| Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare|
|by Edith Nesbit|
|Twenty stories from Shakespeare retold in lively prose. The author makes the complex language of Shakespeare's greatest plays accessible to young children by relating the stories that form the core of the plays. Her graceful, vivid retellings are the perfect introduction to Shakespeare's works. Ages 9-12 |
OTHELLO TELLING DESDEMONA HIS ADVENTURES.
OUR hundred years ago there lived in Venice an ensign named Iago,
who hated his general, Othello, for not making him a lieutenant.
Instead of Iago, who was strongly recommended, Othello had chosen
Michael Cassio, whose smooth tongue had helped him to win the
heart of Desdemona. lago had a friend called Roderigo, who supplied
him with money and felt he could not be happy unless Desdemona
was his wife.
 Othello was a Moor, but of so dark a complexion that his enemies
called him a Blackamoor. His life had been hard and exciting.
He had been vanquished in battle and sold into slavery; and he
had been a great traveler and seen men whose shoulders were higher
than their heads. Brave as a lion, he had one great fault—jealousy.
His love was a terrible selfishness. To love a woman meant with
him to possess her as absolutely as he possessed something that
did not live and think. The story of Othello is a story of jealousy.
One night Iago told Roderigo that Othello had carried off Desdemona
without the knowledge of her father, Brabantio. He persuaded
Roderigo to arouse Brabantio, and when that senator appeared Iago
told him of Desdemona's elopement in the most unpleasant way.
Though he was Othello's officer, he termed him a thief and a
Brabantio accused Othello before the Duke of Venice of using sorcery
to fascinate his daughter, but Othello said that the only sorcery
he used was his voice, which told Desdemona his adventures and
hair-breadth escapes. Desdemona was led into the
and she explained how she could love Othello despite his almost
black face by saying, "I saw Othello's visage in his mind."
As Othello had married Desdemona, and she was glad to be his wife,
there was no more to be said against him, especially as the Duke
wished him to go to Cyprus to defend it against the Turks. Othello
was quite ready to go, and Desdemona, who pleaded to go with him,
was permitted to join him at Cyprus.
Othello's feelings on landing in this island were intensely joyful.
 sweet," he said to Desdemona, who arrived with Iago, his
wife, and Roderigo before him, "I hardly know what I say to you.
I am in love with my own happiness."
News coming presently that the Turkish fleet was out of action, he
proclaimed a festival in Cyprus from five to eleven at night.
Cassio was on duty in the Castle where Othello ruled Cyprus, so
Iago decided to make the lieutenant drink too much. He had some
difficulty, as Cassio knew that wine soon went to his head, but
servants brought wine into the room where Cassio was, and Iago
sang a drinking song, and so Cassio lifted a glass too often to
the health of the general.
When Cassio was inclined to be quarrelsome, Iago told Roderigo to
say something unpleasant to him. Cassio cudgeled Roderigo, who
ran into the presence of Montano, the ex-governor. Montano civilly
interceded for Roderigo, but received so rude an answer from Cassio
that he said, "Come, come, you're drunk!" Cassio then wounded him,
and Iago sent Roderigo out to scare the town with a cry of mutiny.
 The uproar aroused Othello, who, on learning its cause, said,
"Cassio, I love thee, but never more be officer of mine."
On Cassio and Iago being alone together, the disgraced man moaned
about his reputation. Iago said reputation and humbug were the
same thing. "O God," exclaimed Cassio, without heeding him, "that
men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their
Iago advised him to beg Desdemona to ask Othello to pardon him.
Cassio was pleased with the advice, and next morning made his
request to Desdemona in the garden of the castle. She was kindness
itself, and said, "Be merry, Cassio, for I would rather die than
forsake your cause."
Cassio at that moment saw Othello advancing with Iago, and retired
Iago said, "I don't like that."
"What did you say?" asked Othello, who felt that he had meant
something unpleasant, but Iago pretended he had said nothing.
"Was not that Cassio who went from my wife?" asked Othello, and
Iago, who knew that it was Cassio and why it was Cassio,
 said, "I
cannot think it was Cassio who stole away in that guilty manner."
Desdemona told Othello that it was grief and humility which made
Cassio retreat at his approach. She reminded him how Cassio had
taken his part when she was still heart-free, and found fault with
her Moorish lover. Othello was melted, and said, "I will deny
thee nothing," but Desdemona told him that what she asked was as
much for his good as dining.
Desdemona left the garden, and Iago asked if it was really true
that Cassio had known Desdemona before her marriage.
"Yes," said Othello.
"Indeed," said Iago, as though something that had mystified him
was now very clear.
"Is he not honest?" demanded Othello, and Iago repeated the adjective
inquiringly, as though he were afraid to say "No."
"What do you mean?" insisted Othello.
To this Iago would only say the flat opposite of what he said to
Cassio. He had told Cassio that reputation was humbug. To Othello
he said, "Who
 steals my purse steals trash, but he who filches
from me my good name ruins me."
At this Othello almost leapt into the air, and Iago was so confident
of his jealousy that he ventured to warn him against it. Yes, it
was no other than Iago who called jealousy "the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on."
Iago having given jealousy one blow, proceeded to feed it with the
remark that Desdemona deceived her father when she eloped with
Othello. "If she deceived him, why not you?" was his meaning.
Presently Desdemona re-entered to tell Othello that dinner was
ready. She saw that he was ill at ease. He explained it by a
pain in his forehead. Desdemona then produced a handkerchief,
which Othello had given her. A prophetess, two hundred years old,
had made this handkerchief from the silk of sacred silkworms, dyed
it in a liquid prepared from the hearts of maidens, and embroidered
it with strawberries. Gentle Desdemona thought of it simply as
a cool, soft thing for a throbbing brow; she knew of no spell upon
it that would work destruction for her who lost it. "Let me tie
 your head," she said to Othello; "you will be well in an
hour." But Othello pettishly said it was too small, and let it
fall. Desdemona and he then went indoors to dinner, and Emilia
picked up the handkerchief which Iago had often asked her to steal.
She was looking at it when Iago came in. After a few words about
it he snatched it from her, and bade her leave him.
THE DRINK OF WINE.
In the garden he was joined by Othello, who seemed hungry for the
worst lies he could offer. He therefore told Othello that he had
seen Cassio wipe his mouth with a handkerchief, which, because it
was spotted with strawberries, he
 guessed to be one that Othello
had given his wife.
The unhappy Moor went mad with fury, and Iago bade the heavens
witness that he devoted his hand and heart and brain to Othello's
service. "I accept your love," said Othello. "Within three days
let me hear that Cassio is dead."
Iago's next step was to leave Desdemona's handkerchief in Cassio's
room. Cassio saw it, and knew it was not his, but he liked the
strawberry pattern on it, and he gave it to his sweetheart Bianca
and asked her to copy it for him.
Iago's next move was to induce Othello, who had been bullying
Desdemona about the handkerchief, to play the eavesdropper to a
conversation between Cassio and himself. His intention was to
talk about Cassio's sweetheart, and allow Othello to suppose that
the lady spoken of was Desdemona.
"How are you, lieutenant?" asked Iago when Cassio appeared.
"The worse for being called what I am not," replied Cassio, gloomily.
"Keep on reminding Desdemona, and you'll soon be restored," said
Iago, adding, in a tone too low
 for Othello to hear, "If Bianca
could set the matter right, how quickly it would mend!"
"Alas! poor rogue," said Cassio, "I really think she loves me,"
and like the talkative coxcomb he was, Cassio was led on to boast
of Bianca's fondness for him, while Othello imagined, with choked
rage, that he prattled of Desdemona, and thought, "I see your
nose, Cassio, but not the dog I shall throw it to."
Othello was still spying when Bianca entered, boiling over with
the idea that Cassio, whom she considered her property, had asked
her to copy the embroidery on the handkerchief of a new sweetheart.
She tossed him the handkerchief with scornful words, and Cassio
departed with her.
Othello had seen Bianca, who was in station lower, in beauty and
speech inferior far, to Desdemona, and he began in spite of himself
to praise his wife to the villain before him. He praised her
skill with the needle, her voice that could "sing the savageness
out of a bear," her wit, her sweetness, the fairness of her skin.
Every time he praised her Iago said something that made him
remember his anger and utter
 it foully, and yet he must needs
praise her, and say, "The pity of it, Iago! O Iago, the pity of
There was never in all Iago's villainy one moment of wavering. If
there had been he might have wavered then.
"Strangle her," he said; and "Good, good!" said his miserable dupe.
The pair were still talking murder when Desdemona appeared with a
relative of Desdemona's father, called Lodovico, who bore a letter
for Othello from the Duke of Venice. The letter recalled Othello
from Cyprus, and gave the governorship to Cassio.
Luckless Desdemona seized this unhappy moment to urge once more
the suit of Cassio.
"Fire and brimstone!" shouted Othello.
"It may be the letter agitates him," explained Lodovico to Desdemona,
and he told her what it contained.
"I am glad," said Desdemona. It was the first bitter speech that
Othello's unkindness had wrung out of her.
"I am glad to see you lose your temper," said Othello.
 "Why, sweet Othello?" she asked, sarcastically; and Othello slapped
CASSIO GIVES BIANA THE HANDKERCHIEF.
Now was the time for Desdemona to have saved her life by separation,
but she knew not her peril—only that her love was wounded to the
core. "I have not deserved this," she said, and the tears rolled
slowly down her face.
 Lodovico was shocked and disgusted. "My lord," he said, "this
would not be believed in Venice. Make her amends;" but, like a
madman talking in his nightmare, Othello poured out his foul
thought in ugly speech, and roared, "Out of my sight!"
"I will not stay to offend you," said his wife, but she lingered
even in going, and only when he shouted "Avaunt!" did she leave
her husband and his guests.
Othello then invited Lodovico to supper, adding, "You are welcome,
sir, to Cyprus. Goats and monkeys!" Without waiting for a reply
he left the company.
Distinguished visitors detest being obliged to look on at family
quarrels, and dislike being called either goats or monkeys, and
Lodovico asked Iago for an explanation.
True to himself, Iago, in a round-about way, said that Othello was
worse than he seemed, and advised them to study his behavior and
save him from the discomfort of answering any more questions.
He proceeded to tell Roderigo to murder Cassio. Roderigo was out
of tune with his friend. He had
 given Iago quantities of jewels
for Desdemona without effect; Desdemona had seen none of them,
for Iago was a thief.
Iago smoothed him with a lie, and when Cassio was leaving Bianca's
house, Roderigo wounded him, and was wounded in return. Cassio
shouted, and Lodovico and a friend came running up. Cassio pointed
out Roderigo as his assailant, and Iago, hoping to rid himself of
an inconvenient friend, called him "Villain!" and stabbed him,
but not to death.
At the Castle, Desdemona was in a sad mood. She told Emilia that
she must leave her; her husband wished it. "Dismiss me!" exclaimed
Emilia. "It was his bidding," said Desdemona; "we must not displease
She sang a song which a girl had sung whose lover had been base to
her—a song of a maiden crying by that tree whose boughs droop as
though it weeps, and she went to bed and slept.
She woke with her husband's wild eyes upon her. "Have you prayed
to-night?" he asked; and he told this blameless and sweet woman
to ask God's
par-  don for any sin she might have on her conscience.
"I would not kill thy soul," he said.
He told her that Cassio had confessed, but she knew Cassio had
nought to confess that concerned her. She said that Cassio could
not say anything that would damage her. Othello said his mouth
 Then Desdemona wept, but with violent words, in spite of all her
pleading, Othello pressed upon her throat and mortally hurt her.
Then with boding heart came Emilia, and besought entrance at the
door, and Othello unlocked it, and a voice came from the bed
saying, "A guiltless death I die."
"Who did it?" cried Emilia; and the voice said, "Nobody—I myself.
"'Twas I that killed her," said Othello.
He poured out his evidence by that sad bed to the people who came
running in, Iago among them; but when he spoke of the handkerchief,
Emilia told the truth.
And Othello knew. "Are there no stones in heaven but thunderbolts?"
he exclaimed, and ran at Iago, who gave Emilia her death-blow and
But they brought him back, and the death that came to him later on
was a relief from torture.
They would have taken Othello back to Venice to try him there, but
he escaped them on his sword. "A word or two before you go," he
said to the Venetians in the chamber. "Speak of me as I
was—  no better, no worse. Say I cast away the pearl of pearls, and wept
with these hard eyes; and say that, when in Aleppo years ago I
saw a Turk beating a Venetian, I took him by the throat and smote
With his own hand he stabbed himself to the heart; and ere he died
his lips touched the face of Desdemona with despairing love.
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