Roderigo was angry. He interrupted Iago’s smooth explanation in mid flow.
‘Rubbish! I take it very unkindly that you, Iago, who have had the use of my purse as though its strings were your own, knew this was going on.’
Iago matched his tone. ‘For God’s sake!’ he snapped. ‘You won’t even listen! If I even imagined this then hate me.’
They walked along a dark canalside alley, passing beneath the stone arches that supported the wealthy houses in that part of Venice.
‘You told me you hated him,’ said Roderigo petulantly.
‘Despise me if I don’t,’ retorted Iago. ‘Three of our greatest city dignitaries approached him with a petition to make me his Lieutenant. I swear I know my value – I’m worth no less a rank. But he sweeps them aside with a bombastic beating about the bush, with a speech horribly stuffed with military language, and in conclusion, cuts the ground from under their feet.’ Putting on a deep pompous voice, Iago continued: ‘Indeed,’ says he, ‘I have already chosen my officer.’ And what was he? Believe it or not, a great theorist, one Michael Cassio, a Florentine, a fellow who’s never put a squad in the battlefield – who knows as much about war as a spinster does, apart from the theory of it that you can get from books. Our Venetian consuls in their togues can talk war with as much authority as he can. All talk and no action is the sum total of his soldiership. But he got the job. And I, who have proved myself to him at Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other battlefields both Christian and heathen, have to be cut off and put down. This clerk is about to become his Lieutenant and I – for God’s sake! – his Moorship’s Ensign.’
Roderigo nodded vigorously. ‘By heaven, I would rather be his hangman!’
‘Nothing I can do about it. It’s the curse of military service – promotion goes by favouritism and not by seniority, where you work yourself up step by step.’ Iago took Roderigo’s arm and stopped him. ‘Now, Sir,’ he said. ‘Judge for yourself whether I have any reason to love the Moor.’
‘Roderigo looked smug. ‘I wouldn’t work for him then.’
‘Oh Sir.’ Iago smiled. ‘Don’t you worry. I work for him so that I can get my own back. We can’t all be masters and not all masters can be followed. You see it all the time – dutiful, knee-crooking servants who seem to love their own humiliating slavery and go through life like donkeys for nothing more than their food. And when they’re old, they’re dumped. I’ve got no time for such honest fools.’
Iago began walking again and Roderigo followed. ‘But there are others who cultivate the illusion of duty while their minds are firmly on themselves. They only pretend to be serving their masters, do well out of it, and when they have lined their pockets, they’ve done themselves a favour. These fellows have some soul. I have to tell you that I’m one of them. As sure as you are Roderigo, if I were the Moor I would not want to be Iago. In serving him I’m only serving myself. As heaven is my judge I don’t do it for love and duty – but only seem to be doing that and it’s for my own special benefit. If my outward actions were a true reflection of what’s in my heart then I might as well wear my heart on the outside for jackdaws to peck at. I am not what I am.’
Roderigo was thinking his own thoughts. ‘What’s the thick-lips got that he can get away with this?’ he said.
‘Wake her father up,’ said Iago. ‘Let them disturb him and pursue him and spoil his pleasure. Shout his name out in the streets; get her relatives worked up, let the fertile climate he’s enjoying be plagued with flies. You can take the shine off his pleasure.’
They were outside one of the biggest houses in Venice, a smart, well cared for mansion.
‘This is her father’s house,’ said Roderigo. ‘I’ll call aloud.’
‘Do that,’ said Iago. ‘Do it loudly and urgently, as though the house were on fire.’
Roderigo cupped his hands around his mouth . ‘Hey! Brabantio. Signior Brabantio. Ho!’
Iago stepped into the shadows and took a deep breath. Then he shouted too. ‘Wake up! Hey, Brabantio! Thieves, thieves! Watch out for your house, your daughter, your goods. Thieves, thieves!’
One of the windows began to glow dimly and it opened. Brabantio’s nightcapped head emerged. ‘What’s all this noise?’ he said. ‘What’s going on down there?’
‘Signior,’ shouted Roderigo. ‘Is all your family inside?’
‘Are your doors locked?’ yelled Iago.
‘Why?’ said Brabantio. Why?’
‘By God, Sir, you’ve been robbed!’ shouted Iago. ‘Get dressed. Your heart is broken, you have lost half your soul. Right now, this very moment, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. Get up, get up, wake up the sleeping citizens with the bell, or else the devil will make a grandfather of you. Get up!’
Brabantio stuck his head out further. ‘What? Are you mad?’
‘Signior, do you recognise my voice?’ said Roderigo.
‘No. Who are you?’
‘My name is Roderigo.’
‘Not you! I’ve told you not to hang around this house. To be blunt, you’ve heard me say my daughter is not for you. And now, crazed, bloated with food and drink, you’ve come here in your drunkenness to disturb my peace.’
‘Sir, Sir, Sir.’
‘But I’m telling you that with my determination and my position I have the power to make you regret this.’
‘Calm down, good sir.’
‘What do you mean – robbery? This is Venice. This isn’t a country house!’
‘With respect, I’ve come to you in all honesty…’
Iago, who had been following the exchange, now intervened. ‘By God’s wounds, Sir, you’re a man who wouldn’t serve God even if the devil told you to! You think we’re ruffians when we’ve come to do you a favour. You’d rather have your daughter covered by an African horse. You’d rather have your nephews neigh at you. You want coursers as you cousins and Spanish horses as your family!’
‘What kind of crude wretch are you?’
‘I am someone who has come to tell you that your daughter and the Moor are at this moment making the beast with two backs.’
‘You’re a villain!’
‘And you’re a senator.’
Brabantio shook his fist at the darkness below. ‘I know you, Roderigo. You’ll answer for this.’
‘Sir,’ said Roderigo. ‘I’ll answer for anything. But I beg you, if this is something you want and have given your consent to, as I almost believe you have, – your beautiful daughter, taken at this late hour by a common gondolier to the disgusting embrace of a lecherous Moor – if you know about it and you’ve agreed to it, then we’ve done you a bold and unforgivable wrong. But if
you don’t know about it, I think you’ve done us a wrong. Don’t think that I’m the kind of person who would play games with a man like you. I insist, your daughter – if you haven’t given her permission – has seriously rebelled. She’s given her allegiance, her beauty, her intelligence and her fortune away in the most unintelligible way. Go and see. If she’s in her room, or anywhere in your house use all your power against me for deluding you.’
Brabantio withdrew and they heard him shouting orders as he rushed away. ‘Light the lamps! Give me a candle, wake my people up! This is like the dream I had. I know it’s true. Light, I say, Light!’
Iago turned. ‘I must go,’ he said. ‘It would be unwise, considering my position, to be turned over to the Moor, and I know that if I stay I will be, because the senate can’t do anything to him, however much this may annoy and inconvenience him. That’s because he’s about to be sent to the Cyprus wars that they’re planning right now. They hate to have to use him but there’s no-one else of his ability to lead their business. So, although I hate him as much as I hate all the torments of hell I have to make a pretence of love. But it’s only a pretence. To be sure of finding him, lead them to the Sagitarry Inn
and I’ll be there with him. So. Goodbye.’
He slipped away just as Brabantio came out of his front door, in his nightgown, surrounded by men with torches. He whimpered like a wounded child: ‘It’s too true and evil, she’s gone, and all I have to look forward to for the rest of my wretched life is bitterness.’ The torches lit up the waiting Roderigo.
Brabantio gripped the front of his coat and looked pleadingly at him. ‘Roderigo, where did you see her? Oh, poor girl! With the Moor did you say? Who would choose to be a father? How do you know it was her? Oh, she has deceived me beyond belief. What did she say to you?’ He turned his head. ‘Get more lights! Wake all my relatives up!’ His eyes returned to Roderigo and searched his face. ‘Do you think they’re married?’
‘I really do think they are,’ said Roderigo.
‘Oh God! How did she get out? Oh rebellious blood! Fathers, from now on don’t judge your daughters’ intentions on how they behave. Aren’t there spells by which young men and women can be abused? Have you read about such things Roderigo?’
‘Yes, Sir, indeed I have.’
Brabantio thrust his head back and shouted, ‘Go and get my brother,’ then back to Roderigo. ‘Oh I wish you had had her. One way or another. Do you know where we can apprehend her and the Moor?’
‘I think I can find him if you would like to get reinforcements and come with me.’
‘Go on, then, lead the way. I’ll call at every house: I have supporters at most of them.’
Roderigo started walking.
‘Get weapons!’ roared Brabantio. Go on. And get the nightwatch. On, good Roderigo. I’ll reward your trouble.’
He hurried after Roderigo.
Read more scenes from Othello: