Othello- a Moor of Africa and general of the navy of Venice. Brabantio - father of Desdemona, and formerly a friend of Othello.

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1 The Tragedy of OTHELLO The Moor of Venice Characters: Othello- a Moor of Africa and general of the navy of Venice Desdemona - wife of Othello. Brabantio - father of Desdemona, and formerly a friend of Othello. Cassio- second in command to the Moor (lieutenant). Iago - third in command under Othello (Ensign or Ancient ). Emilia - wife of Iago and personal assistant to Desdemona. Roderigo - a rejected suitor of Desdemona, and still in love. Montano - the head of the navy in Cyprus Story: Brabantio, the rich senator of Venice, had a fine daughter, the gentle Desdemona. She was sought by many suitors on account of her many qualities - her beauty, her intelligence, and her wealth. But among her many suitors she saw few she could love: for this lady regarded the mind and the character as the most important features of a man. She chose for the object of her affections a Moor - a black man - with whom her father worked in governing the military of Venice. Othello was a soldier. By his conduct in many wars against the Turkish Army of the Turks, he had risen to the rank of general in the Venetian service; He was esteemed and trusted by the state. Early in his life, Othello had been a traveler, and young Desdemona loved to hear him tell the story of his adventures, which he would run through from his earliest memories - he told her of the battles and sieges he had experienced. He narrated the perils he had been exposed to by land and by water, his hair- 1

2 breadth escapes, his fights struggles. Othello told his listeners how he had been taken prisoner by the enemy and sold to slavery in Africa. All were fascinated to hear how he escaped his slavery, traveled the wilderness of the African continent in search of freedom. These travelers' stories would so capture the attention of Desdemona. She would return again and again to hear, and with a greedy ear, devour more of Othello's stories. Their affection grew from this innocent connection. Upon her hints, he spoke more openly of his love, and, in this opportunity, gained the consent of the generous lady Desdemona privately to marry him. Othello's color was such that it could not be hoped that her father, Brabantio, would accept him for a son-in-law. Brabantio respected Othello, but he expected that, as the manner of noble Venetian ladies was, Desdemona would choose a white husband of senatorial rank. But in this hope he was deceived. Desdemona loved the Moor, though he was black, and devoted her heart and fortunes to his qualities. His color meant nothing to her; his valor meant everything. She esteemed him above all the white skins and rich bank accounts of the young Venetian noblemen. All seemed well with a marriage based upon love. But two men were determined to ruin this marriage. Iago, Othello s third in command secretly hated his superior. Iago was angry that a young college man had been promoted ahead of him to become the Moor s second in command. The other one who hated Othello was Roderigo. Roderigo, a young man with a hopeless crush on Desdemona was determined to get the girl for himself - even if it meant destroying Othello s reputation. These two discontented players worked together to convince Desdemona s father that Othello had stolen Desdemona with drugs, witchcraft, and deceit. Their marriage could not long be kept a secret. It came to the ears of Desdemona s father, Brabantio, who appeared in a solemn meeting of the senate to accuse the Moor of witchcraft. According to Brabantio, Othello used spells and witchcraft to seduce the affections of the fair Desdemona to marry him. The Senate would have to consider theses charges amid a far more pressing danger - war. 2

3 At this point in time, it happened that the nation state of Venice had immediate need of the services of Othello. Why? News having arrived that the Turkish navy had fitted out a fleet, which was setting its course to the island of Cyprus, with intent to regain that strong post from the Venetians, who then held it. In this emergency, the state turned its eyes upon Othello, who alone was judged a good enough admiral to conduct the defense of Cyprus against the Turks. Othello, now summoned before the Senate, stood in their presence at once as a candidate for a great state employment, and as a defendant, charged with offenses against the marriage laws of Venice. The age and senatorial character of old Brabantio commanded a serious hearing from that assembly. But the angry father conducted his accusation with so much rage that, when Othello was called upon for his defense, he had only to relate a plain tale of the course of his love to adequately defend himself and his actions. Othello did this with such an eloquence, recounting the whole story of his courtship, and delivered his speech with so noble a plainness, that the duke, who sat as chief judge, could not help confessing that a tale so told would have won his daughter too. The so called spells which Othello had used in his courtship plainly appeared to have been no more than the honest arts of an honest man in love. According to the Duke, the only witchcraft Othello had used was the faculty of telling a fascinating tale to win a lady's heart. This statement by Othello was confirmed by the testimony of the lady Desdemona herself, who appeared in court. Although she professed a duty to her father for life and education, Desdemona professed a higher duty to her new husband. The old senator, unable to maintain his plea against the preference of his own daughter, angrily bestowed his Desdemona to Othello. But the angry Brabantio offered one angry warning to Othello: Look to her, if you have eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and she may deceive you. With these warning words, the marital matter was over. The senate now turned its attention to the war with Turkey for the possession of the Mediterranean Sea and the island of Cyprus. 3

4 Othello, to whom custom had rendered the hardships of a military life as natural as food and rest are to other men, readily undertook the management of the wars in Cyprus; and Desdemona, preferring the honor of her lord before the enjoyment of those delights in which newlyweds usually spend their time, cheerfully consented to going. No sooner were Othello and his lady landed in Cyprus than news arrived that a desperate storm had destroyed the Turkish fleet, and thus the island was secure from any immediate fear of an attack. Among all the general's friends, no one held the confidence of Othello more entirely than Cassio. Michael Cassio was a young soldier - a Florentine. He was handsome, eloquent, and admired by the women around him - exactly such a person as might alarm the jealousy of any man. But Othello respected Cassio for his excellence - in war, in learning, and in life. So much did Othello like this young Florentine that he had employed Cassio as a go between in his love affair with Desdemona. Othello, fearing that he himself lacked those soft parts of conversation which please ladies, and finding these qualities in his friend, would often ask Cassio to go courting for him. It may come as no wonder that, next to Othello himself, the gentle Desdemona cared for and trusted Cassio. Michael Cassio frequently visited their house, and Desdemona and Cassio would talk and laugh together as in the days when he went courting for his friend. Othello had recently promoted Cassio to be his lieutenant, a place of trust and power. This promotion gave great offence to Iago, an older officer who thought he had a better claim than Cassio to the position. This Iago had to satisfy himself with the job of Third in Command - also known as Ancient and Ensign. Iago would often gossip about Cassio as a fellow fit only for the company of ladies, and one who knew no more of the art of war or how to set an army in position for battle than a girl. Iago hated Cassio, and he hated Othello, as much for favoring Cassio as for an unjust suspicion, which he had lightly taken up against Othello, that the Moor was too fond of his wife, Emilia. 4

5 From these imaginary provocations, the plotting mind of Iago conceived a horrid scheme of revenge, which would involve Cassio, the Moor, and Desdemona, in one common destruction. Iago was clever, and he had studied human nature deeply. He knew that of all the torments which afflict the mind of man, the pains of jealousy were the most intolerable. If he could succeed in making Othello jealous of Cassio, he thought it would be an exquisite plot of revenge, and might end in the death of Cassio or Othello, or both. So Iago hatched a plan. The arrival of the general and his lady, in Cyprus, meeting with the news of the dispersion of the enemy's fleet, made a sort of holiday in the island. Everybody gave themselves up to feasting and party. Wine flowed in abundance, and cups went round to the health of the black Othello, and his lady, the fair Desdemona. Cassio had command of the security guards that night, with a charge from Othello to keep the soldiers from excess in drinking, that no brawl might arise, to fright the inhabitants, or disgust them with the new-landed forces. That night Iago began his deep-laid plans of mischief. Iago knew that Cassio avoided alcohol - because it affected him badly. So he enticed Cassio to make rather too free with the bottle (a great fault in an officer upon guard). Cassio for a time resisted, but he could not long hold out against the persuasion that Iago knew how to put on. Once he began, Cassio fell to swallowing glass after glass. Cassio drank until at last the alcohol which he put into his mouth stole away his brains; and upon some provocation given him by a fellow whom Iago had set on to offend him, swords were drawn and a fight began. Montano, a worthy officer, who stepped in to end the fight, was wounded in the scuffle. The riot now began to be general, and Iago, who had instigated the mischief, was foremost in spreading the alarm, causing the castle-bell to be rung (as if some dangerous mutiny instead of a slight drunken quarrel had arisen). The alarm-bell - ringing as a response to the fight - awakened Othello. Dressing quickly and coming to the scene of action, he questioned Cassio 5

6 about the cause. Cassio had now come to himself - the effect of the wine having a little gone off. But he was too ashamed to reply to Othello. lago, pretending a great reluctance to accuse Cassio, gave an account of the whole matter in such a manner as, while he seemed to make Cassio's offense less, did indeed make it appear greater than it was. The result was, that Othello, who was a strict observer of discipline, took away Cassio's position of lieutenant from him. Thus did Iago's first trick succeed completely; he had now undermined his hated rival, and thrust him out of his job. Cassio, whom this misfortune had entirely sobered, now saw the damage he had done to himself. He was undone, for how could he ask the general for his position again? Iago said that Cassio, or any man living, might be drunk upon occasion; it remained now to make the best of a bad bargain. But how? Iago offered Cassio a fateful suggestion: Ask Othello s wife to help you. The terrible consequences of that suggestion form the story of OTHELLO, as you will see. 6

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