Iago half pushed Roderigo towards the jutting corner of the castle. ‘Here, stand behind this bulk,’ he said. ‘He’ll be here instantly. Keep your sword out and ready. Quickly. Don’t be nervous; I’ll be at your elbow. This is going to make or break us – just think about that, and be firm in your resolution.
‘Stay near at hand, I may fail in it,’ said Roderigo.
‘I’ll be right here. Be brave. And take your stand.’ Iago retired to the shadows where he couldn’t be seen, leaving Roderigo in a state of some bewilderment as to why he should be about to kill a man when he had no real cause for it.
He watched Roderigo rehearsing his attack with fancy steps and a good deal of thrusting. Roderigo was becoming impatient, angry. He had rubbed the idiot to the skin, like a pimple. Whatever happened would be his gain, though – whether Roderigo killed Cassio or Cassio killed Roderigo or they both killed each other. If Roderigo lived he would bring him to account for the gold and jewels he’d taken off him as gifts for Desdemona. That mustn’t be allowed to happen. If Cassio lived he had a daily beauty in his life that would reflect on him, making him look ugly in comparison. And anyway, the Moor might expose him to Cassio. That was a great danger. No, Cassio must die. And here he was!
‘It’s him!’ exclaimed Roderigo. ‘I recognise his walk.’
He rushed forward to confront Cassio and before Cassio could draw his sword he had thrust at him. Cassio moved fast and stood, positioned to defend himself.
‘That thrust would have done for me if my coat hadn’t been so much better than you had thought,’ said Cassio. ‘Now I’m going to test yours!’ and he plunged his sword into Roderigo’s side.
‘He’s killed me!’ shouted Roderigo and he dropped to his knees.
Iago had remained concealed throughout and now he came up behind Cassio, swiped at his leg with his sword and retreated, disappearing into the shadows again.
Cassio fell down, clutching his leg. ‘Help!’ he shouted. ‘Murder! I’ve been maimed! Help!’
Othello, having heard all the shouting, came out on to a balcony. It was Cassio’s voice, crying murder. Iago had kept his word. The scene before him told the story of what had happened. Roderigo was on his knees, holding his side, and Cassio lay moaning on the ground. Then he yelled again: ‘Help! Light! A surgeon!’
Yes, it was Cassio! Oh brave, honest, loyal Iago. He had such a noble sense of his friend’s grievance that he put Othello to shame. Othello was fired up. Darling, he thought, your lover is lying here dead and your own terrible fate is near. Whore, I’m on my way! All your beauty is doomed. Your lust-stained bed is about to be soiled with your lustful blood. He turned and went in.
Lodovico and Gratiano had come out to see what all the noise was about. Cassio, unable to get up, was shouting as loudly as he could. ‘Where’s the guard?’ Murder! Murder!’
‘This is a bad business,’ said Gratiano. ‘Sounds serious.’
They couldn’t see much in the dark but they made their way towards the commotion – both Cassio and Roderigo shouting for help. When they got near Lodovico put a hand on Gratiano’s arm. ‘There are two or three of them,’ he said. ‘It may be a trap. Let’s be careful, we need some help.’ They paused and listened. Roderigo was crying out: ‘Nobody coming? I’m going to bleed to death!’
A light appeared from somewhere. ‘Look,’ said Gratiano. ‘Someone’s coming, with light and weapons.’
It was Iago, carrying a lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ he said. ‘Who’s crying murder?’
‘We don’t know,’ said Lodovico.
‘Didn’t you hear someone shouting?’ said Iago.
Cassio, hearing voices, tried again. ‘Here, here. For heaven’s sake, help me!’
Iago rushed to him. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said.
‘I think this is Othello’s Ancient,’ said Gratiano.
‘It is,’ said Lodovico. ‘A very valiant fellow.’
‘Who is this, crying so grievously?’ said Iago.
‘Iago?’ said Cassio. ‘Is that you? I’ve been destroyed by villains. Help me.’
Iago knelt down beside the Lieutenant. ‘Oh dear, Lieutenant! What villains have done this?’
‘I think one of them is here somewhere. He’s wounded, and can’t run away.’
‘Oh the treacherous villain,’ exclaimed Iago, spinning round and drawing his sword at the same time. ‘Who are you?’ he said, to Roderigo. Come and help me.’
‘He’s one of them,’ said Cassio.
Iago sprang up and advanced on Roderigo. ‘You murderous slave, you villain!’ he shouted, and stabbed him.
Roderigo looked at him, astonished. ‘Damned Iago,’ he spat. ‘Inhuman dog!’ And he fainted.
‘Kill men in the dark, do you?’ said Iago. He looked around. ‘Where are these murderous thieves? Why is everything so quiet? Help! Ho! Murder! Murder!’
Gratiano and Lodovico came forward and Iago stopped them with his drawn sword. ‘Who are you? Friend or foe?’
‘You know us,’ said Lodovico.
Iago paused. ‘Signior Lodovico?
Iago put his sword away. ‘I beg your pardon,’ he said. ‘This is Cassio, hurt by villains.’
Gratiano was already at Cassio’s side. ‘Cassio?’ he said.
Iago joined him at Cassio’s side. ‘How are you, brother?’
‘My leg has been cut in two,’ groaned Cassio.
‘Heaven forbid!’ said Iago. ‘Light, please, gentlemen. I’ll bind it with my shirt.’
He pulled his shirt off and began bandaging Cassio’s wound. A woman came up behind him. It was Bianca. ‘What’s the matter?’ she said. ‘Who was doing that shouting?’
‘Who’s that?’ said Iago.
Bianca recognised Cassio and dropped down at his side. ‘Oh my darling Cassio, my sweet Cassio.’ She stroked his hair and moaned softly. ‘Oh Cassio, Cassio, Cassio.’
Iago turned to the Venetian visitors. ‘A notorious whore,’ he said. ‘Cassio, do you have any suspicion as to who it is who has mangled you?’
‘I’m sorry to find you like this,’ said Gratiano. ‘I’ve been looking for you.’
‘Lend me one of your garters,’ said Iago, and Bianca swiftly removed one. ‘We need a chair to carry him in.’
‘Oh, he’s fainting,’ said Bianca. ‘Cassio, Cassio, Cassio!’
‘Gentleman,’ said Iago. ‘I suspect this trash of being a party to this injury. Just have patience, good Cassio.’ He went over to Roderigo. ‘Come come, give me a light. Let’s see if any of us knows him.’
Roderigo lay, as though dead, on the ground. When they illuminated his face Iago gasped. ‘Oh, is this my friend and dear countryman, Roderigo? No, can’t be – yes, it is. Oh heaven, it’s Roderico!’
‘What?’ said Gratiano. ‘Of Venice?’
‘The same,’ said Iago. ‘Did you know him?’
‘Know him? Yes, I did.’
Iago turned to him. ‘Signor Gratiano,’ he said. ‘I must apologise. These terrible matters must excuse my manners towards you.’
‘I’m glad to see you,’ said Gratiano.
Iago turned back to Cassio. ‘How are you, Cassio? A chair, a chair!’
Gratiano shook his head. ‘Roderigo!’ he said.
Iago shook his head too, as though unable to believe it. ‘He, he, it’s he.’
Attendants arrived with a chair. ‘Ah, good timing,’ said Iago. ‘Take him gently away from here. I’ll get the General’s surgeon.’ Bianca was trying to help them lift him. ‘As for you, mistress,’ he said. ‘Save your energy.’ As Cassio was lifted on to the chair he said: ‘This fellow lying dead here, Cassio, was a dear friend of mine. What ill feeling was there between you?’
‘None whatsoever,’ gasped Cassio. ‘Nor do I know him.’
‘Why are you looking so pale?’ Iago was examining Bianca’s face. ‘Come on,’ he said to the attendants. ‘Take him out of the open air.’ Then back to Bianca. ‘Why are you so pale, mistress? Can you see the guilty look in her eye? Oh no, there’s more to this. Watch her well. Look at her. Can you see, gentlemen? I tell you, guiltiness shows itself even without speech.’
Emilia arrived as Cassio was being carried away. ‘What’s the matter?
What’s the matter, husband?’
‘Cassio’s been attacked here in the dark by Roderico and other fellows who have escaped. He’s almost dead, and Roderigo is.’
‘Alas, poor fellow. Alas, good Cassio!’
‘This is the result of whoring,’ said Iago. ‘Emilia, please go and ask Cassio where he dined this evening.’ He turned to Bianca. ‘What? Does that make you tremble?’
‘He ate at my house,’ she told him. ‘But I’m not trembling at it.’
‘Oh did he?’ Iago went right up to her. ‘I’m arresting you.’
‘Oh, shame on you, whore!’ said Emilia.
‘I’m not a whore, but as decent as you who are abusing me!’
‘As I?’ Emilia was incensed. ‘Foh. Shame on you!’
‘Gentlemen,’ said Iago. ‘Let’s go and get Cassio seen to.’ He put his hand roughly on Bianca’s shoulder. ‘Come on mistress, you’re going to have to tell us a different story. Emilia, run ahead to the citadel and tell Othello and Desdemona what has happened.’
He had taken charge of it all and everyone was doing as he commanded. He knew that this night would either make or break him.