David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s OTHELLO: A Retelling in Prose —Act 1, Scene 3

— 1.3 —

The Duke of Venice and the Venetian senators were sitting at a table in the council chamber. Some military officers were also in attendance.

The Duke said, “These reports lack the consistency that would give them credibility.”

“Indeed, they are inconsistent with each other,” the first senator said. “My letters say that the Turks have a hundred and seven galleys.”

The Duke said, “My letters say a hundred and forty.”

The second senator said, “And mine, two hundred. However, although they do not agree on the number of ships — in such cases as this, where estimates are given, disagreement in numbers is common — yet all these letters confirm that a Turkish fleet is sailing to Cyprus.”

“That is certainly probable,” the Duke said. “The discrepancy in the number of ships does not make me so overconfident that the reports are wrong that I disbelieve the reports’ main point: A Turkish fleet is headed toward Cyprus to attack it and take it away from us. That is something that we must be concerned about.”

A sailor outside the council chamber called, “I have news!”

The first officer said, “Here is a messenger from the galleys.”

The sailor entered the council chamber and said, “The Turkish fleet is now sailing to the island of Rhodes. Signior Angelo ordered me to carry this news to this council.”

The Duke asked his advisors, “What do you think about this change in the Turkish fleet’s course?”

The first senator said, “That cannot be the truth: Reason shows that the Turks cannot be intending to attack Rhodes. This is a trick; its purpose is to make us concerned about the island of Rhodes and not the island of Cyprus, which must be the Turks’ real intended destination. When we consider how much more important Cyprus is to the Turks than Rhodes is, and when we consider that Cyprus is not as well militarily prepared to resist invasion as Rhodes is, then we must realize that the Turks intend to attack Cyprus and not Rhodes. The Turks are not incompetent; they will not leave what is most important until last, and they will not attack a strongly defended island of lesser value to them when they can instead attack a weaker defended island of much greater value to them.”

“This is good reasoning based on the best evidence we have,” the Duke said. “We can be certain that the Turks do not intend to attack Rhodes.”

The first officer, seeing a messenger arriving, said, “Here comes more news.”

The messenger arrived and said, “The Turks from the Ottoman Empire, reverend and gracious senators, who have been sailing toward Rhodes, there joined another fleet that is following them.”

“I thought so,” the first senator said. “How many ships do you guess are in the new fleet?”

“Thirty,” the messenger said. “Now they have steered back to their original course and are openly sailing toward Cyprus. Signior Montano, the governor of Cyprus, your trusty and most valiant servant, with honorable respect for you, informs you thus and hopes that you believe him.”

“It is certain, now, that the Turks are heading toward Cyprus,” the Duke said. “Is Marcus Luccicos in town? He knows much about the Turks and the defense of islands. We should take advantage of the special knowledge that others have.”

“He’s now in Florence.”

“Write from us to him; do this as quickly as possible.”

The first senator, seeing more people coming, said, “Here comes Brabantio and the valiant Moor.”

Brabantio, Othello, Iago, Roderigo, and some officers arrived.

The Duke of Venice focused his attention on Othello, who was needed now, and said, “Valiant Othello, we must immediately employ you in military matters concerning our general enemy the Ottoman Turks.”

Seeing Brabantio, the Duke said, “I did not see you at first; welcome, gentle signior. We lacked your counsel and your help this night.”

“And I lacked yours,” Brabantio said. “Your good grace, pardon me. Neither my position as senator nor anything I heard of urgent business has raised me from my bed, nor have the ordinary affairs of government aroused me this night. My personal grief overwhelms me like an open flood-gate; its overbearing nature engulfs and swallows all other sorrows — it is not affected by other sorrows.”

“Why, what’s the matter?” the Duke asked.

“My daughter! Oh, my daughter!”

Some senators asked, “Dead?”

“Yes, to me,” Brabantio answered. “She is abused, stolen from me, and corrupted by spells and medicines bought from quack doctors. Human nature, if it is not deficient, blind, or lame of sense, cannot so preposterously err unless witchcraft is involved.”

The Duke said, “Whoever he is who in this foul proceeding has thus beguiled your daughter and taken away her senses, and has taken her away from you, the bloody book of law you shall yourself read and interpret in your own way. You will do this even if my own son is the person whom you accuse.”

“Humbly I thank your grace,” Brabantio said. “Here is the man I accuse: this Moor, whom now, it seems, your special order has brought here on important state business.”

A senator said, “We are very sorry to hear it.”

The other senators nodded or murmured their agreement with what the senator had said.

The Duke said to Othello, “What, on your own behalf, do you say to this?”

“He can say nothing except to admit that I have spoken the truth,” Brabantio said.

“Most mighty, respected, and esteemed signiors,” Othello said, “my very noble and approved good masters, that I have taken away this old man’s daughter is most true. It is also true that I have married her. The height and breadth of my offense has this extent and no more. Plain am I in my speech, and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace. Ever since these arms of mine had the strength of a seven-year-old until some months ago, they have done their most important work in the tented fields where soldiers fight and sleep, and I can speak of little of this great world unless it pertains to feats of fighting and battle, and therefore little shall I help my cause by speaking for myself. Yet, with your gracious patience, I will tell a plain and unpolished tale describing my whole course of love. I will tell what drugs, what charms, what incantations, and what mighty magic I supposedly used — for such I am accused of using — to win his daughter.”

Brabantio said, “My daughter was a maiden who was never bold. She had a spirit so still and quiet that her own natural desires embarrassed her. Could she, in spite of her nature, of their difference in age, of their difference in country of origin, of the danger to her reputation, and of everything, fall in love with something she feared to look at! Only a defective and most imperfect person could think that perfection so could err against all rules of nature; to explain why my daughter eloped with this man, we must look at the practices of cunning Hell. I therefore assert again that he used some drugs that had power over her blood and emotions, or that he gave her a magic love potion that had such an effect on her.”

“Suspicion is not proof,” the Duke said. “Accusation is not proof without fuller and manifest evidence than the implausible and flimsy evidence and weak probabilities that you are putting forward against him. You need more and better evidence than this if you are to be believed.”

The first senator said, “Othello, speak. Did you by cunning and force subdue and poison this young maiden’s affection? Or did her affection for you come from her consent and from honest face-to-face conversation with you?”

Othello replied, “Please, send for the lady to come here. She is at the Sagittary Inn. Let her speak about me in the presence of her father. If you find me wicked and guilty after hearing what she says about me, then not only take away the trust I have from you and the office I hold under you, but also sentence me to die.”

The Duke ordered, “Bring Desdemona here.”

Othello said to Iago, “Ancient, go with them. You best know the location of the inn, and you can lead the Duke’s men there.”

Iago and two of the Duke’s men left.

“Until she comes, I will tell you how she and I fell in love and decided to be married. I will tell you the truth just as if I were confessing my sins to Heaven,” Othello said.

The Duke replied, “Speak, Othello.”

“Desdemona’s father respected me. He often invited me to his home, and he often questioned me about the story of my life: the battles, sieges, and fortunes that I have experienced. I told my story, even from my days of boyhood to the very moment that he bade me tell my story. I spoke about disastrous events, of exciting adventures at sea and on land, of narrow escapes when a gap appeared in the fortifications, of being captured by the insolent foe and sold into slavery, of my ransom out of slavery and my behavior in my travels. I took the opportunity to speak about vast caves and empty, sterile deserts, rough quarries, and rocks and hills whose heads touch Heaven. I also spoke about the cannibals — the Anthropophagi — who eat each other and about hunchbacked men whose heads grow beneath their shoulders. Desdemona intently listened to my story. Sometimes, she would have to leave to attend to household tasks, but she would try to finish these quickly and come to listen to me with a greedy ear. I noticed her interest and took an opportune hour to allow her to ask me to recount my story in full — she had heard bits and pieces of my personal history but not the entire story. I answered her questions, and often as I told her about some distressful event from my youth her eyes filled with tears. When my story was finished, she gave me for my pains a world of sighs. She swore, in faith, that my story was strange, very strange, and it was pitiful, wondrously pitiful. She said that she wished that she had not heard it, but yet she wished that Heaven had made her born not a female but instead such a man as I am. She thanked me, and she requested that if I had a friend who loved her I would teach him how to tell my story, and that story would woo her. Hearing this hint, I spoke my feelings to her. She loved me for the dangers I had experienced, and I loved her because she did pity them. This is the only witchcraft I have used to woo and wed Desdemona. Here comes the lady; let her be my witness that what I have said is true.”

Desdemona, Iago, and some attendants arrived.

The Duke said, “I think this tale would win my daughter, too. Good Brabantio, make the best you can out of this mangled matter. Remember this proverb: Men would rather use their broken weapons than their bare hands.”

“Please, let my daughter speak,” Brabantio said. “If she confesses that she was half the wooer, then may destruction fall upon my head if I wrongly accuse this man.”

He said to his daughter, “Come hither, gentle mistress. Do you see in all this noble company the man to whom you most owe obedience?”

“My noble father,” Desdemona said, “I do perceive here a divided duty. To you I am bound for my life and education: You raised me. My life and education both have taught me to respect you; you are the lord of duty. I am your daughter, but here is my husband. As much duty as my mother showed to you, giving you preference before her father, so much I claim that I may profess due to the Moor, who is now my lord. To my husband, I most owe obedience, just as my mother did before me.”

“May God be with you!” Brabantio said to Desdemona.

He said to the Duke, “I withdraw my accusation against the Moor. Please, your grace, let us move on to the affairs of state.”

To himself, he said, “I would prefer to adopt a child than to beget it.”

He said to Othello, “Come hither, Moor. I here give you that with all my heart which, if you did not already have it, I would keep from you with all my heart.”

He said to his daughter, “Because of you, jewel, I am glad in my soul that I have no other children because your escape would make me a tyrant to them, and I would fasten fetters to their legs to keep them at home.”

He said to the Duke, “I have finished speaking, my lord.”

The Duke replied, “Let me give you some advice. Perhaps I can say some words that will help these lovers climb into your favor. Our griefs should be over after we see that we have no way to remedy them. We see the worst although we had hoped to avoid it. To continue to mourn a misfortune that is past and gone is the best way to draw new misfortune on. Patient endurance mocks misfortunes that cannot be prevented. The robbed man who smiles steals something from the thief; a man robs himself when he engages in useless grief.”

Brabantio replied, “If what you say is correct, then let the Turks cheat us and steal Cyprus from us — the Turks cannot hurt us as long as we smile. A man can hear your words and endure them well when he sits comfortably at home and hears of another’s misfortune, but a man who has suffered a misfortune so great that his patience is cruelly taxed must suffer both from the misfortune and from the cruelty of ‘comforting’ words. These sentences are sugar to a man who does not suffer, but they are gall to a man who does suffer — they are equivocal. But words are merely words; I never yet have heard of any bruised heart that was cured by words heard by the ear. Please, let us now discuss the affairs of the state.”

The Duke said, “The Turks with a mighty armed fleet are sailing toward Cyprus. Othello, you best know the fortifications of the place. We have on Cyprus a governor named Montano — he is very competent, yet our general opinion, which determines what we should do, states that you are the better person to hold power on Cyprus in this situation. Therefore, despite your recent marriage, we want you to sail to Cyprus and defend it.”

“Because of all my experience in warfare, most grave senators, I regard sleeping on the ground in full armor as equivalent to sleeping on a bed made of the softest down,” Othello replied. “I confess that I find a natural and ready eagerness to engage in hardship, and I therefore will undertake to be your general in these present wars against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.

“Most humbly, therefore, I ask you to make suitable arrangements for my wife. Give her an appropriate residence and financial support with such accommodations and companions as are suitable for someone with her social position.”

“If you please,” the Duke said, “she shall stay at her father’s.”

Brabantio said, “I will not have her stay with me.”

“Nor will I allow her to stay with her father,” Othello said.

“I decline to stay with my father,” Desdemona said. “I do not want to upset him, which would happen each time he looked at me. Most gracious Duke, listen with a favorable ear to my proposal and give me permission to do what my lack of sophistication asks from you.”

“What do you want, Desdemona?” the Duke asked.

“I love the Moor and want to live with him,” she replied. “My violation of normal standards of conduct and the disruption of my life provide unmistakable proof of that to the world. My heart is now completely in accord with my husband’s profession as soldier. I saw Othello’s true being in his mind, and I have dedicated my whole being and future to his honor and military virtues. This means, dear lords, that if I am left behind in Venice as a moth — an idler or parasite — of peace whose expenses are paid for by the state, and Othello goes to the war, the rites — both the rites of war and the rights of marriage that follow from the rite of marriage — for which I love him are bereft me. His absence will cause me to be sorrowful until I see him again. Therefore, let me go with him to Cyprus.”

Othello said, “Let her have your permission. Vouch with me, Heaven, that I am not begging that she be allowed to go with me only to please the palate of my sexual appetite and to satisfy my lust — I am a mature man, and I do not allow youthful emotions to rule me, although I will of course have the distinct and proper satisfaction of sex within the marriage. I want to be generous and bountiful to — and enjoy — her mind. Heaven forbid that your good souls think that I will ignore your serious and great business while she is with me. No, if winged Cupid’s feathered arrows should ever blind me to my duty and make my powers of perception and intelligence dull from excessive sexual activity so that I no longer do the work you expect me to do, then let housewives take my helmet and use it as a cooking vessel and let all unworthy and base adversities form an army and make war against my reputation!”

“You may make the decision whether Desdemona stays here in Venice or goes with you to Cyprus,” the Duke said. “But this situation is urgent, and it requires haste. You must leave tonight.”

“Tonight, my lord?” Desdemona asked.

“This very night,” the Duke replied.

“I will leave tonight with all my heart,” Othello said.

The Duke said to the senators, “At nine in the morning we will meet again here. Othello, leave some officer behind so that he can bring our commission to you, along with such other important and relevant things that concern you.”

“So please your grace, my ancient, Iago, is a man of honesty and trust. I give him the duty to convey my wife to Cyprus. He can also bring whatever else your good grace shall think is necessary to be sent to me.”

“Let it be so. Good night to everyone.”

The Duke then said to Brabantio, “Noble signior, if virtue no delightful beauty lacks, your son-in-law is far more fair than black.”

The first senator said, “Adieu, brave Moor. Treat Desdemona well.”

“Watch her carefully, Moor,” Brabantio said, “if you have eyes to use. She has deceived her father, and she may deceive you.”

As the Duke of Venice and the senators left, Othello called after Brabantio, “I swear upon my life that she will be faithful to me!”

Othello then said, “Honest Iago, I must leave my Desdemona with you. Please, let your wife, Emilia, be her attendant. Bring both of them to Cyprus at the best and most convenient time.”

He added, “Come, Desdemona. I have only an hour to spend with you and must devote it to love, worldly matters, and instructions. We must use the time well and do what is necessary.”

Othello and Desdemona departed, leaving Roderigo and Iago behind, alone.

Roderigo had been thinking and now he said, “Iago —”

“What have you got to say, noble heart?” Iago asked.

“What do you think I should do?”

“Why, go to bed, and sleep.”

“I will immediately drown myself.”

Iago joked, “If you do, I will stop being friends with you.”

He added, “Why would you drown yourself, you silly gentleman!”

“To live is silliness when to live is torment. When our physician is death, then we have a prescription to die.”

“This is villainous!” Iago said. “I have looked upon the world for four times seven years — I am twenty-eight years old — and ever since I acquired the ability to distinguish between a benefit and an injury, I have never found a man who knew how to love himself. Before I would say that I would drown myself because I loved some b*tch, I would exchange my body for the body of a lecherous baboon.”

“What should I do?” Roderigo asked. “I confess that it is shameful to be so much in love with Desdemona, but I don’t have the power to stop loving her.”

“Bullsh*t!” Iago said. “We do have power — we ourselves decide what we are and whether we are this way or that way. Remember that Galatians 6:7 says that “whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap.” Our bodies are our gardens, and our free will is our gardener. Whether we plant nettles or sow lettuce, whether we plant minty hyssop or throw away thyme as if it were a weed, whether we fill our garden with one kind of herb or with many kinds, whether we have a garden that is unproductive because we are too lazy to tend it or have a productive garden because we manure it and make it fertile through our hard work is up to us. We have the free will to do these things. We have the power to change. Our lives have a pair of scales. In one scale is reason and in the other scale is sensuality. Unless we had reason to counterbalance sensuality, the natural passions and baseness of our natures would lead us to do outrageous actions. Fortunately, we have reason to cool our raging emotions, our carnal stings, our unrestrained lusts — I consider what you call love to be one of our unrestrained lusts.”

“Love is nothing but an unrestrained lust? That cannot be the truth!” Roderigo said.

“It is merely a lust of your body that your will has permitted. Come on, be a man! You want to drown yourself! Instead, drown cats and blind puppies. I have told you that I am your friend and I now tell you that I am determined to help you get what you deserve. We are bound together with cables of everlasting toughness. I could never better help you than now. Remember this proverb: Prepare yourself for success. Therefore, sell your land and put money in your wallet. You can use the money to buy gifts and give them to me to pass on to Desdemona.”

Yes, do that, Iago thought. I will keep the valuable gifts, not give them to Desdemona.

Iago continued, “Go to Cyprus, the battleground of the current war. Cover your handsome face with a fake beard.”

Yes, do that, Iago thought. You aren’t man enough to grow a real beard.

Iago continued, “I say again, put money in your wallet. It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue to love the Moor — put money in your wallet — and it cannot be that the Moor should long continue to love Desdemona. Their love had a violent and sudden commencement, and you will see a sudden separation — put money in your wallet. These Moors are changeable in their nature — fill your wallet with money — the food that to him now is as luscious as sweet chocolate shall soon be to him like a bitter apple. Desdemona must soon change her love for a young man — the Moor is older than she is. When she has had enough of his body, she will see that she chose wrongly when she chose an older man. She will find that she must change her lover — therefore, put money in your wallet. If you must damn yourself, find a better way of doing it than drowning. Raise all the money you can. If piety and a frail vow of marriage between a wandering barbarian and an over-sophisticated Venetian woman are not too hard for my wits and all the tribe of Hell, you will enjoy her body; therefore, raise money. F**k drowning yourself! It is absolutely the wrong thing to do. If you must die, it is better for you to sleep with her and be hanged than for you not to sleep with her and be drowned.”

“Can I count on you to completely support me as I pursue my goal of sleeping with Desdemona?”

“You can count on me — go and raise money. I have told you often, again and again, that I hate the Moor. My reason for hating him is deeply rooted in my heart — you hate him for no less reason than I do. Let us join together and get revenge against him. If you can make a cuckold out of him, you will feel pleasure and I will be entertained. Time is pregnant with many events to which it will give birth.”

Iago then gave Roderigo a military command: “About face!”

Roderigo was not a military man and did understand or execute the order.

Iago added, “Go and provide yourself with money. We will talk more about this tomorrow. Adieu.”

“Where shall we meet in the morning?”

“At my lodging.”

“I will be there early.”

“Go now; farewell. But listen to me, Roderigo.”


“Talk no more about drowning yourself.”

“I have changed my mind. Instead, I am going to go and sell all my land.”

Roderigo departed, leaving Iago alone.

Iago thought these things:

Just like I am doing now, I have always made my fool a major source of my income. I would be wasting my intelligence and experience if I were to spend time with a fool such as Roderigo and not gain entertainment and profit.

I hate the Moor. It is commonly thought that he has done what is my duty as a husband to do between my sheets — people think that he has slept with Emilia, my wife. I don’t know if that is true, but I will assume that it is true. The Moor has a good opinion of me: That will help me to get revenge on him.

Cassio is a handsome man. Let me see now: How can I prepare to commit a double knavery against Othello and Cassio that will result in my taking Cassio’s place as Othello’s lieutenant? How, how?

Let’s see. After a little time has passed, I can lie to Othello and tell him that Cassio is too familiar with Desdemona. Cassio has an agreeable appearance and a charming manner that can arouse suspicion. He seems designed to persuade women to be unfaithful to their husbands. The Moor is of a free and open nature; he thinks that men are honest who only seem to be honest. I can lead him as tenderly by the nose as jackasses are led.

I have it. I have formed a plan. Hell and night must bring my plan’s monstrous birth to the world’s light.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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