Othello sent a servant to bring Emilia to him. He paced until she arrived then sat at his desk and looked at her. ‘You’ve seen nothing then?’ he said.
‘Nor heard anything, nor ever suspected anything.’
‘Yes you have. You’ve seen her and Cassio together.’
‘But I saw no harm, and I heard every syllable of their conversation.’
‘What! Did they never whisper?’
‘Never, my lord.’
‘Nor send you away?’
‘To fetch her fan, her gloves, her mask, nor nothing?’
‘Never, my lord.’
Othello shook his head. He didn’t take his eyes off her. ‘That’s strange,’ he said.
‘I would be prepared to bet that she’s honest, my lord,’ she said. ‘Stake my soul on it. If you think otherwise, dismiss the thought; it abuses your heart. If anyone has put this into your head let heaven punish him with the serpent’s curse! Because, if she’s not honest, chaste and true, then no-one’s wife is. The purest of other men’s wives is as foul as slander.’
‘Go and tell her to come here. Go!’
While he waited Othello pondered on Emilia’s testimony. She had told him enough. She was just a pimp, unprepared to speak out. She was a subtle whore, a vault of guilty secrets, a hypocrite who, knowing what she knew, would still kneel and pray. He had seen her do it.
There was a knock on the door and Desdemona came in, followed by Emilia.
‘Please, darling, come here,’ he said.
She came and stood before his desk. ‘What do you want?’
‘Let me see your eyes,’ he said. ‘Look at me.’
Desdemona looked nervously at Emilia. ‘What horrible game is this?’
‘Attend to your business, mistress,’ said Othello, gesturing to Emilia to go. ‘Leave us to do the business. Cough or say ‘hem’ if anyone comes. To your trade!’
Emila began to protest but he swept her aside with a wave of his hand. ‘No! Go and do it!’
She left, and Desdemona went down on her knees beside him. ‘I hope my lord knows I’m honest,’ she said.
He pushed her away. ‘Yes, as summer flies are in a slaughter house, that rise up in their hordes when you just blow on them.’ He stood up and faced her. ‘Oh you weed, so beautiful and so sweet smelling that the senses ache at you, I wish you had never been born!’
She shrank away. ‘Oh, what unconscious sin have I committed?’
He stared at her for a long time.
‘Was this lovely paper, this most beautiful book, made to write ‘whore’ on? What sin have you committed? What committed! Committed? Oh, you common whore! If I were to speak your deeds it would make forges of my cheeks that would burn modesty to cinders. What committed? Heaven holds
its nose against it and the moon shuts its eyes. The promiscuous wind, that kisses everything it meets, is silenced in the bowels of the earth and won’t hear it. What committed?’ He raised his hand.
‘By heaven,’ she said in alarm. ‘You’re doing me wrong.’
‘Aren’t you a strumpet?’
‘No, as I’m a Christian. If preserving my body for my lord, from any other foul unlawful touch is not to be a strumpet them I’m not.’
‘What! Not a whore?’
‘No, as I hope to be saved.’
‘Is’t possible?’ he exclaimed.
She sank down. ‘Oh, heaven forgive us!’
‘I beg your pardon, then,’ he said. ‘I took you for that cunning whore of Venice who married Othello.’ He went to the door and called out. ‘You, mistress, who has the opposite office to Saint Peter and keeps the gate of hell!’ He opened the door and beckoned Emilia. ‘You, you, yes you. We’ve done the business.’ He pulled a purse from his pocket and handed it to her. ‘Here’s money for your trouble. Lock the door and keep it quiet.’ He stormed out.
Desdemona lay, collapsed, on the floor. Emilia knelt beside her. ‘What is this gentleman up to?’ she said. She stroked Desdemona’s hair. ‘How are you madam? How are you my good lady?’
Desdemona didn’t stir. ‘Half asleep,’ she said.
‘Good madam, what’s the matter with my lord?’
‘Why, with my lord, madam.’
‘Who is your lord?’
‘He that is yours, good lady.’
‘I don’t have one. Don’t talk to me Emilia. I can’t cry, and I don’t have any answers, except my tears. Please place my wedding sheets on my bed tonight. Don’t forget, and go and get your husband.’
Emilia left to do it, with the alarming thought that her mistress was behaving strangely.
Desdemona supposed it was reasonable that she should be treated like that if he felt she had done something but she wondered what it could be that she had done.
Iago and Emila came in and Iago went to her and spoke solicitously.
‘What can I do for you, madam? How are you?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. Those that teach babies to behave do it slowly and gently. He might have reprimanded me gently because I’m not used to reprimands.’
‘What’s the matter, lady?’ said Iago.
‘Oh dear, Iago,’ said Emilia. ‘My lord has accused her of being a whore – he’s thrown such heavy things at her that are impossible for a true heart to bear.’
Desdemona looked pleadingly at Iago. ‘Am I that name, Iago?’
‘What name, fair lady?’
‘The one she said my lord said I was.’
‘He called her a whore,’ said Emilia. ‘A drunken beggar could not have called his beggar woman such a name.’
‘Why did he do that?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Desdemona. ‘I’m sure I’m not.’ She sobbed uncontrollably.
‘Don’t cry, don’t cry,’ said Iago.
‘Has she forsaken so many noble matches, her father, and her country, all her friends, to be called whore? Wouldn’t it make anyone cry?’ said Emilia.
‘It’s my wretched fortune,’ said Desdemona.
‘Shame on him for it!’ said Iago. ‘How did this come over him?’
‘Heaven only knows,’ said Desdemona.
‘I’ll be hanged if some evil villain, some devious, insinuating rogue, some deceiving, selfish rogue, to get some position, hasn’t made this slander up. I’ll be hanged otherwise,’ said Emilia.
‘Never,’ said Iago with a shocked look. ‘There is no such man. It’s impossible!’
‘If there is, heaven pardon him,’ said Desdemona.
‘A noose pardon him and hell gnaw his bones!’ said Emilia. ‘Why should he call her whore? Who has she been with? Where, when, how, what possibility? The Moor has been abused by some most villainous knave, some evil, notorious knave, some filthy fellow. Oh heaven, I wish you would expose such people and put a whip in every honest hand to lash them naked through the world, from east to west.’
‘Sh!’ said Iago. ‘Not so loud.’
‘Oh damn them,’ said Emilia. ‘It was just such a fellow who warped your mind to make you suspect me with the Moor.’
‘You’re a fool,’ said Iago. ‘Shut up.’ He put his hand out to Desdemona and helped her up to her knees.
‘Oh good Iago,’ she said. ‘What will I do to win my lord again? Good friend, go to him, because, by the light of heaven, I don’t how I lost him. If I ever intentionally betrayed his love, either in word or thought or deed, or if my eyes, my ears tempted me in any way, or if I do not, did not or ever won’t, love him very dearly, even though he’s shaking me off to beggarly divorce, let peace of mind abandon me forever! Unkindness is powerful and his unkindness may kill me but will never taint my love. I can’t say ‘whore’ and it horrifies me now as I speak the word. Nothing in the world could make me actually do the act that might earn the name.’
‘I beg you to have patience,’ he said. ‘It’s only his mood. The business of the state is affecting him and he’s taking it out on you.’
‘If it’s only…’
‘It is,’ he interrupted. ‘I’m sure. Listen, we’re being called to supper. The messengers from Venice are waiting to eat. Go in and don’t cry. It will all be alright.’
Emilia put her arm around Desdemona and they went out slowly. A messenger stopped Iago and told him someone was asking for him at the gate.
It was Roderigo, angry and frustrated again. ‘I don’t think you’re dealing
justly with me,’ he said.
‘Just the opposite,’ said Iago.
‘You fob me off with some new trick every day, Iago,’ said Roderigo. ‘And rather than give me hope you avoid me. I won’t take it anymore.’ He took an aggressive stance, facing Iago squarely. ‘Nor am I going to take what I’ve already foolishly suffered.’
Iago didn’t flinch. ‘Are you going to listen to me Roderigo?’
‘In faith, I’ve heard too much. Your words and actions are unrelated!’
‘You accuse me most unjustly,’ said Iago.
‘With nothing but truth,’ said Roderigo. ‘I’ve wasted all my money. The jewels I’ve given you for Desdemona would have corrupted a nun. You told me she received them and you gave me assurances of pleasure and her respect, but I find nothing.’
‘Well,’ said Iago. ‘If that’s the way you see it, that’s it. Very well.’ He turned to go and Roderigo grabbed his arm.
‘Very well? That’s it? That’s not it, man, nor is it very well. I think it’s dirty and I’m beginning to think of myself as duped by it.’
Iago removed his hand. ‘Very well,’ he said and began walking off again.
Roderigo ran after him and got in front of him. ‘I’m telling you it’s not very well,’ he said. ‘I’m going to tell Desdemona. If she will return my jewels I’ll give up my suit and apologise for my unlawful solicitation. If not, you can be sure that I’ll seek satisfaction from you!’
‘You’ve told me now,’ said Iago.
‘Yes, and said nothing except what I’m going to do.’
Iago smiled suddenly. ‘Why now, I see there’s some guts in you: and suddenly I have a better opinion of you than I had before. Give me your hand, Roderigo. I can see the justice of your case, but I still protest that I’ve dealt most directly in your interest.’
‘It doesn’t seem like it to me,’ said Roderigo.
‘I grant you, it hasn’t appeared so, and your suspicion is reasonable. But Roderigo, if you have the qualities that I now have greater reason to think you have – I mean purpose and courage and valour – show it tonight. If you don’t enjoy Desdemona tomorrow night take my life.’
Roderigo thought for a moment. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘What do I have to do? Is it reasonable and possible?’
‘Sir, there is a special commission from Venice to replace Othello with Cassio.’
‘Is that true? Well then, Othello and Desdemona will be returning to Venice.’
‘Oh no. He’s going to Mauritania and taking the beautiful Desdemona with him – unless his stay here be prolonged by some accident. Nothing can make that as sure as the removal of Cassio.’
‘What do you mean, ‘removal’.’
‘By making him incapable of Othello’s place. Knocking out his brains.’
‘And you want me to do that?’
‘Yes, if you dare do yourself a favour. He’s supping tonight with a prostitute, and I will go there to him. He doesn’t yet know of his good fortune. If you’ll lie in wait for him – I’ll arrange for him to leave between twelve and one – you can take him at your leisure. I will be nearby to support you and he’ll fall between us.’
Roderigo stared at him.
‘Come on, don’t stand there gawping. Come, walk with me. I’ll convince you of the necessity of his death; you’ll think yourself honour bound to do it. It’s almost supper time and we’re wasting time. Come on!’
They started walking. ‘I want to know more about this,’ said Roderigo.
‘And you’ll be satisfied,’ said Iago.