David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s OTHELLO: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 2

— 1.2 —

On another street of Venice were standing Othello, Iago, and some servants holding torches. Iago was telling Othello a partial truth. He told him the truth about Brabantio’s anger toward him, but he lied about his conversation with Roderigo.

Iago said about his conversation with Roderigo, “Although in the trade of war I have slain men,yet I believe it to be immoral to commit cold-blooded murder. I lack sometimes the evil-mindedness to do what would help me. Nine or ten times I was tempted to stab him here under the ribs.”

“It is better that you did not,” Othello replied.

“But he chattered foolishly and called you such scurvy and provoking terms that, with the little godliness I have, I spared his life with great difficulty.”

Iago then began to speak about Brabantio: “But let me ask you, sir, are you securely married? Be assured that this magnifico is much beloved and that he has much power; indeed, his power approaches that of the Duke of Venice. If he can, he will make you get a divorce, or put upon you whatever restraint and hardship the law, with all his might to enforce it, will give him scope.”

“Let him act on his spite,” Othello said calmly. “The services that I have done for the Venetian government will outweigh his complaints — my services will speak louder than his complaints. People do not know, because I won’t boast until boasting is honorable, that I am descended from men of royal rank, and my family, in all due modesty, is equal in social status to the family that I have married into. Know, Iago, that I love the gentle Desdemona. If I did not, I would not have married her and given up my freedom in the tents of military camps for the restrictions and confinements of marriage — even if marrying her would have given me all the treasures of sunken ships lying on the bottom of the sea. But look! What lights are coming toward us?”

“Those are the lights of Desdemona’s awoken father and his friends,” Iago replied. “It is best — and safer — for you to go inside.”

“No,” Othello said. “I must confront them. My good qualities, legal right, and blameless soul shall serve me well. Are you sure that these people are Desdemona’s father and his friends?”

Looking again, Iago said, “By Janus, I think they are not.”

Iago thought, Janus is a literally two-faced Roman god. Since I am figuratively two-faced, Janus is an appropriate god for me to swear by.

Michael Cassio and some other military officers carrying torches arrived.

Othello greeted them, “The servants of the Duke, and my lieutenant, welcome. May the goodness of the night be upon you, friends! What is the news?”

“The Duke greets you, general,” Cassio said. “And he urgently requires your immediate appearance.”

“What is the matter?”

“I think that it is a matter of some urgency that concerns the island of Cyprus. Our ships have sent a dozen messengers, one after the other, this night. Many of the consuls have already been awoken and are meeting at the Duke’s. You have been urgently sent for. When you were not found at your lodging, the Venetian Senate sent three different groups of people to find you.”

“It is well that you have found me. I will leave a brief message at this inn and then go with you.”

Othello went inside the inn.

Cassio asked Iago, “Ancient, what is he doing here?”

“Tonight, he has boarded a treasure-ship on land,” Iago replied. “If he can keep the ship, he is a made man forever.”

Iago thought, Yes, Desdemona comes from a wealthy family, and Othello has boarded her — or will board her — in a sexual sense.

“I do not understand.”

“He’s married.”

“To whom?”

Iago started to answer, “To —” But Othello came out of the building and Iago asked him, “Come, captain, are you ready to go?”

“I’m ready.”

Cassio saw some people coming toward them and said, “Here comes another troop of people seeking you.”

“It is Brabantio,” Iago said. “General, be advised; he comes with bad intent toward you.”

Brabantio, Roderigo, and several officers carrying torches came toward Othello.

“Stop!” Othello shouted. “Stand there!”

They stopped, and Roderigo said to Brabantio, “Signior, it is the Moor.”

“Arrest him!” Brabantio shouted. “He’s a thief!”

Several people, including Iago, drew their swords.

Iago immediately singled out the one person he knew would not hurt him and said, “You, Roderigo! Come, sir, I will fight you.”

Iago thought, Roderigo and I can pretend to fight. That way, I will look as if I am defending the Moor.

Othello said, “Put away your bright swords, or the dew will rust them.”

He thought, If my sword were to rust, it would be because of blood. The swords that Brabantio and his followers are carrying are in the hands of amateurs.

He added, “Good signior, you shall command more respect because of your many years than because of your weapons.”

“Oh, you foul thief, where have you hidden my daughter?” Brabantio said. “Damned as you are, you have enchanted and bewitched her. My common sense tells me that chains of magic must bind my daughter. Otherwise, a maiden so tender, beautiful, and happy, who is so opposed to marriage that she has shunned the wealthy and darling men of our nation with their curled hair, would never have — thereby incurring public ridicule — run away from her father and her home to the sooty bosom of such a thing as you, who inspires fear, not delight. Let the world judge whether it is obvious that you have used foul charms on her and abused her delicate youth with drugs or poisonous potions that weaken willpower. The court of law will agree that this is probable and easy to believe. I therefore seize and arrest you because you are a corrupter of the world, a magician who practices prohibited and illegal dark arts.”

He ordered his followers, “Lay hold of him. If he resists, overpower him at his peril.”

“Don’t move and don’t fight, whether you are on my side or against me,” Othello said. “If it were my cue to fight, I would have known it without a prompter.”

He then asked Brabantio, “Where do you want me to go so I can answer this charge of yours?”

“I want you to go to prison,” Brabantio said, “until a court of law will hear my case.”

“Suppose I do that,” Othello said, “Will the Duke be happy with that? His messengers are here by my side. They have orders to bring me to him because of some important and urgent business of the state.”

One of the Duke’s officers said to Brabantio, “That is true, most worthy signior. The Duke is holding a council and you, yourself, I am sure, have been sent for.”

“What! The Duke is holding a council! At this time of the night! Bring him away and take him to the Duke. Mine is not an idle cause. The Duke himself and all of my fellow senators cannot but feel this wrong as if it were their own, for if such actions as the Moor’s may be done freely, bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be.”

They left to see the Duke.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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