Certainly, Othello's final speech is not all that one might wish for-his claim to be "one not easily jealous" is open to question, and his claim that he "loved not wisely but too well" seems both an understatement and an exaggeration (V.ii.354, 353). Further, Othello's invocation of his own military triumphs might be seen as another example of Othello dangerously misordering his priorities. He seems to position his political reputation as his biggest concern, as he did in Act III, scene iii, lines353-355, when, having decided that Desdemona does not love him, he exclaimed, "Farewell the tranquil mind, farewell content, / Farewell the plumed troop and the big wars / That make ambition virtue."
At the same time, however, Othello's final speech does seem to restore to him somewhat the nobility that characterized him at the beginning of the play. From almost the first time he opens his mouth, Othello demonstrates-and the other characters confirm-his hypnotic eloquence when he speaks about his exploits in battle.
Othello's final speech puts us in mind of his long speech in Act I, scene iii, so that we see him, even if only for a moment, as we saw him then. This process of conflating two different times and views of Othello is similar to the rhetorical effect achieved by Othello's dying words, where he makes his suicide seem a noble and heroic deed by conflating it with the killing of a Turk in service of the state.
What role does incoherent language play in Othello? How does Othello's language change over the course of the play? Pay particular attention to the handkerchief scene in Act III, scene iii, and Othello's fit in Act IV, scene i.
At the beginning of the play, Othello has such confidence in his skill with language that he can claim that he is "rude" in speech, knowing that no one will possibly believe him (I.iii.81). He then dazzles his audience with a forty-line speech that effortlessly weaves words such as "hair-breadth" and "Anthropophagi" into blank verse lines. But in the moments when the pressure applied by Iago is particularly extreme, Othello's language deteriorates into fragmented, hesitant, and incoherent syntax. Throughout Act III, scene iii, Othello speaks in short, clipped exclamations and half-sentences such as "Ha!" (III.iii.169), "O misery!" (III.iii.175), and "Dost thou say so?" (III.iii.209). There is also notable repetition, as in "Not a jot, not a jot" (III.iii.219), "O, monstrous, monstrous!" (III.iii.431), "O, blood, blood, blood!" (III.iii.455), and "Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her!" (III.iii.478).
Such moments, when Othello shifts from his typical seemingly effortless verse to near inarticulateness, demonstrate the extent to which Othello's passion has broken down his self-control. In Act III, scene iii, he is still speaking in mostly coherent sentences or phrases; but this is no longer the case in Act IV, scene i. This scene begins with Iago saying, "Will you think so?" and Othello can only helplessly and automatically echo, "Think so, Iago?" (IV.i.1-2). Iago then introduces the word "lie" into the conversation, which sends Othello into a frenzy as he attempts to sort out the semantic differences between Cassio "lying on" (that is, lying about) Desdemona and "lying with" (that is, having sex with) her (IV.i.33-35). The various words and images Iago has planted in Othello's mind over the course of the play are transformed into impressionistic, sporadic eruptions out of Othello's mouth: "Lie with her? 'Swounds, that's fulsome! Handkerchief-confessions-handkerchief" (IV.i.35-36). These eruptions culminate in the nonsense of "Pish! Noses, ears, and lips!" (IV.i.40). Ultimately, Othello's inability to articulate seems to overcome him physically, as he collapses "in a trance" (IV.i.41, stage direction).
Analyze Desdemona's role. To what extent is she merely a passive victim of Othello's brutality? How does her character change when she is not with Othello?