Hi! Your homework this week is to read Acts IV and V of Othello, watch my videotaped lectures below, and then post a comment about the assigned reading at the bottom of this page. The speeches that I refer to in my lectures are printed below each video. At the bottom of this page, below all of the videos, I give you some simple study questions to help you formulate a post. The study questions follow up on things I say in my lectures, so you may want to watch the videos first. Leave your post in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Noteworthy speeches from Othello, Act 4: Desdemona is a Shakespearean "patient Griselda," 4.2.148: Alas, Iago, What shall I do to win my lord again? Good friend, go to him; for, by this light of heaven, I know not how I lost him. Here I kneel: If e'er my will did trespass 'gainst his love Either in discourse of thought or actual deed, Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense Delighted them in any other form, Or that I do not yet, and ever did, And ever will (though he do shake me off To beggarly divorcement) love him dearly, Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much, And his unkindness may defeat my life, But never taint my love. I cannot say "whore." It does abhor me now I speak the word; To do the act that might the addition earn Not the world's mass of vanity could make me. Desdemona remembers her mother's maid, Barbary, 4.3.26: My mother had a maid called Barbary. She was in love; and he she loved proved mad And did forsake her. She had a song of "Willow"; An old thing 'twas; but it expressed her fortune, And she died singing it. That song tonight Will not go from my mind; I have much to do But to go hang my head all at one side And sing it like poor Barbary. Prithee dispatch. ... "The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree, Sing all a green willow; Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee, Sing willow, willow, willow. The fresh streams ran by her and murmured her moans; Sing willow, willow, willow; Her salt tears fell from her, and softened the stones, Sing willow, willow, willow. Say by these. --Willow, willow. Prithee hie thee; he'll come anon. Sing all a green willow must be my garland Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve" -- ... "I called my love false love, but what said he then? Sing willow, willow, willow: If I court more women, you'll couch with more men."
Noteworthy speeches from Othello, Act 5: Othello's famous soliloquy before he kills Desdemona, 5.1.1: It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul. Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! It is the cause. 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. 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 not where 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. I'll smell thee on the tree. 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 that's the last! So sweet was ne'er so fatal. I must weep, But they are cruel tears. This sorrow's heavenly; It strikes where it doth love. She wakes. Othello's final speech, 5.2.338: Soft you! A word or two before you go. I have done the state some service, and they know't. No more of that. I pray you, in your letters, When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice. 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 Judean, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, Albeit unused to the melting mood, Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees Their medicinable gum. Set you down this. And say besides that in Aleppo once, Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by th'throat the circumcised dog And smote him -- thus.
Write a comment on Othello Acts 4-5 and post it in the comments section below. Be sure to quote the text of the play at least once in your post. Consider answering any of the following study questions:
1.) As I say in my videos, Iago comes to resemble a devil more and more as the play comes to a close — specifically, he resembles the devil or “Vice” figure of medieval morality drama, whose function is to do everything possible to comdemn the souls of the other characters. Do you notice any moments where Iago especially settles into this characterization, apart from those I mention?
2.) Emilia becomes an important character in the later acts of Othello. How would you describe her character? I think it’s helpful to know that in Elizabethan literary theory, character was said to be most on display in confrontations and contrasts with other characters. Sometimes, a playwright (I’m not saying that Shakespeare ever did this, since we don’t know about him specifically, but it’s plausible) would map out a play as a series of confrontations between contrasting characters as a prewriting exercise. I feel like Emilia’s character develops in roughly this way…she represents one thing when she’s with Iago, and another thing when she’s with Desdemona, another thing when she’s with Othello, etc.
3.) Act 5, sc. 2 is very difficult to perform: it features shocking onstage violence, it’s melodramatic, it’s pathetic, it engages with racism and misogyny, it includes Desdemona’s inexplicable talking after she’s dead, it’s chaotic…in sum, it’s “over the top.” If you were directing a production of Othello, is there anything that you would want to do (or not do) in order to make this final scene a success? For example, would you cut Desdemona’s postumous lines, or can you think of an appropriate way to perform them? Would you do anything to mitigate or limit the effects of racism in this scene, or would you showcase it to make a point? What about the violence against women?