Shakespeare the Dramatist
Sept. 25th 2018
First Written Paper: Othello
Act V, sc. ii, II. 1-22, “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul: ‘to `It strikes where it doth love. She wakes.’ In these specific lines, we, as readers, find ourselves just coming to terms with the unfortunate death of Roderigo and being filled with rage and frustration due to the backstabbing villain, Iago. If that isn’t enough, now Othello has come to the decision of taking innocent Desdemona’s life without knowing of the other incidents which had just occurred. Knowing she is sleeping, these lines allow us to enter the thoughts of Othello in the very moment before he follows through with the act. Entirely in pros, Shakespeare momentarily allows the audience to pick apart the “why” of this cruel death committed by Othello.
The first line, “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul: Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars!”, starts the speech off with a clear theme. “Cause” and “you” are each repeated twice in this sentence. As we learned in class, Shakespeare had such an extensive vocabulary that he didn’t need to reuse words within the same sentence, and if he did, it was purposeful and powerful. This gives the automatic insinuation that “you” being Desdemona is the cause that justifies the action Othello is about to commit. He believes he is supposed to sacrifice her to make everything right. The “cause” being adultery and the price being murder, leaves Desdemona the victim.
Because Othello speaks of the stars, this alludes to death immediately… ergo, stars being in sky and Heaven being up as well. Within the first line alone, Desdemona’s death is revealed in secret before he actually does the deed. This sentence is followed with another “It is the cause” reiterating that she, indeed, is an adulteress and should be punished for it and shows that he, Othello, is truly in pain because of these accusations.
“Yet I’ll not shed her blood, Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow, And smooth as monumental alabaster: Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men”. He knows he doesn’t want the murder to be gory or messy, but he is certain she must not live another day. Blood isn’t going to be involved and her beautiful white (as snow) skin isn’t to be harmed. “Monumental alabaster” alludes to the virgin Mary and the statues that depict her laying down after death. This foreshadows the following event and assures the audience that this act will indeed be committed in her own bed…hence, Mary laying down.
Comparing her to Mary says more than the fact that death will be in her near future, but it also compliments Desdemona and the person she was. Othello knows she is a good woman and is truly in love, but he has to take it into his own hands to ensure she will not partake in the same betrayal ever again. It seems that this is the very moment he convinces himself to follow through with her murder.
Othello continues his speech and begins to plot. “Put out the light, and then put out the light: If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, I can again thy former light restore, Should I repent me; but once put out thy light, Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature, I know where not is that Promethean heat that can thy light relume. When I have plucked thy rose, I cannot give it vital growth again, It needs must wither”. Shakespeare again uses the word “light” twice in the same sentence. This time, it has two different meanings. The first time he mentions putting out the light, he is literally meaning to go from light to dark in the room they are in. The next time he says it, he is referring to putting out the “light of Desdemona’s life. The torch will be put out and then he will kill her. The commentary reveals to the reader that Shakespeare directly refers to script in this speech. Desdemona is labeled a “flaming minister”, which is said to be a serviceable torch. Psalm 104:4 says that ministers will become flaming fire. From what Othello knows, Desdemona has sinned, and an awful one at that. He may not know what will happen to her after she dies, but everything will supposedly be made right after she is gone.
We start to see a bit of doubt in himself when he exclaims, “Should I repent me; but once put out thy light”. He is almost second guessing himself and thinking of the person he fell in love with. Othello is battling with the final decision to do, or not to do. When he talks about plucking the final rose, he also states that he won’t be able to give it “vital growth” ever again. He is facing the reality that if he takes her life, he will never be able to take it back, but still, it must happen, and he will never forget it.
As she sleeps, he kisses her and speaks his last word to her, “O balmy breath, that dost almost persuade justice to break her sword! One more, one more. Be thus when thou art dead and I will kill thee, And love thee after. One more, and this the last”. She is peacefully laying in front of him and her beauty almost convinces him to bail out. “One more” is used three within a three-line context. The repetition of that phrase emphasizes that this would be the last interaction between the two before Othello would end her for good. He goes on to express his sorrows, and acknowledges how cruel those tears are.
The speech is closed with “It strikes where it doth love. She wakes”. These words solidify that Othello is going to kill his love and the person the audience has grown to love… but then she wakes and it allows for an entirely new swing of emotions to flood in. This leaves the audience with a multitude of questions. Is she going live? Will he change his mind? Shakespeare intentionally plays with the crowd and their emotions to reach maximum thrill. All this is done through specifically selected verbiage and rhythmic diction.