A Little Shakespearean Nerdery

Hello all. Long time, no blog. In case you’re interested, and I can’t imagine that most of you are, here’s my final project for my summer Shakespeare class. The paper is lengthy, but it comes with killer tunes. I suggest listening as you read. Enjoy.

All work is mine, in my own words, and original.

Since I have cheap-ass WordPress that won’t allow plugins, you’ll have to visit the playlist I made for it here, at my 8tracks account. Open in a new tab.

My original paper (below) required some familiarity with the characters and did not include the cast list. In case anyone reading needs it, here you go:

Cast of Characters in Othello – Sparknotes


I chose to create a modern-day soundtrack for Othello. Not only was it one of my favorite plays that we read this term, it really spoke to me in terms of relating true human emotions through the characters. As a lifelong musician and nearly obsessive music enthusiast, I fell in love with the idea of creating a scene-by-scene, modern-day avant-garde soundtrack for the play. I was shooting for a melancholy mood, and my decision to choose one song per scene in order to create an entire soundtrack rather than focusing in on one song each for a single scene or two was for several reasons. I wished to create a comprehensive, unified feel for the entire play in music, as if I were scoring a movie. I painstakingly analyzed the lyrics and the styles of the songs that I chose and tied them into each scene, according to both themes and dialogue. I hope that my decision not to do an extremely deep analysis for each song/scene was not misguided in terms of what you expect for this project. I feel like my analyses are quite fitting and thorough, if brief in terms of individual scene. I want for my soundtrack to serve as a unified piece of art which speaks to the entire play. It is my hope that you will see Othello in song the way that I see it, and I hope you enjoy the soundtrack as much as I enjoyed creating it. I truly believe that the songs I chose capture the spirit of Shakespeare’s Othello. I have structured each entry with a short summary of each scene, including lines from the scene which speak to the theme; then a reveal of the song chosen and a justification for each, including analysis of the mood and style of the song, lyrics, and dialogue of the play and mood of the scene.

Act One, Scene One – Scene Summary

(Roderigo and Iago are speaking)

Iago is explaining to Roderigo how Othello has hired Cassio for his lieutenant, and how he is getting stuck as his ancient. He is expressing his remorse that he is bound to love the Moor, and that he intends to pretend to be the Moor’s friend, but only until he can get revenge on him. Iago and Roderigo then go to Brabantio’s house to tell him that Desdemona has married Othello, and incite Brabantio to complain about Othello to the Congress. Iago causes trouble and then escapes – “Farewell, for I must leave you. / It seems not meet nor wholesome to my place / to be producted – as, if I stay, I shall – / Against the Moor.” (146-149.)

Song: “Hide Behind My Glasses” – Fishbone

I chose the Fishbone song because the theme of this scene is Iago’s planning his revenge against Othello, and the initial laying out of his plan. A close runner-up in choices was Motorhead’s “Sweet Revenge” – “You thought you had it made, well here’s your final shock surprise, How do you like it, my unfaithful friend? How do you like it?” This song, however, has an appropriately “Dr. Suess-y” feel, which I believe captures the nearly comically over-the-top nature of Iago’s character. The song is a nearly burlesque-style romp that calls to mind Iago sneaking around behind the scenes, manipulating everyone to his end. “I like to hide behind my glasses, so I can give you all dirty looks, like I hate you, incompetent, moron, son of a jerk!” This is a reference to Iago’s two-facedness, or “hiding behind his glasses”, so to speak. While he is acting as though he is Othello’s friend, he is actually planning his complete destruction. “I’ll take my underdog supersauce pill, to beat the bullies and save the land.” This lyric is a reference to Iago’s apparent belief that by ousting the Moor, that he will be doing the government and country a service. His goal of getting himself elected to the position of Othello’s lieutenant is due to the same belief. With the previous lyric, we establish that Iago hates both Othello and Cassio and views them as morons. With this lyric, we establish that Iago views himself as some kind of valiant underdog, whose goal in revenge against the “bullies” is justified in his own mind.

Act One, Scene Two – Scene Summary

(Enter Othello, Iago, and Attendants with Torches)

Iago warns Othello that Brabantio is gunning for him because of Desdemona. Othello is somewhat nonplussed. “My parts, my title, and my perfect soul / Shall manifest me rightly.” (31-32) The servants of the Duke come in and tell Othello that he is wanted before the Congress immediately. He assumes that it is because of Desdemona, but they really want him to go to war for them. Brabantio shows up and berates Othello for stealing his daughter. Othello refuses to fight. They depart to take audience with the Duke.

Song: “Kashmir” – Led Zeppelin

While I could have focused in this scene on either Othello’s refusal to fight Brabantio contrasting with the idea that he is a soldier, or Brabantio’s belief that Othello has stolen his daughter away, I chose to focus on the fact that this is the first scene where we, as an audience, are introduced to Othello. I chose Kashmir, a song with a style that calls to mind a proud, exotic man strutting through life, which is exactly how I pictured Othello when we first saw him. He is confident in himself to start out with, which makes the contrast of the Othello at the end of the play so heart-wrenching. Because we have met this Othello, it makes us all the more sad when we see at the end how broken down he has become – a shadow of his former self. “Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream. I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been. To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen. They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed.” To me, this speaks to the idea that Othello is a weary world traveler, respected by his elders, and something of an outsider. He has had life experiences that no one else in the play can relate to, and is thereby fascinating, but this doesn’t make him as secure a man as he thinks he is.

Act One, Scene Three – Scene Summary

(The Duke, Senators, and Officers are speaking)

The Duke and Senators discuss the arrival of the Turkish fleet, with varying accounts. News of the fleet continues to arrive via messenger during their conversation, and it is decided that they need to send a mercenary. Their first choice, Marcus Luccicos, is not in town. They write to him. Brabantio, Othello, Cassio, Iago, Roderigo, and the officers come in, and the Duke straightaway employs Othello as the mercenary required. Brabantio tells the Duke and senate that Othello stole his daughter. The Duke questions Othello about it, who says that it is all true, but that he won Desdemona fairly. Brabantio argues that Othello must have used witchcraft to win her. “A maiden never bold; / Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion / blushed at herself; and she, in spite of nature, / Of years, of country, credit, everything, / To fall in love with what she feared to look on! / It is a judgment maimed and most imperfect / That will confess perfection so could err / Against all rules of nature, and must be driven / To find out practices of cunning hell / Why this should be. I therefore vouch again / That with some mixtures powerful o’er the blood / Or with some dram conjured to this effect, / He wrought upon her.” (97-107). Othello denies this, saying that it was merely the telling of his life story that wooed Desdemona, and suggests that they send for her so that she can back Othello’s story up. She does. Brabantio backs down, and it is decided that Desdemona will go with Othello to war, and that they will leave immediately. Iago stays behind with Roderigo, who is heartbroken over Desdemona’s marriage and threatens to drown himself. Iago sets him up so that he (Iago) can later steal Roderigo’s money.

Song: “No Ordinary Thing” – Opshop

The theme of this scene is that Desdemona chose Othello of her own free will, and that he won her of his own accord and without using trickery or deception. I chose this song as a way to foreshadow what is coming, rather than choosing a song celebrating their love. “No Ordinary Thing” is a melancholy, longing song about the belief that your love transcends all others and rises above worldly concerns, but there is an undercurrent of feeling like maybe you’re not destined to work out. “Knowledge will capture comfort one day, and our worlds will be worth more than living once in this lifetime. If we could liberate today, we could alleviate tomorrow, but no one can reach the light switch, they say. My love, this is no ordinary thing.” This lyric foreshadows the supposed Desdemona/Cassio cheating scandal – “Knowledge will capture comfort one day”, as illustrated in the passage where Othello laments to Iago that it would have been okay if Desdemona were having an affair, so long as he did not know about it. “I swear ‘tis better to be much abused than but to know’t a little.” (Act 3, Scene 3, ll. 353-354.) The song goes on to lament “We were compromised by our own hearts. Jealous seas couldn’t keep us apart. I wanted to touch you but we stop when we start. I wanted to hold you, but here we are…” This foreshadows Othello’s lament upon Desdemona’s death bed, after he learns the truth about what happened. “Jealous seas” is rather self-explanatory, but “I wanted to hold you, but here we are…” to me, parallels Othello’s lines in the last scene: “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 Indian, threw a pearl away.” (Act 5, Scene 5, ll. 352-358.) He is lamenting the circumstances that brought him this far.

Act Two, Scene One – Scene Summary

(Enter Montano and Two Gentlemen)

Montano and the two gentlemen discuss the fate of the Turkish fleet. It turns out that the fleet has shipwrecked, and there is no need for a war. Cassio arrives, and fears that Othello may have been lost at sea. “Oh, let the heavens / Give him defense against the elements, / For I have lost him on a dangerous sea.” (46-48.) Iago arrives, with Roderigo, Emilia, and Desdemona. Desdemona inquires about Othello. Iago, Emilia, and Desdemona banter about the nature of women for a few minutes, which frustrates Desdemona. Iago observes Cassio with Desdemona and their easy friendship, and the seeds are planted to poison Othello against him. Othello arrives and then immediately leaves with Desdemona. Iago tells Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio. Roderigo is doubtful, but Iago persists. Roderigo agrees to provoke Cassio.

Song: “Shipwrecked” – Spacehog

I selected “Shipwrecked” partially because of the appropriate feeling of the song, and partially because of the message. The song has a semi-melancholy feel, but the lyrics appropriately portray a man married to the sea, and wondering fondly about his love. The man is confident in himself and secure in his affection for his woman, but he is a soldier before a lover; much like Othello at this point in the story. Othello leaves to go to war with his entire entourage but, true to the “lonely sailor” stereotype, they return one by one without him, fearing that he is lost at sea. “And as the stars fly by me, so the ocean binds me, and I’m as lonely as a sailor, shipwrecked on the sea.” It’s a beautiful, lonely song that I believe paints a picture of Othello as he is – an older man and a rugged soldier; not a boy in love, nor a man used to feeling emotionally for anyone. This personality aspect will come into play later as he gathers intelligence from his men (as a soldier would), but does not speak with Desdemona about his feelings or suspicions. Indeed, his emotional reaction to the idea of Desdemona’s betrayal does not agree with his nature – he has seizures over it.

Act Two, Scene Two – Scene Summary

(Enter Herald)

The herald proclaims the sinking of the Turkish fleet, and announces Othello’s triumph at sea as well as his marriage to Desdemona. There is to be much feasting and celebration. “Heaven bless the Isle of Cyprus and our noble general Othello!” (8)

Song: “Dead Man’s Party” – Originally Written by Oingo Boingo, performed by A Thorn for Every Heart

I chose “Dead Man’s Party” because ostensibly, this is a celebration about to occur, but little does anyone know, the party is about to become a bloodbath when Roderigo and Cassio wound one another, Iago further wounds Cassio and murders Roderigo, and also foretells Othello’s impending death at the puppeteering hands of Iago. “Waiting for an invitation to arrive, Goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive.” The title is also apt. It is a party celebrating Othello’s war victory and marriage, but he is going to die.

Note: My professor pointed out to me that the lyric “All dressed up and no place to go” would have been a nice metaphor for the war with the Turks that never happened. Sadly, I did not think of that.

Act Two, Scene Three – Scene Summary

(Enter Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and attendants)

Othello tells Cassio to give Iago a hand keeping the nightly watch, and then retires with Desdemona to consummate their marriage. Iago offers Cassio some celebratory wine. Cassio resists, protesting that he has no head for alcohol and does not wish to drink any more than he already has. Iago insists, telling him that a celebration requires it. “If I can fasten but one cup upon him, / With that which he hath drunk tonight already, / He’ll be as full of quarrel and offense / As my young mistress’ dog.” (41-43) Iago intends to get Cassio offensively drunk and make him look bad. Cassio is persuaded, and he and Iago drink with Montano and some other soldiers. Cassio behaves himself, then leaves the gathering. Iago gossips about Cassio to the other soldiers the moment he excuses himself, calling him a drunk. Meanwhile, Roderigo has offended Cassio, and Cassio chases him back into the gathering. The gentlemen dismiss Roderigo’s offense, assuming that Cassio is drunk and overreacting. Montano holds Cassio back from fighting Roderigo and scuffles with Cassio himself. Roderigo escapes at Iago’s prodding to rouse Othello to look at the mess. Montano is bleeding and wounded by Cassio, and Othello admonishes them all for behaving like savages and demands to know who started the fray. Iago fingers Cassio and adds that he (Cassio) was drunk, and Othello fires him from his post. “Cassio, I love thee, / But nevermore be officer of mine.” (226-227). Cassio bemoans his lost reputation to Iago, who advises him to entreat Desdemona to persuade Othello to reinstate him.

Song: “Goodbye, Sober Day” – Mr. Bungle

I selected “Goodbye, Sober Day” for this scene on Cassio’s behalf. Cassio is persuaded against his will by Iago to drink too much, even after his protesting that he has no head for alcohol. This particularly avant-garde song brings to mind the uncontrollable mental ups and downs of having had too much to drink, and Cassio’s confusion at the end of the scene. “I remember a mass of things, but nothing distinctly…” (Act 2, Scene 3, l. 260.) The relentless beat (reminiscent of a pounding heart) over the ever-changing landscape of manic guitars perfectly soundtracks the scene; from Cassio’s first drink too many, to the battle, to the resultant drunken confusion and injuries. The song itself starts in a rhythmic panic and descends into madness and nonsense. “Pin my ear to the wisdom post, Hang me up and drain me dry, mend my shipwrecked spirit, lift the veil from my eyes.”

Act Three, Scene One – Scene Summary

(Enter Cassio and Musicians, then Iago.)

Cassio reveals to Iago the next morning that he has not yet been to bed, and that he is there to entreat Emilia, Iago’s wife, to grant him audience with Desdemona. Iago agrees and fetches Emilia, who tells Cassio that Othello and Desdemona are already discussing the matter of Cassio’s dismissal, and she believes that Othello will reinstate him. “The General and his wife are talking of it, / And she speaks for you stoutly. The Moor replies / That he you hurt is of great fame in Cyprus / And great affinity, and that in wholesome wisdom / He might not but refuse you; but he protests he loves you, / And needs no other suitor but his likings / To take the safest occasion by the front / To bring you in again.” (42-49) Cassio insists on speaking with Desdemona anyway, and Emilia says that she will make it happen.

Song: “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” – The Smiths

I chose this song to highlight Cassio’s post-battle drunken shame that he feels in the light of the next day, and his humility and desperation in begging his boss’s wife for his job. The song has the appropriate tone, and the lyrics are pitch-perfect: “See, the luck I’ve had can make a good man turn bad. So please, please, please let me get what I want this time. Haven’t had a dream in a long time, see, the life I’ve had can make a good man bad. So for once in my life, let me get what I want. Lord knows, it would be the first time.” The song is about someone who is ashamed and regrets the mistakes that they have made, but feels, to the point that they are willing to beg for it, like they deserve a second chance. Cassio hasn’t, to our knowledge as the audience, asked for any special treatment in the past. As a result, we can sympathize with his humiliation and feel that he is justified in asking for Othello’s mercy in this case.

Act Three, Scene Two – Scene Summary

(Enter Othello, Iago, and Gentlemen)

Othello gives some letters he has written to Iago, and bids him give them to a messenger who will deliver them to the senate. Iago agrees, and Othello retires with his gentlemen to inspect the fortification.

Song: “Forty Six & 2” – Originally written by Tool, performed by The String Quartet.

I chose this instrumental rendition of a Tool song because it has the appropriate feel for the midpoint in the play; I believe. It is intense and slightly eerie, but heartfelt and demanding at the same time. The original rendition is poetically about transformation, with lyrics including “I’ve been wallowing in my own confused and insecure delusions….change is coming through my shadow….I choose to live and to lie, kill and give and to die, learn and love and to do what it takes to step through.” The instrumental fits this particular scene better than the original Tool song because it leaves to the imagination what you can feel coming through the music, even without the lyrics. We can sense that something is about to happen, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be good. If I were to focus on the lyrics, however, they do closely illustrate Othello’s current and future demeanor: confused and insecure delusions.

Act Three, Scene Three – Scene Summary

(Enter Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia)

Desdemona reassures Cassio that she will talk to Othello on his behalf. Iago sees them talking, then sees Cassio leave as he and Othello approach. He takes the opportunity to poison Othello against Cassio, planting seeds of jealousy. Desdemona, true to her word, starts in on Othello almost immediately about reinstating Cassio. Othello tells her to leave him alone, so she leaves with Emilia. Iago swoops in and banters with Othello about what they think of Cassio, and whether or not he is honest. The conversation descends into an indictment of the nature of women, and Othello begins to seriously doubt Desdemona’s loyalty. Desdemona re-enters with Emilia and ends up dropping her handkerchief, which was a token from Othello. Emilia picks it up and turns it over to Iago, who plans to leave it in Cassio’s room for him to find. Othello re-enters, agitated. He now has very serious suspicions of Desdemona and Cassio, and begs Iago to give him solid proof. Iago makes up a story about Cassio talking of Desdemona lovingly in his sleep, and lies and says that he saw Cassio with Desdemona’s handkerchief. Othello explodes, ordering Iago to kill Cassio and hiring Iago as his new lieutenant in Cassio’s place, and vows to kill Desdemona himself.

Song: “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing” – Chris Isaak

This dark, brooding song escalates into an intensely growled lament, perfectly capturing Othello having gone over the edge in this scene, so to speak, with regard to his suspicion of Desdemona. There is no going back now. “You ever love somebody so much you thought your little heart was going to break in two? I didn’t think so. You ever tried with all your heart and soul to get your lover back to you? I didn’t think so.” This also speaks to the idea that every lover who has ever had their heart broken has ever had – namely, that nothing like this has ever happened to anyone else, ever. That no one could possibly feel this with any measure of the intensity that you feel right now. That no one could possibly understand how you feel. In perhaps the most appropriate sentiment of all expressed in the lyrics: “It hurts so bad when you finally know just how low, low, low, low, low she’ll go….I feel like crying.” Othello is perhaps a bit less eloquent in expressing how he feels about how low he believes Desdemona will go: “Damn her, lewd minx! Oh, damn her, damn her!” (Act 3, Scene 3, l. 491) The sentiment, however, is universal.

Act Three, Scene Four – Scene Summary

(Enter Desdemona, Emilia, and Clown)

Desdemona tries to find Cassio to tell him that she has persuaded Othello on his behalf. She laments to Emilia that she seems to have lost her handkerchief, but Emilia does not admit to knowing what happened to it. Othello comes in, and Desdemona tells him that she has sent for Cassio to come speak with him. Othello asks, purposely, if he can borrow her handkerchief to wipe his eyes. She gives him one, and he asks why it isn’t the one that he gave her. She says that she doesn’t have it with her. He tells her that it was given to his mother by an Egyptian, and that is an enchanted handkerchief. Desdemona starts to panic, and Othello asks her if she lost it. She won’t admit to having lost it, but asks him how bad it would be if she had. Othello tells her if it is not lost, then go get it and bring it to him. She protests that she can, but she won’t, for this is a trick to put off speaking to Cassio. They argue and Othello leaves in frustration, and Cassio enters with Iago. Desdemona tells Cassio that she has fallen out of favor with her husband, and that now is not the time to speak with him. Iago says that he will go after Othello and find out why he is upset. Iago tries to reassure them that it must be some matter of the state that troubles him, and Emilia and Desdemona hope that he is right. “Pray heaven it be / State matters, as you think, and no conception / Nor no jealous toy concerning you.” (150-152)

Song: “No Use Lying” – The Black Crowes

The theme of this scene is lying. I chose “No Use Lying” to embody the lies of Emilia, when she plays dumb about the whereabouts of the lost handkerchief, of Othello, when he tries to trick Desdemona into an admission of guilt, and Desdemona, when she twists in the wind under Othello’s scrutiny; unable to admit that she lost the handkerchief. The song illustrates the futility of lying and the suffocating, smothering environment that it creates for everyone involved. “You come in the room and you close the door, and you let me see what you’re really here for…and you show me things that aren’t easily said, working in circles and twisting away, making it hard to breathe….There’s no use lying, because I’ve heard all your bullshit before.” Othello doesn’t believe Desdemona’s half-truths about having lost the handkerchief, but indeed would probably not have believed a word she said about it, regardless of what it was. At this point, he is already too far descended into paranoia about Desdemona’s trustworthiness.

Act Four, Scene One – Scene Summary

(Enter Othello and Iago)

Othello and Iago are discussing Desdemona and Cassio. Iago leads Othello to believe that Cassio has slept with her, and Othello is so distraught and angry that he falls into a seizure/trance. Cassio enters and shows concern for Othello, but Iago sends him away. Othello comes to, and Iago mentions Cassio’s visit. Othello asks if he confessed. Iago tells Othello not to be ridiculous, but that he told Cassio to come back shortly to speak with him (Iago), and that Othello should hide while Iago gets Cassio to tell the story of how he slept with Desdemona. Cassio returns and Othello hides. Iago starts talking to Cassio about Bianca, the woman he is actually seeing, but without using her name such that Othello thinks that they are talking about Desdemona. Othello is growing angrier and angrier, then Bianca enters, holding Desdemona’s lost handkerchief. Bianca and Cassio quarrel for a moment, then leave. Othello asks Iago how he should murder Cassio, and remarks at how he (Cassio) laughed at the situation. Othello asks Iago to confirm whether or not the handkerchief was indeed his, and Iago replies that it was. “Yours, by this hand. And to see how he prizes the foolish woman / your wife! She gave it him, and he hath given it his whore” (165-166). Othello vows again to kill Desdemona. Lodovico enters with Desdemona and attendants with news from the Duke. They are promoting Cassio. Desdemona rejoices, which makes Othello even angrier. He rants and raves in front of Lodovico, then leaves right after Desdemona. Lodovico expresses concern about Othello’s health, and Iago says that he is “much changed.” Lodovico: “Is this the noble Moor whom our full Senate / Call all in all sufficient? Is this the nature / Whom passion could not shake? Whose solid virtue / The shot of accident nor dart of chance / Could neither graze nor pierce?” Iago: “He is much changed.” Lodovico: “Are his wits safe? Is he not light of brain?” (256-262)

Song: “Where Is My Mind” – The Pixies

This song perfectly encapsulates supposed insanity. “Where is My Mind” is a dissonant, offbeat, plodding song that not only keeps with the general feel of the soundtrack thus far, but also produces a dazed, disjointed experience for the listener as well. Iago has said that Othello is losing his mind, which is most certainly an exaggeration, but also has a grain of truth in it. Indeed, Othello is wondering where his mind is at this point as well. “Get me some poison, Iago; this night: I’ll not / expostulate with her, lest her body and beauty unprovide my mind again.” (Act 4, Scene 1, ll.190-192) The feel of this song is more than enough to evoke the feeling of impending insanity, but the lyrics are apropos as well: “Your head will collapse if there’s nothing in it and you’ll ask yourself, where is my mind? Where is my mind?”

Act Four, Scene Two – Scene Summary

(Enter Othello and Emilia)

Othello is questioning Emilia with regard to Desdemona’s loyalty. Emilia assures him that she has never seen anything untoward going on between Desdemona and Cassio. He sends Emilia to fetch Desdemona, and he looks her in the eye and questions her subtly, but she doesn’t know what he is talking about. She swears that she is honest, and he says she is not, starts crying and sends her away. “Heaven truly knows that thou are false as hell.” (41) She refuses to leave and tries to figure out what he’s getting at, and he doesn’t tell her directly, but calls her a whore and a strumpet. Emilia comes back in, and Othello pays her to keep their counsel, and leaves. Emilia wants to know what was said, and Desdemona tells her that she has no answers, but that Othello is not her Lord any longer, meaning that he has gone so crazy that she doesn’t know him. Desdemona tells Emilia to fetch Iago. She does, and then tells him that Iago called her a whore, and asks if he knows why. He plays ignorant, but tells her that she doesn’t deserve such treatment. Desdemona asks Iago how she might win her husband back, and Iago tells her not to worry; that he’s upset about matters of state and taking it out unfairly on her. Desdemona and Emilia leave. Roderigo comes in and chides Iago for dealing with him unfairly. He begins to suspect that Iago has set him up, and had no intention of arranging for him to win Desdemona. Iago denies wrongdoing, and tells Roderigo of Venice’s petition to put Cassio in Othello’s place as the general, but that Cassio doesn’t know about it yet. Iago convinces Roderigo that it would be good to get Cassio out of the way and persuades Roderigo to kill him. Roderigo isn’t convinced, but Iago says that he will be able to change his mind.

Song: “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – Originally written by Leadbelly, performed by Mark Lanegan

This song gives me the chills listening to it with regard to this scene. I have chosen to focus on Othello’s abuse of Desdemona at this point in calling her a whore and a strumpet. This song is perfectly, creepily rendered, and the ideal song illustrating suspicion of a cheating wife. One can hear this song and nearly picture the entire murder happening to the sinister undercurrent of this song. “My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me. Tell me where did you sleep last night? My girl, my girl, where will you go? I’m going where the cold wind blows….”

Act Four, Scene Three – Scene Summary

(Enter Othello, Lodovico, Desdemona, Emilia, attendants)

The group is disbanding, and Othello orders Desdemona to bed, saying he will be in shortly. Emilia dresses Desdemona for bed. Desdemona suspects that she will die this night, and she and Emilia have a strange and morbid conversation about death. Emilia suggests that it is the husband’s fault if wives do fall. “Then let them use us well; else let them know, / The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.” (100-101.) Desdemona disagrees, saying she would not betray her husband for all the world.

Song: “Weeping Willow” – Verve

I selected this song partially for the parallel in the scene where Desdemona sings the mournful willow song with Emilia, lamenting that she suspects that she will die, but that she is true. I imagined that she is hoping with all her heart that Othello will come to his senses and love her again. The lyrics of this song echo this longing: “When morning breaks, we hide our eyes and our love’s aching. Nothing’s strange. It was in our hands from six to ten, it slipped right out again. There’ll be no better time to save me.” And later in the song: “I hope you’ll see what I see. I hope you’ll feel like I feel…weeping willow, the pills under my pillow…weeping willow, the gun under your pillow…there’ll be no better time to save me.” Desdemona is desperate to be redeemed in the eyes of her husband, but she can’t see how it will be possible.

Act Five, Scene One – Scene Summary

(Enter Iago and Roderigo)

Iago is instructing Roderigo to hide and attack Cassio with a knife as he comes by. Roderigo is somewhat ambivalent about the murder, but agrees that there are good reasons. “I have no great devotion to the deed; / And yet he hath given me satisfying reasons. / ‘Tis but a man gone. Forth, my sword! He dies.” (8-10) Meanwhile, Iago doesn’t care whether Cassio kills Roderigo or vice versa, or if they kill each other, because any outcome will be able to be turned to his purpose. Cassio bests Roderigo, and Iago jumps out and stabs Cassio, then hides again. Othello happens upon the scene and automatically assumes that Cassio was sneaking in to see Desdemona. He leaves them there. Gratiano and Lodovico appear, but they don’t think it’s safe enough to investigate who the wounded men are. Iago appears with a light, pretending not to know what’s going on. He asks Gratiano and Lodovico, but they do not know. He chastises them for not investigating when someone could be hurt and in need of assistance. He pretends to be Cassio’s friend and when Cassio points Roderigo out as one of his attackers, Iago stabs him (Roderigo) to death. He and the other men attend to Cassio’s wounds. Bianca comes in, and gets very upset over Cassio’s wounding. Iago announces that he suspects Roderigo, and shines his light on Roderigo’s face. “Gentlemen all, I do suspect this trash / To be a party in this injury. – / Patience awhile, good Cassio. – Come, come; / Lend me a light. (He shines the light on Roderigo.) Know we this face or no? / Alas, my friend and my dear countryman / Roderigo! (86-91) They bring in a litter and carry Cassio and Roderigo off to be attended to. Emilia comes in, and Iago explains to her what has happened. She is shocked, and he warns her that “This is the fruits of whoring.” (117)

Song: “You got A Killer Scene There Man” – Queens of the Stone Age

I selected this song to illustrate the final epic battle between all of the men in the play because its style is very much in keeping with the feel, and it’s the perfect dark complement to a foul murder plot in progress. “I don’t mean to make a scene, but even the mob know what the hell I mean.” In this scene, we see Iago’s evil plans come almost fully to fruition, culminating in, well, a killer scene there, man. He has painstakingly orchestrated this particular series of events, and is now watching it unfold. “Yeah, I got enemies, but they don’t know. They won’t get no glory on that side of the hole.” This is a chilling indictment of Iago’s duplicitousness, and a tone-perfect illustration of it in song. “This is the night / That either makes or fordoes me quite.” (Iago, Act 5, Scene 1, ll. 131-132.)

Act Five, Scene Two – Scene Summary

(Enter Othello with a light, and Desdemona in her bed)

Othello talks to Desdemona while she is sleeping, and laments that he is going to have to kill her. She wakes and asks if he is coming to bed. He asks her if she has said her prayers. She says she has. He says that she’d better atone for any sins she has forgotten. “If you bethink yourself of any crime / Unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace, / Solicit for it straight.” (28-30.) She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he tells her to do it before he kills her. She’s surprised. They argue, and she says that she is innocent of any wrongdoing with Cassio, and that Othello can ask him himself. Othello says that Cassio confessed to “using her unlawfully.” (74) Of course, Othello is thinking of the conversation where Cassio confessed to using Bianca, only he doesn’t know that. They argue more, and he smothers her. Emilia comes in and wants a word with Othello. She tells of the murder of Roderigo and wounding of Cassio. Desdemona wakes briefly to cry that she is falsely murdered; Emilia opens the bedcurtains, and asks who is responsible. Desdemona says that it is her own fault, and dies anew in front of her. Othello dismisses her as a liar, and confesses murdering her to Emilia. Emilia admonishes him, and Othello tells her that he knows that Desdemona was sleeping with Cassio, and it was her own husband (Emilia’s husband, Iago), that told him. Emilia is shocked, and tells him that Iago lied to him. She cries murder, and Montano, Gratiano, and Iago enter. Emilia confronts Iago about his lies, and he tells her to shut her mouth. She continues to rail against her husband until Iago threatens her. Emilia tells Othello the truth about the handkerchief and how Cassio came into possession of it. Othello rushes Iago but is held back by his men, and Iago stabs Emilia and kills her. Iago escapes, pursued by the men. Othello mourns Desdemona, and Lodovico re-enters with Cassio (in a litter), Montano, and Iago, who is now a prisoner. Othello wounds but does not kill Iago. “I’d have thee live, for in my sense ‘tis happiness to die.” (298) Iago refuses to say more about the goings-on, although the truth is certainly revealed. Lodovico removes Othello from power and puts Cassio in his place as the ruler of Cyprus. Othello asks Lodovico, when he reports these events, to preserve his honor and dignity as much as possible, then stabs and kills himself, but not before kissing Desdemona one last time “I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.” (367-368).

Song: “Winter” – Joshua Radin

I chose this absolutely heartbreaking song to end the play because Othello’s heart gets torn to shreds in the final scene, culminating with his committing the murder/suicide of himself and his love, Desdemona. The song is about bitter regret for what might have been, which is absolutely the sentiment Othello espouses in the final deathbed scene: “I am not valiant neither / But every puny whipster gets my sword. / But why should honor outlive honesty? / Let it go all.” (Act 5, Scene 2, 252-254) The song echoes Othello’s regret and heartbreak. “I should know who I am by now…your name is the splinter inside me while I wait…And I remember the sound of your November downtown. And I remember the truth, a warm December with you. But I don’t have to make this mistake. And I don’t have to stay this way. If only I would wait…” To me, the song is saying that even though you know you’re making a mistake, you’ve gone so for already that you can’t stop yourself any more, and must see it through to the end. Othello DOESN’T have to make this mistake, but…if only he would wait, indeed. If only he had waited to kill Desdemona, he might have learned the truth. If only…

About Miz Parker

I'm a musician, writer, web developer and avid reader who maintains two blogs. For Bucket List Book Reviews (formerly Bucket List Media), my goal is to read and review each book on the popular list "1,001 Books to Read Before You Die." This blog is intended to chronicle my experiences and thoughts on each, and share opinions with other bibliophiles. Bucket List Media is a semi-serious blog which is appropriate for all ages. For Live At E's (see the menu), I rant in general about pop culture, life, celebrities, and current events. Live At E's contains foul language and is deliberately offensive. Turn on your sarcasm detector.
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