Othello: The Story of the Shakespearean Tragedy


The Story of the Shakespearean Tragedy

Four hundred years ago, in Venice, there lived an ensign (junior officer) named Iago. Iago hated his general, Othello, for not appointing him a lieutenant. Instead of Iago, who was strongly recommended, Othello had chosen Michael Cassio for the lieutenant post. Cassio, with his recommendations, had helped Othello to win the heart of Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of the nobleman Brabantio. Iago had a friend called Roderigo. This Roderigo was a simpleton who loved Desdemona and wanted to marry her. But Desdemona showed no interest in him. Iago gave Roderigo hope for winning Desdemona and exacted money from him.

Othello was a Moor with such a dark complexion that his opponents referred to him as a Blackamoor.His life had been hard and exciting. He had been defeated in battle and sold into slavery; and he had been a great traveler and seen men whose shoulders were higher than their heads. Brave as a lion, he had one great fault: jealousy. His love was terrible selfishness. To love a woman meant to own her as completely as he owned something that didn’t live or think. The story of Othello is a story of jealousy.

One night, Iago told Roderigo that Othello had carried off Desdemona without the knowledge of her father, Brabantio. He persuaded Roderigo to arouse Brabantio, and when that senator appeared, Iago told him of Desdemona’s elopement in the most unpleasant way. Though Iago was Othello’s officer, he termed Othello a thief and a Barbary horse.

Brabantio accused Othello before the Duke of Venice of using magic to fascinate his daughter, but Othello said that the only sorcery (magic) he used was his voice, which told Desdemona his adventures and hair-breadth escapes in wars. Desdemona was led into the council-chamber, and she explained how she could love Othello despite his almost black face by saying, „I saw Othello’s visage (face) in his mind.“

As Othello had married Desdemona, and she was glad to be his wife, there was no more to be said against him, especially as the Duke wished him to go to Cyprus to defend it against the Turks. Othello was quite ready to go, and Desdemona, who pleaded to go with him, was permitted to join him in Cyprus.

Othello’s feelings on landing on this island were intensely joyful. “Oh, my sweet,“ he said to Desdemona, who arrived with Iago, Iago’s wife, and Roderigo before him, “I hardly know what I say to you.” I am in love with my own happiness.

When Othello heard that a storm had completely wiped out the Turkish fleet, he called for a party in Cyprus from 5 to 11 at night.

Cassio was on duty in the castle, from where Othello ruled Cyprus. In order to make his plans work, Iago decided to make the lieutenant Cassio drink too much. Cassio was hesitant because he knew wine would quickly get to his head, but servants brought wine into the room where Cassio was, and Iago sang a drinking song, so Cassio drank glass after glass to the general’s health.

When Cassio was inclined to be quarrelsome, Iago told Roderigo to say something unpleasant to him in order to infuriate him. Cassio cudgelled Roderigo, who ran into the presence of Montano, the ex-governor. Montano civilly interceded for Roderigo, but received such a rude answer from Cassio that he said, “Come, come, you’re drunk!“ In the struggle that ensued between Cassio and Montano, Cassio then wounded Montano. Iago sent Roderigo out to the street to scream out and scare the town with a cry of mutiny.

The uproar aroused Othello, who, on learning its cause, said, “Cassio, I love you, but you shall never more be an officer of mine.“

When Cassio and Iago were alone together, the disgraced Cassio lamented about his reputation. Iago said reputation and nonsense were the same thing. „O God,“ exclaimed Cassio, without heeding what Iago told him, „that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!“

Iago advised him to beg Desdemona to ask Othello to pardon him. Cassio was pleased with the advice, and the next morning he made his request to Desdemona in the garden of the castle. She was kindness itself and said, “Be merry, Cassio, for I would rather die than forsake your cause.”

Cassio, at that moment, saw Othello coming to Desdemona with Iago and went from there in a hurry.

Noticing the presence of Cassio and his hurried departure, Iago said, “I don’t like that.“

„What did you say?“ asked Othello, who felt that he had meant something unpleasant, but Iago pretended he had said nothing.

“Was it not that Cassio, who went from my wife?” asked Othello, and Iago, who knew that it was Cassio and why it was Cassio, said, “I cannot think it was Cassio who stole away in that guilty manner.”

Desdemona told Othello that it was grief and humility that made Cassio retreat at his approach. She reminded him of how Cassio had played the part of Othello and defended him when she found fault with Othello, her Moorish lover. Othello was melted, and said, “I will deny thee nothing,” but Desdemona told him that what she asked was as much for his good as dining. (The company of Cassio is important to Othello.)

Desdemona left the garden, and Iago asked if it was really true that Cassio had known Desdemona before her marriage.

“Yes,” said Othello.

“Indeed,” said Iago, as though something that had mystified him was now very clear.

“Is he not honest?” Othello asked. “Is he not honest?” Iago repeated the word as if he were afraid to say “No.”

“What do you mean?” insisted Othello.

To this, Iago would only say the flat opposite of what he said to Cassio. He had told Cassio that reputation was nonsense. To Othello he said, “Whoever steals my purse steals trash, but he who filches (steals) from me my good name ruins me.”

At this point, the seeds of jealousy sprouted in the mind of Othello, and Iago was so confident of his jealousy that he ventured to warn him against it. Yes, it was no other than Iago who called jealousy “the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Iago, having dealt jealousy one blow, proceeded to feed it with the remark that Desdemona deceived her father when she eloped with Othello. “If she deceived him, why not you?” was his meaning.

Presently, Desdemona re-entered to tell Othello that dinner was ready. She saw that he was ill at ease. He explained it as a pain in his brow.

Desdemona then produced a handkerchief, which Othello had given her. A prophetess, two hundred years old, had made this handkerchief from the silk of sacred silkworms, dyed it in a liquid prepared from the hearts of maidens, and embroidered it with strawberries. Gentle Desdemona saw it as nothing more than a cool, soft thing for a throbbing forehead; she was unaware of any spell on it that would work destruction for the one who lost it.

“Let me tie it around your head,” she told Othello, “and you’ll be fine in an hour.”

But Othello pettishly said it was too small and let it fall. Desdemona and he then went indoors for dinner, and Emilia, Iago’s wife, picked up the handkerchief that he had often asked her to steal.

She was looking at it when Iago came in. After a few words about it, he snatched it from her and asked her to leave him.

 In the garden, he was joined by Othello, who seemed to believe all the worst lies he could offer. He therefore told Othello that he had seen Cassio wipe his mouth with a handkerchief, which, because it was spotted with strawberries, he guessed to be one that Othello had given his wife.

Hearing it the unhappy Moor, Othello went mad with fury, and Iago bade the heavens bear witness that he devoted his hand, heart, and brain to Othello’s service.

“I accept your love,” said Othello. “Within three days, let me hear that Cassio is dead.”

Iago’s next step was to leave Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s room. Cassio saw it, and knew it was not his, but he liked the strawberry pattern on it, so he gave it to his sweetheart Bianca and asked her to copy it for him.

Iago’s next move was to persuade Othello, who had been torturing Desdemona about the handkerchief, to act as an eavesdropper on Cassio and his own conversation. His plan was to talk about Cassio’s sweetheart, Bianca, and allow Othello to suppose that the lady spoken of was Desdemona.

“How are you, lieutenant?” asked Iago when Cassio appeared.

“The worse for being called what I am not,” replied Cassio, gloomily.

“Keep on reminding Desdemona, and you’ll soon be restored,” said Iago, adding, in a tone too low for Othello to hear, “If Bianca could set the matter right, how quickly it would mend!”

“Alas! “Poor rogue,” said Cassio, “I really think she loves me,” and like the talkative coxcomb he was, Cassio was led on to boast of Bianca’s fondness for him, while Othello imagined, with choked rage, that he prattled about Desdemona and thought, “I see your nose, Cassio, but not the dog I shall throw it to.”

Othello was still snooping when Bianca entered, boiling over with the idea that Cassio, whom she considered her property, had asked her to copy the embroidery on the handkerchief of a new sweetheart. She tossed him the handkerchief with scornful words, and Cassio departed with her.

Othello had seen Bianca, who was inferior to Desdemona in station, beauty, and speech, and he began to praise his wife to the villain before him, despite himself. He praised her skill with the needle, her voice that could “sing the savageness out of a bear,” her wit, her sweetness, and the fairness of her skin. Every time he praised her, Iago said something that made him remember his anger and utter it foully, and yet he must praise her, and say, “The pity of it, Iago! ” “O Iago, the pity of it, Iago!”

In all of Iago’s villainy, there was never a moment of wavering. If there had been, he might have wavered then.

“Strangle her,” he said; and “Good, good!” said his miserable dupe.

The pair were still talking murder when Desdemona appeared with a relative of Desdemona’s father, called Lodovico, who bore a letter for Othello from the Duke of Venice. The letter recalled Othello from Cyprus, and gave the governorship to Cassio.

Desdemona, who had been unlucky, took advantage of the unfortunate situation to press Cassio’s suit once more.

“Fire and brimstone!” shouted Othello.

“It could be that the letter upsets him,” Lodovico told Desdemona. He then told her what was in the letter.

“I am glad,” said Desdemona. It was the first bitter speech that Othello’s unkindness had wrung out of her.

“I am glad to see you lose your temper,” said Othello.

“Why, sweet Othello?” she asked, sarcastically; and Othello slapped her face.

Now was the time for Desdemona to have saved her life by separation, but she knew not her peril—only that her love was wounded to the core. “I have not deserved this,” she said, and the tears rolled slowly down her face.

Lodovico was shocked and disgusted. “My lord,” he said, “this would not be believed in Venice.” Make her amends,” but, like a madman in a nightmare, Othello poured out his foul thoughts in an ugly speech and yelled, “Out of my sight!”

“I will not stay to offend you,” said his wife, but she lingered even after leaving, and only when he shouted “Avaunt!” did she leave her husband and his guests.

Othello then invited Lodovico to supper, adding, “You are welcome, sir, to Cyprus. Goats and monkeys!” Without waiting for a reply, he left the company.

Lodovico asked Iago to explain why guests of honor are being forced to watch family fights and being called goats or monkeys.

Iago was true to himself. He told them in a roundabout way that Othello was worse than he seemed and told them to watch how he acted instead of asking him any more questions.

He proceeded to tell Roderigo to murder Cassio. Roderigo was displeased with his friend Iago. He had given Iago lots of jewels for Desdemona without effect; Desdemona had seen none of them, for Iago was a thief.

Iago smoothed him over with a lie, and when Cassio was leaving Bianca’s house, Roderigo wounded him and was wounded in return. Cassio shouted, and Lodovico and a friend came running up. Cassio pointed out Roderigo as his assailant, and Iago, hoping to rid himself of an inconvenient friend, called him “Villain!” and stabbed him. But Roderigo escaped death.

At the castle, Desdemona was in a sad mood. She told Emilia that she must leave her; her husband wished it. “Dismiss me!” exclaimed Emilia. “It was his bidding,” said Desdemona, “and we must not displease him now.”

She went to bed and slept after singing a song sung by a girl whose lover had been base (ignoble) to her—a song of a maiden crying by that tree whose boughs droop as if weeping.

She woke with her husband’s wild eyes upon her. “Have you prayed to-night?” he asked; and he told this blameless and sweet woman to ask God’s pardon for any sin she might have on her conscience. “I would not kill your soul,” he said.

He told her that Cassio had confessed, but she knew Cassio had nothing to confess that concerned her. She said that Cassio could not say anything that would damage her. Othello said his mouth was stopped. (Cassio is dead.)

Then Desdemona cried, but Othello pushed on her throat and killed her with harsh words, even though she begged him not to.

Then with a boding heart came Emilia and besought entrance at the door, and Othello unlocked it, and a voice came from the bed saying, “A guiltless death, I die.”

“Who did it?” cried Emilia, and the voice said, “Nobody—I myself. Farewell!”

“‘Twas I that killed her,” said Othello.

He poured out his evidence on that sad bed to the people who came running in, Iago among them; but when he spoke of the handkerchief, Emilia told the truth.

And Othello knew. “Are there no stones in heaven but thunderbolts?” he exclaimed, and he ran at Iago, who gave Emilia her death blow and fled.

But they brought him back, and the death that came to him later on was a relief from torture.

They would have taken Othello back to Venice to try him there, but he escaped them on his sword. “A word or two before you go,” he said to the Venetians in the chamber. “Speak of me as I was—no better, no worse. “Say I cast away the pearl of pearls, and wept with these hard eyes; and say that, when in Aleppo years ago I saw a Turk beating a Venetian, I took him by the throat and smote him thus.”

With his own hand, he stabbed himself in the heart, and before he died, his lips touched the face of Desdemona with despairing love.

Othello Hesitating to Kill Desdemona by baron Franu00e7ois Gu00e9rard is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

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