'Othello' Act 5, Scene 2 - Summary

Desdemona and Othello, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain
Desdemona and Othello, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain. Public Domain

Act Five, Scene Two of William Shakespeare's "Othello" can be broken down into two parts. The first is between Othello and Desdemona, in which Othello smothers and kills his wife. The following is a summary of part two.

Emilia Learns—and Shares—the Truth

Othello speaks to Emilia. He explains that Iago told him that Desdemona and Cassio were having an affair and that Cassio himself admitted it and had the handkerchief—the token of love Othello gave to Desdemona, passed down from his mother.

Realizing her part in her husband’s plan, Emilia exclaims, “O God! Heavenly God!” Iago orders Emilia to hold her peace but she refuses, instead telling the group that her husband asked her to steal the handkerchief for a reason unknown to her, and that she did find it and give it to him.

The Death of Emilia

Iago accuses her of lying and draws his sword on his wife. She says, “What should such a fool do with so good a wife?” Othello runs at Iago, calling him a villain. Montano disarms Othello, and Iago wounds his wife. Emilia asks to be laid next to Desdemona to die. Iago exits.

Montano goes after Iago and orders the others to guard Othello and not let him escape. Before she dies, Emilia says to Othello, “Moor, she was chaste. She loved thee cruel Moor. So come my soul to speak true. So, speaking as I think alas, I die.”

Now consumed with guilt, Othello finds a weapon hidden in his room. He tells Graziano to approach him but not to fear him. He then looks at Desdemona’s cold body and curses himself.

Othello Wounds Iago

Lodovico enters with Iago, Montano, and the injured Cassio, who is carried in a chair. Othello stands forward as Iago is brought to face him. Othello wounds Iago, and Lodovico orders the attendants to disarm Othello. He is unrepentant about hurting Iago, and when Lodovico reminds him that he was a respected soldier, Othello says that he acted in honor rather than hate. However, he does admit to consenting to Cassio’s death; Cassio says that he did Othello no wrong and Othello apologizes to him.

Lodovico says that two letters were found in Roderigo’s pocket; one says that Roderigo was ordered to kill Cassio, and the other is written by Roderigo to Iago, complaining about his evil plan. Roderigo wrote that he was going to expose the villain, but Iago killed him off. Roderigo's letter also explains that he was ordered to provoke Cassio on his watch, which is how the quarrel between Cassio and Othello first began.

Lodovico tells Othello that he must return to Venice to answer for his crimes, and Cassio is instated as ruler of Cyprus.

Othello's Death

Othello gives a speech to say that he wants to be remembered as a lover who was deceived. He wants to be remembered as someone who had a jewel but foolishly threw it away, using an analogy of an immoral person who threw away a precious pearl. He makes one last attempt to communicate his honor, saying, "...in Aleppo once, where a malignant and a turbaned Turk beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by th’ throat...and smote him thus." He then stabs himself, kisses Desdemona, and dies.

Disgusted with Iago, Lodovico tells the villain to look at the consequences of his actions. Lodovico then tells Graziano that any riches in the house are his, as he is the next of kin. He tells Cassio Iago’s punishment is for him to determine, and that he will return to Venice with the sad news of what has come to pass: “Myself will straight abroad and to the state, this heavy act with heavy heart relate.”