Act 5 Scene 1

Synopsis of Act 5 Scene 1

As Iago and Roderigo separately lie in wait for Cassio, Roderigo admits he’d rather not kill Cassio. Iago acknowledges that he can only prosper if both Cassio and Roderigo die. When Cassio arrives, Roderigo ineffectually stabs at him, and is seriously stabbed in return, leaving Iago to try wounding Cassio from behind, hitting him in the leg. Othello hears the commotion and, spurred on by his belief that Iago has killed Cassio, resolves to kill Desdemona. 
Lodovico and Gratiano hear the wounded men’s cries, but can’t see – Iago comes with a lantern, and, as if to help Cassio, kills Roderigo in supposed retribution. Lights are called for and a chair for the wounded Cassio. Bianca arrives and is very upset at seeing the wounded Cassio, which Iago makes out is in fact evidence of her complicity in the crime. He feigns distress at the death of Roderigo and Cassio’s injury. Emilia arrives and she and Iago both accuse Bianca of being a prostitute (and, by implication, of having no morals). They set out to inform Othello. Iago knows that his plans are soon to succeed or fail.

Commentary on Act 5 Scene 1

Wear thy good rapier bare, and put it home. - Iago has to tell Roderigo every little detail, even to unsheathe his sword for killing Cassio because Roderigo is too scared and cowardly to do it alone. However it suits Iago to have others bear the blame for his evil plans.
Quick, quick – Iago’s plot only works if there is no time to think properly or discussion to take place.
I have no great devotion to the deed, - Roderigo is completely lacking in courage or principle. He is scared to kill Cassio and recognises it is morally wrong, but has not the intelligence to see through Iago’s arguments nor the backbone to follow his own conscience.
young quat – Iago disparagingly refers to Roderigo as a boil that’s inflamed from being rubbed.
He hath a daily beauty in his life / That makes me ugly; - Iago voices his envy, recognising the moral superiority in Cassio’s life compared to his, and suffering from the comparison.
brave Iago, honest and just – Shakespeare adds to the dramatic irony as each character upholds Iago’s ‘virtues’.
Parable of the Good Samaritanunsafe / To come in to the cry – Shakespeare’s audience would recognise this scene as an inversion of Jesusparable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37, Famous stories from the Bible > The Good Samaritan). Whilst Lodovico and Gratiano are like those who observe the victim(s) but do not help, the one who goes to help (Iago) is actually treacherous and the cause of the attack in the first place.
what villains have done this? – Even whilst sympathetic to the victims, the audience might enjoy Iago’s bare-faced audacity.
Kill him i’ the dark? – Iago’s ‘dark deeds’ prefigure the literal and moral darkness of Desdemona’s forthcoming murder.
O my dear Cassio, my sweet Cassio, - Bianca here shows real distress at Cassio’s injuries, which confirms that her love for him is more than just sexual passion.
I do suspect this trash / To be a party in this injury. – Iago diverts attention from Bianca’s obvious distress by insulting her, and cynically turns her arrival to his own advantage by accusing her of Cassio’s stabbing.
O, a chair, a chair! - Iago is the consummate hypocrite, pretending to be the one to rescue Cassio by calling for help.
guiltiness / Will speak, though tongues were out of use. – Iago pretends to see guilt written across Bianca’s face, so they won’t even need to question her or make her answer the accusations against her.
This is the night / That either makes me or fordoes me quite. – The rhyming couplet sums up Iago’s situation as well as creating anticipation as to how events will turn out.

Investigating Act 5 Scene 1

  • Study Iago’s speech starting from ‘I have rubbed this young quat’…until ‘he must die.’ Make notes on the following:
    • What is the consequence to Iago if Roderigo lives?
    • What is the consequence to Iago if Cassio lives?
    • How would you describe Iago’s conscience or moral compass?
  • How could any of the other characters have resisted Iago’s evil lies and wicked plans?
  • Say aloud Othello’s parting line about his intentions: ‘Thy bed lust-stain’d shall with lust’s blood be spotted.’ What impact does it have dramatically? 
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