Literary critic Arthur Kirsch writes an essay on Othello in his excellent book, Shakespeare and the Experience of Love. What is “the crux of Othello’s fall”? Kirsch says:
He believes Desdemona cannot be true because he becomes convinced that he himself is unlovable and, believing that, he also becomes convinced that Desdemona’s manifest attraction to him is itself perverse, a “proof” of her corruption. Just before he strangles her, he and she have the following acutely painful dialogue:
OTHELLO: Think on thy sins.
DESDEMONA: They are loves I bear to you.
OTHELLO: Ay, and for that thou diest.
DESDEMONA: That death’s unnatural that kills for loving (V.2.43)
I am not altogether sure what these lines mean. Desdemona may be referring to the sin of disobeying her father. Othello may be condemning Desdemona for her very desire for him, or he may be projecting upon her his incapacity to accept his own desires, probably both. And hovering over these lines may be the sense of guilt of the original sin, which was at once physical and spiritual. But whatever their precise meaning, the lines convey the ultimate horror of the play, which is Othello’s radical rejection of the precept upon which his, or any, marriage is founded: “So men are bound to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his own wife, loveth himself” [Ephesians 5:28]. The tragedy of Othello is that finally he fails to love his own body, to love himself, and it is this despairing self-hatred that spawns the enormous savagery, degradation, and destructiveness of his jealousy.