David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s OTHELLO: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 2

— 5.2 —

Desdemona was asleep in her bedchamber in the castle. A candle was burning near her.

Othello entered the room and thought this:

It is the cause; it is the cause, my soul. Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! It is the cause.

I must keep in mind the cause. Desdemona has committed adultery, and that is the cause — the reason — why I must punish her.

I will not shed her blood, and I will not scar that whiter skin of hers than snow — that skin as smooth as alabaster stone used in making tombs.Yet she must die, else she will betray more men.

I will put out the candle’s light, and then I will put out the light that is her life. If I quench you, you flaming candle, I can easily again restore your light, if I repent my action. But if I put out the light that is Desdemona’s life — that pattern so skillfully wrought by nature excelling itself — I do not know where to find the heat that Prometheus used when he created human beings and so I cannot make you live again.

When I have plucked a rose, I cannot give it vital growth again. It must wither and it will wither. So will it be if I pluck your life, Desdemona.

I’ll smell the rose on the bush.

He leaned down and kissed Desdemona.

He thought, Your breath is fragrant. It almost persuades Justice to break her sword of punishment! One more kiss, one more. Be like this when you are dead, and I will kill you and love you afterward.

He kissed her.

One more, and this is the last kiss, he thought.

He kissed her a third time.

So sweet was never so fatal. I must weep, but I weep cruel tears. This sorrow is Heavenly — it strikes where it does love. I remember Proverbs 3:12: “For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth.” She is waking up.

Desdemona asked, “Who’s there? Othello?”

“Yes, Desdemona.”

“Will you come to bed, my lord?”

“Have you prayed tonight, Desdemona?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“If you can think of any sin that you have not confessed and asked to be forgiven for, pray about it immediately. You must be reconciled with God and forgiven by Him.”

“That sounds ominous. My lord, what do you mean by that?”

“Do it now, and be brief; I will walk nearby to give you some privacy. I would not kill your unprepared spirit. You must be ready to enter Heaven. I would not kill your soul — Heaven forbid that!”

“Are you talking about killing me?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then I pray that Heaven have mercy on me!”

“Amen, with all my heart!” Othello said.

“If you can say that, I hope that you will have mercy on me and not kill me.”

“What you hope — that will not happen.”

“I fear you. You are deadly when your eyes roll like they are doing now. But I do not know why I should be afraid that you will kill me. I have done nothing wrong and I am guilty of nothing, and yet I am afraid that you will kill me.”

“Think about your sin.”

“My sin is the love I have for you,” Desdemona said.

She added, “It is a sin to love a mortal man more than God.”

“True, and that is the reason you will die,” Othello said, thinking that Desdemona loved Cassio.

“Death is most unnatural when one kills because of love,” Desdemona said. “Why are you gnawing your lower lip? Some bloody passion shakes your very frame: These are deadly portents; but yet I hope, I hope, that they do not pertain to me.”

“Be quiet, and be still!”

“I will obey you,” Desdemona said. “What’s the matter?”

“That handkerchief that I so valued and gave to you, you gave to Cassio.”

“No, by my life and soul that is not true! Send for the man, and ask him.”

“Sweet soul, take heed and be careful not to commit the sin of perjury. You are on your deathbed.”

“I may eventually die in this bed, but not yet, I hope.”

“You will die very soon on this bed. Therefore, confess freely your sins. Denying anything of which you are accused will not remove or strangle the strong suspicions that make me groan. You will die.”

“Then, Lord God, have mercy on me!”

“To that I say, ‘Amen.’”

“And, Lord my husband, you have mercy on me, too! I have never done anything to offend you in my life. I have never had anything to do with Cassio except what Heaven would approve of. I have never given him any love-token, including your handkerchief.”

“By Heaven, I saw my handkerchief in his hand,” Othello said. “Woman, you have committed the sin of perjury. You have turned my heart to stone. Your refusal to confess your sins forces me to call what I intend to do a murder, which I thought would instead be a sacrificial gesture. I saw the handkerchief.”

“Then he found it. I never gave it to him. Send for him — he will tell you the truth.”

“He has confessed the truth.”

“What, my lord?”

“He has confessed that he has used you.”

“How? Immorally?”

“Yes. He has confessed that you and he have committed adultery.”

“Call him here. He will not say that.”

“No, he won’t. His mouth is closed and will never again open. Honest Iago has seen to that.”

“I am afraid! Is Cassio dead?”

“Had all his hairs been lives, my great desire for revenge would have ended each life.”

“He has been betrayed, and I will die.”

She cried.

“Stop, whore! Will you cry for Cassio in front of me?”

“Banish me, my lord. Send me away, but do not kill me!”

“Don’t you move, whore!”

“Kill me tomorrow — let me live tonight!”

Othello grabbed her and said, “Don’t you struggle —”

“Let me live another half an hour!”

“Now that I have started, I must go on.”

“Wait until I say one prayer!”

“It is too late.”

Othello strangled Desdemona, his wife.

Emilia, outside the bedchamber door, called, “My lord! My lord!”

Othello listened to hear whether Desdemona was breathing; he said, “What noise is this? Not dead? Not yet quite dead? I who am cruel am also merciful. I would not have you linger in pain.”

He put his hands around her neck again and squeezed.

Emilia called, “My lord! My lord!”

“Who’s there?” Othello called.

“My good lord, I need to talk to you!”

“It is Emilia,” Othello said.

He called, “Wait a moment!”

He thought, Desdemona is dead. Likely, Emilia has come to inform me about Cassio’s death. The attack and its aftermath created a lot of noise. Desdemona is no longer moving — she is as still as the grave. Shall I let Emilia come in? Is that what I should do? Is Desdemona moving? No. What is the best thing for me to do? If Emilia comes in, she’ll want to speak to my wife. My wife! My wife! What wife? I have no wife. This is unbearable! This is a heavy hour! I think a huge eclipse of Sun and Moon should occur now, and I think that the frightened globe should tear itself apart in an earthquake. Now the world should end.

Emilia called, “Please, I need to talk to you, my good Lord!”

“I had forgotten about you,” Othello said. “Come in, Emilia. Wait a moment. Let me first draw the curtains around the bed. Now I will unlock the door.”

He unlocked the door and let Emilia in and said, “What’s the matter with you now?”

“My good Lord, murders have been committed!”

“When? Just now?

“Just now, my Lord.”

“The Moon has caused this. She errs in her orbit and comes closer to the Earth than usual, and she is making men lunatics.”

“My Lord, Cassio has killed a young Venetian named Roderigo.”

“Roderigo has been killed!” Othello said. “And Cassio has been killed!”

“No, Cassio has not been killed.”

“Cassio has not been killed!” Othello said.

He thought, Murder is out of tune, and the sounds of sweet revenge grow harsh. The wrong man has been killed.

Desdemona revived and said, “I have been unfairly murdered!”

“What cry is that?” Emilia asked.

“That! What?” Othello said.

“That was my lady’s voice,” Emilia said.

Emilia cried, “Help! Help! Help!” and ran to the bed.

She held Desdemona in her arms and said, “Oh, lady, speak again! Sweet Desdemona! Oh, sweet mistress, speak!”

“I die a guiltless death,” Desdemona said. “I have done nothing wrong.”

“Who has done this deed?” Emilia asked.

Wanting to protect her husband, Desdemona said, “Nobody; I have done it myself. Farewell. Give my love to my kind lord. Oh, farewell!”

Desdemona died.

Othello said, “How can she have been murdered? Who could have murdered her?”

“Who knows?” Emilia replied.

“You heard her say herself that it was not I.”

“She said so. My duty is to report the truth.”

“Like the liar she is, she has gone to burning Hell. I am the person who killed her.”

“Then the more angel she, and you the blacker devil! With her final words, she forgave you and tried to make you appear innocent of her murder.”

“She turned to sin, and she was a whore,” Othello said.

“You are telling lies about her, and you are a devil.”

“She was false as water. She was as changeable as the tides. Water is unstable — it often changes; it can be liquid water, ice, snow, and water vapor. She was beautiful on the outside, but that appearance was deceptive.”

“You are as rash as fire when you say that she was false. She was as true as Heaven! She was not deceitful or sinful.”

“Cassio lay on top of her,” Othello said. “Ask your husband whether that is true. I would be damned to Hell for eternity if I murdered Desdemona without just cause. Your husband knows that she was false to me.”

“My husband?”

“Your husband.”

“He knew that Desdemona committed adultery and broke the marriage vows she made in church?”

“Yes, she committed adultery with Cassio. Had she been true to me and had not committed adultery, I would not have traded her for a Heaven-made precious gem the size of the Earth.”

“My husband?”

“Yes, he told me first about her adultery. He is an honest man, and he hates the slime that sticks on filthy deeds.”

“My husband?”

“Why do you keep saying that, woman? Yes, it was your husband, Iago.”

“Oh, mistress, villainy has made a mockery of your love! Was it my husband who said that she was false to you!”

“Yes, woman,” Othello said. “I say that it was he, your husband, who told me that my wife was committing adultery with Cassio. Do you understand the word ‘husband’? I am talking about my friend, your husband: honest, honest Iago.”

“If he said that Desdemona committed adultery, may his pernicious, destructive, and evil soul rot in Hell forever! He lies entirely — all the way to his heart. Desdemona was too fond of her most filthy bargain — her marriage — to commit adultery.”

“Ha!” Othello said, and he drew his sword.

“Do your worst to me,” Emilia said. “This deed of yours is no more worthy of Heaven than you were worthy of her.”

“Shut up, if you are wise!”

“You have not half the power to do me harm as I have the power to endure that hurt. You are a fool! You are an idiot! You are as ignorant as dirt! You have done an evil deed — I am not afraid of your sword! I will make your evil deed known to all, and I would do that even if I lost twenty lives!”

She shouted, “Help! Help! Help! The Moor has killed my mistress! Murder! Murder!”

Montano, Gratiano, and Iago entered the room.

“What is the matter?” Montano asked. “How are you now, general?”

Emilia saw her husband and said, “Oh, have you come, Iago?”

She added, sarcastically, “You have done well — men are blaming their murders on you.”

Gratiano asked, “What is the matter?”

Emilia said to Iago, “Prove that Othello is lying, if you are a man. He says that you told him that his wife was false to him and had committed adultery. I know that you did not — you are not such a villain. Speak, because my heart is heavy with grief.”

“I told him what I thought to be true,” Iago said, “and I told him no more than what he himself found was reasonable, believable, and true.”

“But did you ever tell him that Desdemona was false to him and had committed adultery?”

“I did.”

“Then you told a lie — an odious, damned lie. I swear upon my soul that you told a lie, a wicked lie. Desdemona false with Cassio! Did you say that she committed adultery with Cassio?”

“With Cassio, mistress,” Iago said. “Put a spell on your tongue to silence it.”

“I will not be silent,” Emilia said. “I must speak. My mistress, Desdemona, here lies murdered in her bed —”

Shocked, Montano and Gratiano said, “Heaven forbid!”

Emilia finished, “— and, Iago, your lying reports have caused the murder.”

Montano and Gratiano stared at Othello, who said, “Do not stare, masters. What Emilia said is true, indeed. I have killed my wife.”

Gratiano said, “It is a strange truth.”

“It is a monstrous act!” Montano said.

“Villainy, villainy, villainy!” Emilia said. “I know it. I smell it. Oh, villainy! I suspected it previously. I’ll kill myself out of grief. Oh, villainy, villainy!”

“What, are you insane?” Iago said. “I order you to go home.”

“Good gentlemen, let me have leave to speak,” Emilia said. “It is usually proper for me to obey my husband, but it is not proper now. Perhaps, Iago, I will never again go home.”

Overcome with emotion, Othello groaned and fell on Desdemona’s bed.

“Lie down there and roar with grief,” Emilia said to him. “You have killed the sweetest innocent who ever lifted her eyes to Heaven as she prayed.”

Othello was still unwilling to accept the truth. He stood up and said, “Desdemona was foul.”

He looked at Gratiano, Desdemona’s uncle, who was therefore his uncle-in-law, and said, “I scarcely did recognize you, uncle. There lies your niece, whose breath, indeed, these hands have newly stopped. I know that this act appears to be horrible and grim.”

“Poor Desdemona!” Gratiano said. “I am glad that your father is dead. Your marriage to Othello was deadly to him; his grief at your marriage cut his life short — the Fates cut his thread of life. If he were still alive, this sight would make him do something desperate. He would curse his guardian angel and drive it away from his side, commit suicide, and fall into a state of damnation.”

“This sight is pitiful,” Othello said, “but Iago knows that she has committed adultery with Cassio a thousand times; Cassio himself confessed it, and she rewarded his amorous works with the first love-token that I gave to her. I saw it in his hand: It was a handkerchief: an antique love-token that my father gave my mother.”

“Oh, Heaven!” Emilia cried. “Oh, Heavenly powers!”

“Shut up!” Iago ordered her.

“The truth will come out! The truth will come out! Will I shut up? No, I will speak as liberally as the North Wind that violently blows with bitter cold. Let Heaven and men and devils, let them all, all, all, cry shame against me because I am disobeying my husband, yet I’ll speak.”

“Be wise, shut up, and go home,” Iago said.

“I will not.”

Iago drew his sword and threatened his wife.

Gratiano was shocked: “You would draw your sword against a woman!”

“You dull Moor!” Emilia said. “By chance, I found that handkerchief you are talking about, and I gave it to my husband. Often, solemnly and earnestly, despite the handkerchief being just a trifle, he had asked me to steal it.”

“You are a villainous whore!” Iago said to his wife.

“Did Desdemona give that handkerchief to Cassio? No! I found it, and I gave it to my husband.”

“Filth, you lie!” Iago shouted.

“By Heaven, I do not. I do not, gentlemen,” Emilia said.

She said to Othello, “Oh, murderous fool! What could such a fool as you do with so good a woman? You did not deserve her!”

Realizing that Emilia was telling the truth, Othello said, “Are there no lightning bolts in Heaven but those that are used with the thunder? Will no lightning bolts strike Iago dead?”

Othello said to Iago, “You are thoroughly a villain!”

Sword drawn, Othello ran at Iago, but Montano disarmed Othello. Iago stabbed Emilia and then fled.

Gratiano said, “Emilia has fallen. No doubt this villain has killed his wife.”

“I am dying,” Emilia said. “Lay me by my mistress’ side.”

With help from Montano and Gratiano, she staggered to the bed and lay on it.

Gratiano said, “Iago has fled, and his wife has suffered a mortal wound.”

“Iago is a notorious villain,” Montano said.

He said to Gratiano, “Take this weapon, which I have just taken from the Moor, and guard the door from the outside. Do not let him pass through the doorway — kill him if you have to. I will run after Iago, that damned villain — he is a damned servant of evil.”

Montano and Gratiano exited the bedchamber. They thought that Emilia had died.

Othello said to himself, “I have lost my valor. Any puny whippersnapper can take my sword from me. But why should my reputation for valor outlast my valor? My reputation for honor should not outlast my honor.”

Emilia said softly on the bed, “What did your song foretell, lady? Can you hear me? Swans are silent during their lives and sing only when they are dying. I will be like the swan and die as I sing.”

She sang, “Willow, willow, willow—”

She added, “Moor, Desdemona was chaste and did not engage in immoral sex; she loved you, cruel Moor. I swear on my immortal soul that I am telling you the truth. I am telling you the truth as my soul goes to Paradise.”

Those were Emilia’s last words.

Othello said, “I have another weapon in this bedchamber; it is a sword of Spain, tempered in an icy brook. Here it is.”

He held the sword in his hand as he called, “Uncle, I must come out of this room.”

Gratiano replied, “If you attempt to leave, it will cost you dearly. You have no weapon, I do have a weapon, and therefore you will suffer.”

“Come in here and talk to me,” Othello said, “or, defenseless as I am, I will attack you.”

Gratiano entered the room and said, “What do you want?”

Othello displayed his sword and said, “Look, I have a weapon. A better sword has never hung upon a soldier’s thigh. I have seen the day that with my little arm and this good sword, I have made my way through impediments with more than twenty times your power to stop me, but I am vainly boasting. Who can control his fate? I cannot do that now. Don’t be afraid, although you see me with a weapon. Here is the end of my journey — here is my stopping place and the marker that announces the farthest extent of my life.”

Gratiano backed away from Othello, who asked, “Do you retreat in dismay? You are wasting your fear. Point a mere straw at Othello’s chest, and I will give up. Where should Othello go?”

Othello looked at Desdemona’s corpse and said, “How do you look now? Oh, ill-starred woman! You are as pale as your smock! When we shall meet on Judgment Day, this look of yours will hurl my soul from Heaven, and fiends will snatch at it and carry it away to Hell. You are cold, cold, my girl! Your chastity — your avoidance of immoral sex — lacked the heat of immoral lust. I am a cursed sinner! Whip me, devils, from the possession of this Heavenly sight! Desdemona and I will be separated in the afterlife — her abode is in Heaven, and mine is in Hell! Let hot winds blow on me! Roast me in sulfur! Wash me in precipitous chasms of liquid fire! Desdemona! Desdemona, you are dead! I have murdered you!”

Lodovico and Montano entered the room. With them was Cassio, who was being carried in a sedan chair. Officers also entered the room, leading Iago, their prisoner.

Lodovico asked, “Where is Othello, that rash and most unfortunate man?”

“The man who was Othello is here,” Othello said. “I am he.”

Lodovico said, “Where is that viper named Iago? Bring the villain forward.”

Othello said, “I look down at Iago’s feet, but he does not have cloven feet — that story about devils is a fable.”

Othello said to Iago, “If you are an immortal devil, then I cannot kill you.”

Othello slashed Iago with his sword.

“Wrench his sword away from him,” Lodovico ordered.

Othello was disarmed.

Iago said to Othello, “I bleed, sir; but I am not killed.”

“I am not sorry that you are alive,” Othello said. “I prefer that you stay alive. I know now that it is happiness to die. It is better to die than to be alive.”

“Othello, you were once a very good man,” Lodovico said, “but you fell into the trap of this damned evil man. What can I say to you?”

“Say anything you wish,” Othello said. “Call me an honorable murderer, if you will. I did nothing out of hatred; I acted only out of honorable motives.”

“This wretched Iago has partly confessed his villainy,” Lodovico said. “Did you and he agree to cause Cassio’s death?”

“Yes,” Othello replied.

Cassio said, “Respected general, I never gave you cause to wish my death.”

“I believe you, and I beg you to forgive me,” Othello said. “Will you, please, ask that demi-devil why he has thus ensnared my soul and body?”

“Ask me nothing,” Iago said. “What you know, you know: From this time forward, I will never speak another word.”

“Not even to pray?” Lodovico asked.

Gratiano said, “Torture will open your lips.”

“Torture is an excellent idea,” Othello said.

Lodovico said to Othello, “Sir, you shall understand what has happened. You do not, I think, know all the story. Here is a letter found in the pocket of the slain Roderigo, and here is another letter. The first letter is from Iago to Roderigo and contains information intended to help Roderigo kill Cassio.”

“Iago is a villain,” Othello said.

Cassio said, “This attempted murder is very heathenish and very gross!”

“Here is another letter that we found in Roderigo’s pocket,” Lodovico said. “It seems that Roderigo meant to send this letter of complaint to Iago but Iago met with Roderigo just before he sent the letter; Iago answered his complaints.”

“Iago is a pernicious caitiff!” Othello said. “He is a malignant and contemptible person!”

He added, “Cassio, how did you come to possess that handkerchief that belonged to my wife?”

“I found it in my bedchamber,” Cassio replied. “Iago himself confessed just now that he dropped it there as part of his plan to ruin you.”

“I have been a fool!” Othello said. “A fool! A fool!”

Cassio said, “Roderigo’s letter in which he upbraids Iago contains more information. Roderigo wrote that Iago made him attack me while I was on guard duty, resulting in my dismissal as Othello’s lieutenant. Just now Roderigo gave us more information. We thought that he had been dead a long time, but he revived briefly before dying for real and told us that Iago had wounded him and that previously Iago had urged him to try to murder me.”

Lodovico said to Othello, “You must leave this room, and go with us. Your power and your command are removed from you; Cassio now rules in Cyprus. As for this villain, Iago, if there exists any cunning cruelty that can torment him greatly without killing him for a long time, he will feel that torture. You, Othello, will be our prisoner until we inform the Venetian government about the nature of your fault. The Venetian government will decide what shall be done with you.”

He said to the guards in the bedchamber, “Come, take the Moor away.”

Othello said, “Wait. Let me say a word or two before you go. I have done the Venetian government some service, and they know it, but no more of that. Please, in your letters, when you shall relate these unlucky deeds, speak of me as I am. Make no excuses for me, and do not write anything out of malice. You must write about me as one who loved not wisely but too well — I should have loved moderately but instead I loved excessively. You must write about me as one who was not easily jealous, but as one who was manipulated into being extremely jealous. You must write about me as one whose hand, like the hand of a lowly ranking man of India, threw a pearl away that was more valuable than all his tribe. You must write about me as one whose eyes, although unaccustomed to crying, dropped tears when overcome with grief as quickly as Arabian trees drop the medicinal myrrh that oozes from them. Write all this down, and add that in Aleppo once, where a malignant and evil turbaned Turkish Muslim beat a Venetian man and slandered the Venetian state, I took the circumcised Muslim dog by the throat and killed him although it was a capital crime for a Christian — and I am a Christian — to strike a Turk.”

Othello was a military man, and military men often keep weapons hidden on their bodies. Othello took out a hidden dagger and said, “I killed the Turk like this” — then he stabbed himself mortally.

Lodovico said, “This is a bloody conclusion to Othello’s life!”

“All that we planned to do concerning Othello is ruined,” Gratiano said. “It is no longer applicable.”

Othello said to Desdemona’s corpse, “I kissed you before I killed you. There is nothing left to do but this — having killed myself, to die with a kiss.”

He fell on the bed, kissed Desdemona’s corpse, and died.

“I was afraid that Othello might try to kill himself,” Cassio said, “but I thought he had no weapon. Othello was great of heart.”

Lodovico said to Iago, “You vicious Spartan dog — deadlier than anguish, hunger, or the sea! — look at the tragic corpses on this bed. This is your doing. This spectacle poisons men’s sight.”

He ordered, “Draw the bed curtains and let the corpses be hidden from sight.”

He then said, “Gratiano, stay in the house, and take legal possession of the belongings and money of the Moor. You are the next of kin, and you inherit his fortune.”

He said to Cassio, “To you, lord governor, falls the punishment of Iago, this Hellish villain; you decide the time, the place, the torture — enforce justice!”

He concluded, “I myself will immediately return to Venice, and to the Venetian state, I will these sad events with heavy heart relate.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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