Four hundred years ago there lived in Venice an ensign named
Iago, who hated his general, Othello, for not making him a
lieutenant. Instead of Iago, who was strongly recommended,
Othello had chosen Michael Cassio, whose smooth tongue had helped
him to win the heart of Desdemona. lago had a friend called
Roderigo, who supplied him with money and felt he could not be
happy unless Desdemona was his wife.
Othello was a Moor, but of so dark a complexion that his
enemies called him a Blackamoor. His life had been hard and
exciting. He had been vanquished 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 a terrible selfishness. To love a
woman meant with him to possess her as absolutely as he possessed
something that did not live and think. The story of Othello is a
story of jealousy.
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 he was Othello's officer, he termed him a thief and a
Brabantio accused Othello before the Duke of Venice of using
sorcery to fascinate his daughter, but Othello said that the only
sorcery he used was his voice, which told Desdemona his
adventures and hair-breadth escapes. 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
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 pernutted to join him at Cyprus.
Othello's feelings on landing in this island were intensely
joyful. "Oh, my sweet," he said to Desdemona, who arrived with
Iago, his wife, and Roderigo before him, "I hardly know what I
say to you. I am in love with my own happiness."
News coming presently that the Turkish fleet was out of
action, he proclaimed a festival in Cyprus from five to eleven at
Cassio was on duty in the Castle where Othello ruled Cyprus,
so Iago decided to make the lieutenant drink too much. He had
some difficulty, as Cassio knew that wine soon went to his head,
but servants brought wine into the room where Cassio was, and
Iago sang a drinking song, and so Cassio lifted a glass too often
to the health of the general.
was inclined to be quarrelsome, Iago told Roderigo to say
something unpleasant to him. Cassio cudgeled Roderigo, who ran
into the presence of Montano, the ex-governor. Montano civilly
interceded for Roderigo, but received so rude an answer from
Cassio that he said, "Come, come, you're drunk!" Cassio then
wounded him, and Iago sent Roderigo out to scare the town with a
cry of mutiny.
The uproar aroused Othello, who, on learning its cause, said,
"Cassio, I love thee, but never more be officer of mine."
On Cassio and Iago being alone together, the disgraced man
moaned about his reputation. Iago said reputation and humbug were
the same thing. "O God," exclaimed Cassio, without heeding him,
"that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their
Iago advised him to beg Desdemona to ask Othello to pardon
him. Cassio was pleased with the advice, and next morning 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 advancing with Iago, and
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 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
Desdemona told Othello that it was grief and humility which
made Cassio retreat at his approach. She reminded him how Cassio
had taken his part when she was still heart-free, and found fault
with 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.
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?" demanded Othello, and Iago repeated the
adjective inquiringly, as though 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 humbug. To
Othello he said, "Who steals my purse steals trash, but he who
filches from me my good name ruins me."
At this Othello almost leapt into the air, 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 given 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
Presently Desdemona re-entered to tell Othello that dinner was
ready. She saw that he was ill at ease. He explained it by a pain
in his forehead. 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 thought of it simply as a
cool, soft thing for a throbbing brow; she knew of no spell upon
it that would work destruction for her who lost it. "Let me tie
it round your head," she said to Othello; "you will be well in an
hour." But Othello pettishly said it was too small, and let it
fall. Desdemona and he then went indoors to dinner, and Emilia
picked up the handkerchief which Iago had often asked her to
She was looking at it when Iago came in. After a few words
about it he snatched it from her, and bade her leave him.
In the garden
he was joined by Othello, who seemed hungry for 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
The unhappy Moor went mad with fury, and Iago bade the heavens
witness that he devoted his hand and 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, and he gave it to his
sweetheart Bianca and asked her to copy it for him.
Iago's next move was to induce Othello, who had been bullying
Desdemona about the handkerchief, to play the eavesdropper to a
conversation between Cassio and himself. His intention was to
talk about Cassio's sweetheart, and allow Othello to suppose that
the lady spoken of was Desdemona.
"How are you, lieutenant?" asked Iago when Cassio
"The worse for being called what I am not," replied Cassio,
"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
"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 of Desdemona, and thought, "I see
your nose, Cassio, but not the dog I shall throw it to."
Othello was still spying 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 in station lower, in beauty
and speech inferior far, to Desdemona and he began in spite of
himself to praise his wife to the villain before him. He praised
her skill with the needle, her voice that could "sing the
savageness out of a bear," her wit, her sweetness, 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
needs praise her, and say, "The pity of it, Iago! O Iago, the
pity of it, Iago!"
There was never in all Iago's villainy one moment of wavering.
If there had been he might have wavered then.
"Strangle her," he said; and "Good, good!" said his miserable
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.
Luckless Desdemona seized this unhappy moment to urge once
more the suit of Cassio.
"Fire and brimstone!" shouted Othello.
"It may be the letter agitates him," explained Lodovico to
Desdemona, and he told her what it contained.
"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.
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 talking in his nightmare, Othello poured out his foul
thought in ugly speech, and roared, "Out of my sight!"
"I will not stay to offend you," said his wife, but she
lingered even in going, 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.
Distinguished visitors detest being obliged to look on at
family quarrels, and dislike being called either goats or
monkeys, and Lodovico asked Iago for an explanation.
True to himself, Iago, in a round-about way, said that Othello
was worse than he seemed, and advised them to study his behavior
and save him from the discomfort of answering any more
He proceeded to tell Roderigo to murder Cassio. Roderigo was
out of tune with his friend. He had given Iago quantities of
jewels for Desdemona without effect; Desdemona had seen none of
them, for Iago was a thief.
Iago smoothed him 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 not to 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; we must
not displease him now."
She sang a song which a girl had sung whose lover had been
base to her--a song of a maiden crying by that tree whose boughs
droop as though it weeps, and she went to bed and slept.
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 thy soul," he said.
He told her that Cassio had confessed, but she knew Cassio had
nought to confess that concerned her. She said that Cassio could
not say anything that would damage her. Othello said his mouth
Desdemona wept, but with violent words, in spite of all her
pleading, Othello pressed upon her throat and mortally hurt
Then with 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
"'Twas I that killed her," said Othello.
He poured out his evidence by 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 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 to the heart; and ere he
died his lips touched the face of Desdemona with despairing