David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s OTHELLO: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 3

— 4.3 —

In a room in the castle were Othello, Lodovico, Desdemona, Emilia, and some attendants. The evening meal was over, and Othello was offering to walk Lodovico home.

Lodovico said to Othello, “Please, sir, trouble yourself no further about me.”

“It is no trouble,” Othello said. “A walk will do me good.”

“Madam, good night,” Lodovico said. “I humbly thank your ladyship.”

“Your honor is most welcome,” Desdemona replied courteously.

“Shall we walk, sir?” Othello asked Lodovico.

He then said, “Desdemona —”

“My lord?”

“Go to bed immediately. I will return soon. Send Emilia, your attendant, away, also. Make sure that you follow my orders.”

“I will, my lord.”

Othello, Lodovico, and some attendants exited.

Emilia had been far enough away that she had not heard what Othello had said. She said to Desdemona, “How is everything going now? Othello looks gentler and calmer than he did.”

“He says that he will return quickly. He has ordered me to go to bed and to dismiss you. Apparently, he wants me to be alone when he returns.”

“Dismiss me!” Emilia said, surprised. Normally, a lady’s attendant would stay with her until the lady’s husband was ready for bed.

“That is what he ordered,” Desdemona said. “Therefore, good Emilia, give me my night clothes. We must not now displease him.”

Uneasy, Emilia said, “I wish that you had never seen him!”

“I do not have that wish,” Desdemona said. “I love him so much that even his stubbornness, his rebukes of me, his frowns — please, unpin my hair and dress — have grace and favor in them.”

“I have laid on the bed those sheets you asked me to get.”

“It doesn’t matter. All’s one. Good faith, how foolish are our minds! What thoughts they make us think! If I die before you, please use one of those sheets as my shroud.”

“Come, that’s no way to talk,” Emilia said.

“My mother had a maid named Barbary, a form of Barbara. She was in love, and the man she loved proved to be unfaithful and forsook her, She used to sing a song named ‘Willow.’ The willow is a symbol of unrequited love; the weeping willow is a symbol of unhappiness. It was an old song, but it expressed her fortune, and she died singing it. That song tonight will not leave my mind. I find it difficult to keep from hanging my head to one side and singing that song like poor Barbary. Please, hurry up.”

“Shall I go and fetch your nightgown?”

“No, finish unpinning me now,” Desdemona said, adding, “This Lodovico is a proper man.”

“A very handsome man.”

“He speaks well.”

“I know a lady in Venice who would have walked barefoot to Palestine for a kiss from him.”

Had Desdemona not married Othello, she might have married a man much like Lodovico. Although he was a relative, if he were a distant enough relative, and unmarried, she might even have married Lodovico.

Desdemona began to sing:

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,

Sing all a green willow:

Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,

Sing willow, willow, willow.

The fresh streams ran by her, and repeated her moans;

Sing willow, willow, willow.

Her salt tears fell from her, and softened the stones.”

She gave some clothing to Emilia and said, “Put these away.”

Desdemona then sang again:

Sing willow, willow, willow.”

She said to Emilia, “Please, go now. Othello will soon return.”

Desdemona then sang again:

Sing, all — a green willow must be my garland.

Let nobody blame him; his scorn I accept—”

She stopped and said, “No, that line is not next.”

Hearing a noise, she said, “Listen! Who is knocking?”

Emilia replied, “It’s the wind.”

Desdemona then sang again:

I called my lover untrue, but what did he say then?

Sing willow, willow, willow.

“‘If I court more women, you’ll sleep with more men!’”

She said to Emilia, “Well, go now. My eyes itch. Is that a sign of weeping to come?”

“It is neither here nor there,” Emilia said.

“I have heard it said that itchy eyes foretell weeping. Oh, these men, these men! Do you truly think — tell me, Emilia — that women really exist who abuse their husbands by making them cuckolds?”

“Some such women exist, no question about it.”

“Would you do such a deed for all the world?”

“Why, wouldn’t you?”

“No, by this Heavenly light, the Sun!”

“Neither would I in this Heavenly light from the Sun, but I might do it in the dark,” Emilia said.

“Would you do such a deed for all the world?”

“The world is huge; it is very valuable. It is a great payment for performing a small vice.”

“Truly, I don’t think that you would ever be guilty of such a sin.”

“Truly, I think that I would,” Emilia said. “I would do the sin, and after I had the world, I would undo the damage resulting from the sin. Of course, I would not do such a thing for a ring, or for yards of fine linen, or for clothing such as gowns, petticoats, and caps, or for any petty amount of money or petty gift — but for the whole world? Why, who would not make her husband a cuckold if it would make him a monarch? I would risk being condemned to much time in Purgatory for committing such a sin. This sin can be forgiven; it need not result in being condemned to Hell.”

“Curse me if I would do such a wrong even for the whole world.”

“Why, the wrong is only a wrong in the world. Once you have the world as the price for your labor, it is a wrong in your own world, and you might quickly make it right.”

“I do not think that any such woman exists who would commit such a sin.”

“Yes, a dozen, and as many in addition as would fill the world they played for. But I think it is their husbands’ faults if wives fall into this kind of sin. Husbands sometimes slack in their duties — instead of sleeping with us, they pour their treasured semen into the laps of other women. Or else the husbands break out in peevish jealousies and restrict our freedom. Or they strike us. Or they reduce our monetary allowance out of spite. Why, we have spirits that can feel resentment, and though we have some grace and can forgive them, yet sometimes we want and get revenge. Let husbands know that their wives have senses and feelings just like theirs: They see and smell and have an appetite both for sweet and sour, just like husbands have. What is it that husbands get when they exchange us — their legitimate wives — for others? Is it sexual pleasure? I think it is. Does affection breed it? I think it does. Is it frailty that thus errs? Yes. Don’t we wives have affections, desires for sexual pleasure, and frailty, as men have? Then let them treat us well, or else let them know that the sins we do, their own sins teach us to do.”

Desdemona said, “Good night, good night. May Heaven help me learn from such examples to avoid doing evil!”

Emilia exited, leaving Desdemona alone in the bedchamber.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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