces a letter found in Roderigo’s pocket that reveals everything that has happened. Seeking some kind of final reconciliation, Othello asks Cassio how he came by the handkerchief, and Cassio replies that he found it in his chamber.
Lodovico tells Othello that he must come with them back to Venice, and that he will be stripped of his power and command and put on trial. Refusing to be taken away before he has spoken, Othello asks his captors, “When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, / Speak of me as I am” (V.ii.350–351). He reminds them of a time in Aleppo when he served the Venetian state and slew a malignant Turk. “I took by the throat the circumcised dog / And smote him thus,” says Othello, pulling a third dagger from hiding and stabbing himself in demonstration (V.ii.364–365). Pledging to “die upon a kiss,” Othello falls onto the bed with his wife’s body (V.ii.369).
Lodovico tells Iago to look at the result of his devious efforts, names Graziano as Othello’s heir, and puts Montano in charge of Iago’s execution. Lodovico prepares to leave for Venice to bear the news from Cyprus to the duke and senate.Read a translation of Act V, scene ii →
In the first scene of Act V, we see the utterly futile end of Roderigo and his plans. Roderigo was first persuaded that he need only follow Othello and Desdemona to Cyprus in order to win over Desdemona, then that he need only disgrace Cassio, then that he need only kill Cassio. Now, Roderigo, stabbed by the man who gave him false hope, dies empty-handed in every possible way. He has given all his money and jewels to Iago, who admits that the jewelry more than anything else motivated his killing of Roderigo: “Live Roderigo, / He calls me to a restitution large / Of gold and jewels that I bobbed from him” (V.i.14–16). Roderigo is certainly a pathetic character, evidenced by the fact that he does not even succeed in killing Cassio. Unwittingly, Roderigo causes Iago’s plan to be foiled for the first time in the play. Because of this, Iago is forced to bloody his own hands, also for the first time in the play. Displaying a talent for improvisation, Iago takes the burden of action into his own hands because he has no other choice. Once Iago sees that Roderigo has failed to kill Cassio, Iago is able to wound Cassio, return with a light to “save” Cassio, kill Roderigo, and cast suspicion on Bianca and her brothel, all in a very short time. Neither Lodovico, Graziano, nor Cassio shows the slightest suspicion that Iago is somehow involved in the mayhem. Othello is not the only one who finds Iago “honest.”
Othello’s brief appearance in Act V, scene i, is particularly horrifying. Joyfully supposing Cassio to be dead, Othello proceeds to his bedchamber with great fervor, crying, “Strumpet, I come. / Forth of my heart those charms, thine eyes, are blotted. / Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted” (V.i.35–37). When he promises that the bed shall “with lust’s blood be spotted,” he means that when he kills Desdemona, her guilty blood of “lust” will spot the sheets. But spotted sheets also suggests wedding-night sex.
As Othello prepares to kill Desdemona at the beginning of the final scene, the idea of killing her becomes curiously intertwined, in his mind, with the idea of taking her virginity. In Act V, scene ii, he expresses his sorrow that he has to kill her in terms that suggest his reluctance to take her virginity: “When I have plucked thy rose / I cannot give it vital growth again. / It must needs wither” (V.ii.13–15). He steels himself to kill her, but he refuses to “shed her blood” or scar her white skin, which is as “smooth as monumental alabaster.” His words imply that the real tragedy is the loss of her virginity, which would leave her irretrievably spoiled. Ironically, despite being convinced of her corruption, part of him seems to view her as still intact, like an alabaster statue or an unplucked rose. Furthermore, the reader may recall that the all-important handkerchief is dyed with the blood of dead virgins. The handkerchief’s importance to Othello may suggest that he thinks it is better for a woman to die as a virgin than live as a wife.