The people in the story
Brabantio, a Senator of Venice
Othello, a noble Moor in the service of the State of Venice
Cassio, his lieutenant
Iago, an officer
Montano, another officer
Desdemona, daughter of Brabantio, and wife of Othello
Emilia, wife of Iago
Brabantio, the rich senator of Venice, had a beautiful daughter, the gentle Desdemona. Many men wanted to marry her. She, however, saw no one that really desired among the lovers of her own country and colour, and had chosen for the object of love a Moor, a black man, whom her father liked and often invited to his house.
Although he was black, Othello, the noble Moor, had everything which might recommend him to the love of the greatest lady. He was a soldier, and a brave one. By his fine deeds in bloody wars against the Turks, he had risen to the rank of general in the Venetian service, and was respected and trusted by the state.
He had been a traveler, and Desdemona loved to hear him tell the story of his adventures. He would describe the battles in which he had fought; the dangers he had met by land and sea; strange things he had seen in foreign countries; These travellers’ stories held Desdemona’s attention so much. Once she begged him to tell her the whole story of his life…
Brabantio had left his daughter free to choose her own husband, but he had expected that before long she would chose a man of the rank of senator, as most noble Venetian ladies did. But Desdemona loved the Moor, though he was black, and gave her heart to his brave qualities.
Their marriage was privately performed, but could not for long be kept a secret. When it came to the ears of her father, Brabantio, he accused Othello of having gained the love of Desdemona by magic.
At the same time, it so happened that the state of Venice had immediate need of the service of Othello. News had arrived that a great number of Turkish ships were on their way to the island of Cyprus. The Turkish hoped to regain the island from the Venetians, who then held it. It was thought that Othello was the most suitable man to defend Cyprus against the Turks. So he was called before the senate both as a greatly needed by the state, and as a criminal, charged his offences for which, by the laws of Venice, he could be put to death.
Desdemona appeared in court, and, saying she knew her duty was to her father for her life and education, she begged him to allow her to feel a still higher duty to her lord and husband…
…News arrived that a great storm had driven away the Turkish ships, and thus the island was safe from any immediate fear of an attack. But the war which Othello was about to suffer was now beginning; and the enemies, which evil tongues stirred up against his innocent lady, proved more terrible than any Turk.
Among all the general’s friends no one possessed Othello’s confidence more completely than Cassio. Michael Cassio was a young soldier from Florence, gay, good-looking and pleasant in speech, all favourite qualities with women. But Othello was free from jealousy as he was noble.
Othello often asked Cassio to be a sort of go-between in his suit so Cassio had been a kind of messenger during Othello’s courtship with Desdemona. No wonder that the gentle Desdemona loved and trusted Cassio next to Othello himself.
Othello had recently raised Cassio to the rank of lieutenant. This had given great offence to Iago, an older officer who thought he had a better claim than Cassio. But he was the person who knew no more than a girl about the art of war or how to arrange an army for battle.
Iago hated Cassio. He also hated Othello, not only because of Cassio but also because he had an unjust suspiction that the Moor was too fond of Iago’s wife Emilia. Angered by these things, the wicked mind of Iago thought of a terrible plan for revenge which would cause the ruin of Cassio, the Moor and Desdemona as well.
Iago was cunning and had studied human nature deeply. He knew that of all the pains which trouble the mind of man (and far beyond bodily pain), the pains of jealousy were the most unbearable. If he could succeed in making Othello jealous of Cassio, he thought it would be a perfect revenge, and might end in the death of Cassio or Othelo, or both; he did not care.
The arrival of the general and his lady in Cyprus, together with the news of the scattering of the enemy’s ships, made a sort of holiday in the island. Cassio was in charge of the guard that night. He had orders from Othello to keep the soldiers from drinking too much.
That night Iago began to carry out his evil plans. Under colour of loyalty to the general he tried to make Cassio drink too much (a great fault in an officer on guard). For a time Cassio refused but he could not hold out long and soon his tongue began to praise Desdemona, whose health he drank, saying she was the most beautiful lady.
Iago now sent on another fellow to quarrel with Cassio, and swords were drawn. When Montano, an excellent officer, interfered to try and stop the fight, he himself was wounded. Iago ordered the castle-bell to be rung, as if some dangerous mutiny had arisen instead of a slight drunken quarrel. The result was that Othello, a firm believer in discipline, was forced to take away Cassio’s place of lieutenant from him.
Thus, Iago’s first cunning plan succeeded completely. He had now weakened the position of his hated rival and made him lose his rank. Cassio was ruined, he hated himself.
And Iago, who seemed to be Cassio’s friend, gave Cassio an advice to ask Desdemona to make peace for him with her lord. She would able to put Cassio back again in the general’s favour.
Cassio did as Iago advised him. Desdemona promised him that she would beg her lord to forgive him. She immediately began to speak to Othello in Cassio’s behalf and he promised her to receive Michael Cassio again into favour.
But Iago, full of cunning, begged Othello to observe Desdemona’s behavior well when Cassio was near. Iago cunningly suggested Othello that Desdemona had deceived his father when married him, and had kept it such a secret that the poor old man thought magic had been used. If she had deceived her father, why might she not deceive her husband?
From that moment Othello was never happy. He grew tired of his occupation. His interest in military affairs and all his old joys disappeared. Sometimes he thought his wife was honest, and at times he thought that she was not. Then he wished he had never known of it. If she loved Cassio, it made no difference to him, so long he did not know about it. Torn to pieces by such thoughts as these, he once seized Iago by the throat and demanded proof of Desdemona’s guilt, or threatened him immediate death because he had lied about her.
Iago, pretending to be angry because his honesty was mistaken for a fault, asked Othello if he had not sometimes seen a handkerchief spotted with berries in his wife’s hand. Othello answered that he had given it to her, and that it was his first gift.
“I saw Michael Cassio wipe his face today with that same handkerchief,” said Iago. To the jealous small and unimportant things are proofs as strong as Holy Writings…
Without even asking how Cassio had obtained it… Desdemona had never given such a present to Cassio; both Cassio and Desdemona were innocent; The wicked Iago had made his wife (a good but weak woman) steal it pretending he wanted to have a copy made. His real purpose, however, was to drop in Cassio’s way where he might find it, and so make it seem to be Desdemona’s present.
…Othello said to Desdemona: “It was a magic handkerchief: an old woman gave it to my mother many years ago and told while she kept it my father would love her. If she lost it or gave it away father’s love would change. When she was dying she gave it to me and told me to give it to my wife…”
Desdemona, hearing the wonderful qualities of the handkerchief was ready to die with fear. She knew well she lost it… and with it, she feared, she had lost her husband’s love…
Othello still demanded the handkerchief. He accused her of being unfaithful and of loving another man. He wept. He told her he could suffered all sorts of evils bravely – poverty, disease, shame, but her unfaithfulness had broken his heart…
She had sooner fallen into a troubled sleep when Othello entered the room, fuul of black purpose of putting his lady to death. He told her to prepare for death, and to say her prayers… he stifled her…
At the same moment, Cassio, wounded and bleeding, was brought into the house. Iago had sent one of his men to murder him but had not succeeded… this men, in his turn, had been killed by Iago to prevent discovery… some letters were found in his man’s pocket which made the guilt of Iago… This discovery was a thunderstroke to Othello. His wife had always been faithful to him… he was a murderer himself… The great pain and sorrow brought him made his life unbearable. He felt on his sword and died also…
These terrible acts filed everyone with great surprise and fear. He had always had a good reputation… he had been a most loving husband. When he was dead all his former good qualities and his brave deeds were remembered.
Only two things remained to be done. The law was put into force against Iago, who was put to a painful death; and the state and people of Venice were informed of the sad death of their famous general.
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