Peter , Friday, January 20, 2012 /
One of the most psychologically disturbing speeches in the canon is the one Othello gives moments before he strangles Desdemona:
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 pluck’d the rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again.
It must needs wither: I’ll smell it on the tree.
It’s revealing to contrast this speech with Brutus’ famous speech where he decides that Caesar must die. Brutus, unlike Othello, opens his speech by announcing his conclusion – “it must be by his death” – and then proceeds to lamely rationalize that conclusion. Othello seems to be tilting the other way, against killing Desdemona. At the end of the speech he acknowledges that once he plucks the rose he cannot give it life again. This statement provides a glimmer of hope that Othello might spare Desdemona after all. Instead, he simply says that he will smell the rose on the tree once more before he plucks it.
“I’ll smell it on the tree” is Othello’s bone-chilling affirmation that Desdemona, like Caesar, must die.
Brutus says it must be by Caesar’s death or else he will become a tyrant and Othello says it must be Desdemona’s death or else she’ll betray more men.