Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
Any Last Words?
We know that by the play's end Othello has transformed from a noble general and loving husband into a jealous, irrational killer. We also know that after Othello learns the truth (that he killed the ever-faithful Desdemona for no good reason), he decides to end his own life.
The play ends with a depressed Ludovico saying that he hopes that Cassio will punish Iago, and that he'll relate the whole story of the seedy Othello affair to the state.
But, given the nature of the play's ending and the fact that Othello is our main man, it seems like Othello's final words are worth taking a close look at, don't you think?
Here's what our protagonist says just before he stabs himself in the guts:
Soft you. A word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they
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
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal 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 circumcisèd dog,
And smote him, thus. (5.2.397-417)
Here, Othello says he "loved" Desdemona "too well" (too much), which suggests that he doesn't really understand the implications of what he's done.
Othello also seems pretty preoccupied with the way people will think of him after his death. On the one hand, he wants to be remembered as a soldier who "has done the state some service" and who has killed a lot of Venice's enemies.
Yet he also seems to think that strangling Desdemona is a crime against the Venetian state—Othello compares himself to a "turban'd Turk" (Venice's sworn enemy), which he emphasizes when he kills himself with the very same sword he used when he "smote" the "malignant" Turk on the battlefield.
By this point, Othello sees himself as a savage outsider (like a "Turk" or a "base Indian"), which is what characters like Brabantio have been calling him all along. In other words, Othello seems to have internalized the racist ideas that he has encountered in Venice. It also seems like Shakespeare is asking us to consider whether or not this is the inevitable outcome when a society tells a man over and over again that he's a "savage."