Othello stood at the side of the bed and gazed down at the sleeping Desdemona.
‘That’s the reason,’ he said. ‘For that reason, my love. I can’t utter its name before the chaste heavens, but that’s the reason. And yet I won’t shed her blood or leave any mark on that whiter skin of hers than snow, and as smooth as alabaster used for sculpture. But she must die or she’ll betray other men. Put out the light first and then put out her light. If I quench you you flaming torch I can light you again if I change my mind. But if I put out your light, you deceptive picture of natural perfection, I don’t know any kind of heat that can restore your light. Once I have plucked your rose I can’t restore it to life; it must necessarily wither. ‘I’ll smell it while it’s still on the tree.’
He bent over her and kissed her gently. ‘Oh sweet breath that almost persuades me to change my mind. Once more, once more.’ He kissed her again. ‘If you are so beautiful when you are dead then I will kill you and keep loving you. Once more, and this is the last.’ He kissed her again. ‘Something so sweet was never so fatal. I must weep. But these are cruel tears. This is a holy sorrow – it hits where it loves.’ He drew in his breath. ‘She’s waking up!’
Desdemona smiled and reached towards him. ‘Who’s there?’ She opened her eyes and recognised him. ‘Othello?’
‘Yes, Desdemona,’ he said sadly.
‘Do you want to come to bed?’ she said.
‘Have you prayed tonight, Desdemona?’ he said.
‘Yes my lord.’
‘If you can think of any crime that you haven’t reconciled with heaven, pray for that immediately.’
‘What could you mean by that?’ she said.
‘Just do it and hurry,’ he said. ‘I’ll wait. I don’t want to kill your unprepared soul. No, heaven forbid, I don’t want to kill your soul.’
‘Are you talking about killing?’
‘Yes, I am.’
Desdemona withdrew to the other side of the bed. ‘Then heaven have mercy on me!’
‘Amen, with all my heart!’
‘If you’re saying that I hope you won’t kill me.’
Othello cleared his throat.
‘And yet I’m afraid,’ she said. ‘Because you’re murderous when your eyes roll like that. I don’t know why I should be afraid because I don’t feel guilty about anything. But it’s fear I’m feeling.’
‘Think about your sins.’
‘They are only the love I have for you.’
‘Yes, and its for that that you’re dying.’
‘It’s unnatural to kill someone for loving,’ she said. ‘Why are you chewing your lower lip like that? Some terrible passion is shaking your whole body. These are signs of something but I hope against hope they’re not pointing at me.’
‘Stop! And be quiet.’
‘I will – there. What’s the matter?’
He sat down on the bed and stared at her. ‘That handkerchief that I loved so much and gave you, you gave to Cassio.’
‘No!’ She looked shocked. ‘On my life and soul! Send for the man and ask him.’
‘Sweet soul, be careful – be careful of perjury: you’re on your deathbed.’
‘Yes, but not to die yet.’
‘Yes, very soon. Therefore, confess your sin freely, because denying any of it under oath can’t remove my strong belief in your guilt. You’re going to die.’
‘Then Lord have mercy on me!’
‘Amen to that.’
‘And you have mercy on me too! I’ve never offended you in my life! I never loved Cassio except for what is acceptable. I never gave him any token.’
‘By heaven!’ roared Othello. ‘I saw my handkerchief in his hand! Oh you perjured woman, you make my heart like stone and make me think of what I’m going to do as a murder rather than a sacrifice. I saw the handkerchief!’
‘Then he found it. I never gave it to him. Send for him, let him admit the truth.’
‘He has confessed.’
‘That he has used you.’
‘He wouldn’t say that!’
‘No, his mouth has been stopped. Honest Iago has taken care of that.’
‘Oh, is it what I fear? What? Is he dead?’
‘If all his hairs had been lives my great revenge would have had stomach for them all.’
‘Alas then, he has been betrayed, and I’ve been undone.’
She broke down then, and that enraged Othello. ‘Out, whore!’ he stormed. ‘Weeping for him to my face!’
‘Oh banish me, my lord,’ she wailed, and clutched at his gown, ‘but don’t kill me.’
‘Down, whore!’ He pushed her away.
‘Kill me tomorrow!’ she pleaded. ‘Let me live tonight.’
‘No. If you try…’
‘Just half an hour!’
‘Having decided, there’s no stopping.’
‘Just while I say one prayer!’
He pushed her down and lifted a pillow. ‘It’s too late.’ He thrust the pillow over her face and held it down.
She struggled wildly. ‘Oh Lord! Lord! Lord!’
There was a banging on the door and Emilia’s voice, urgently: ‘My lord, my lord, my lord!’
‘What noise is this?’ said Othello. Desdemona was still moving. ‘Not dead?’ he said. ‘Not quite dead? I may be cruel but I’m still merciful. I wouldn’t have you lingering in your pain.’ He applied more pressure to the pillow. ‘So, so.’
The banging got louder. ‘What, ho! My lord! My lord!’
‘Who’s that?’ called Othello.
‘My lord, I’d like a word with you,’ said Emilia.
Yes, it was Emilia. ‘Bye and bye,’ he called.
Desdemona was dead. Emilia had probably come to tell him about Cassio’s death. She was making enough noise. He looked down at Desdemona. There was no more movement – still as the grave. Should he let Emilia in? Would that be wise? Was Desdamona moving again? No. What should he do? If she came in she would speak to his wife. His wife! His wife! What wife? He had no wife. Oh, insupportable! Oh heavy hour! There should now be a huge eclipse of the sun and moon, making the whole earth feel it.
Emilia was still out there. ‘Oh my good lord! I beg of you, I need to talk to you.’
‘I had forgotten about you.’ Said Othello. ‘Come in, Emilia. Wait. In a minute. Let me draw the curtains.’
When he opened the door she hurried in. ‘What’s the matter with you now?’ he said.
‘Oh my good lord, foul murder’s been done out there,’ she said.
‘Right now,’ she said.
‘It’s the moon,’ he said. ‘She’s closer to the earth than usual and making men go mad.’
‘My lord, Cassio’s killed a young Venetian named Roderigo.’
‘Roderigo’s killed? And Cassio? Killed too?’
‘No,’ she said impatiently. Cassio’s not been killed.’
‘Cassio not killed! Then murder’s not doing its job and the sweetness of revenge has soured.’
Just then a faint cry came from the bed. ‘O, falsely, falsely murdered!’
‘Lord!’ cried Emilia. ‘What cry is that?’
‘That! What?’ said Othello.
‘Oh God,’ said Emilia. ‘That’s my lady’s voice.’ She ran to the bed and drew the curtain back. Desdemona lay there, semi-conscious, moving her head almost imperceptibly.
‘Help! Help!’ cried Emilia. ‘Ho, help.’ She began slapping Desdemona’s face. ‘Oh lady, speak again,’ she said, again and again. ‘Sweet Desdemona.’
Othello stood by the door, unmoving and silent, watching. Desdemona stirred. ‘A guiltless death I die,’ she murmured.
‘Oh, who has done this?’ said Emilia. She put her ear close to Desdemona’s mouth.
‘Nobody,’ said Desdemona. ‘I myself – farewell. Commend me to my kind lord.’ She tried to raise herself then fell back. ‘Farewell,’ she said, and Emilia could see that she was dead.
Othello came forward. ‘How could she have been murdered?’ he said.
Emilia looked up at him through her tears. ‘Alas, who knows?’ she said.
‘You heard her say herself that it wasn’t I,’ said Othello.
‘She said so.’ Emilia looked doubtful. ‘I have to tell the truth.’
Othello paced for a moment then turned to Emilia. ‘She’s like a liar gone to burning hell! It was I who killed her!’
‘Oh the more angel she is then, and you the blacker devil,’ said Emilia.
‘She turned to folly and she was a whore!’ said Othello.
‘You’re slandering her and you’re a devil!’
‘She was as false as water,’ he said.
‘You’re as rash as fire to say that she was unfaithful. Oh, she was heavenly faithful.’
‘Cassio had her. Ask your husband. If I hadn’t done this without just cause I would be damned to the lowest level of hell. Your husband knew everything.’
‘That she was unfaithful?’
‘Yes, with Cassio. No, if she had been faithful, if heaven had made me a gem the size of the world I wouldn’t have sold her for it.’
‘Yes, it was he who told me about it first. He’s an honest man and hates the slime that sticks to filthy deeds.’
‘Why do you need to keep repeating it. I said your husband.’
Emilia looked at Desdemona’s still body. ‘Oh mistress, villainy has made a mockery of love.’ She looked up at Othello again. ‘My husband said that she was unfaithful?’
‘He, woman. I say your husband. Do you understand the word? My friend, your husband, honest, honest Iago.’
‘If he said that then may his evil soul rot slowly in hell. He lies to the core. She was too fond of her filthy marriage to you.’
Othello sprang at her and only just stopped himself from taking hold of her. She didn’t flinch.
‘Do your worst,’ she said. ‘This act was no more worthy of heaven than you were worthy of her.’
‘You’d better be quiet,’ he said, threatening her again.
Again, she didn’t flinch. ‘You don’t have half the power to do me harm that I have to be hurt. Oh you gullible fool. As ignorant as dirt! You have done a deed…’
He drew his sword.
‘I’m not afraid of your sword,’ she said. ‘I’m going to expose you, even if I should lose twenty lives. She began to shout. Help! Help, help, help! The Moor has killed my mistress! Murder! Murder!’
She continued to shout, while Othnello stood, frozen. The door was still open and after a minute Montano and Gratiano, followed by Iago, arrived, running.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Gratiano, and stopped when he saw Othello. ‘How now General,’ he said.
When Emilia saw her husband she jumped from the bed. ‘Oh, you’re here too, Iago? You’ve done well that men should blame their murders on you!’ she said.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Gratiano.
‘Go on,’ Emilia was saying. ‘Contradict this villain, if you’re a man. He says you told him that his wife was unfaithful. I know you didn’t. I know you’re not such a villain.’
Iago said nothing.
‘Speak,’ she said, ‘because my heart is full.’
‘I told him what I thought,’ said Iago. ‘And no more than what he found out for himself.’
‘But did you ever say she was unfaithful?’
‘You told a lie!’ she screamed. ‘An odious, damned lie! Upon my soul, a lie, a wicked lie! She unfaithful with Cassio! Is that what you told him? With Cassio?’
‘With Cassio, mistress. Now shut up.’
‘I will not shut up. I have to speak out: my mistress is lying here murdered in her bed.’
Montano and Gratiano, realising for the first time what had happened, were horrified.
‘And your lies caused this murder!’ Emilia continued.
‘No, don’t stare like that, gentlemen,’ said Othello, ‘it’s indeed true.’
‘It’s a strange truth then,’ said Gratiano.
‘Oh monstrous!’ said Montano.
Emilia began her shouting again: ‘Villainy, villainy, villainy! When I think about it, I smelt it. Oh villainy! I thought there was something villainous. I’ll kill myself with grief. Oh villainy, villainy!’
‘What? Are you mad?’ said Iago. ‘I order you to go home.’
‘Gentlemen,’ she said. ‘Let me have my say. I know I should obey him, but not now. Perhaps, Iago, I’ll never go home.’
Othello lay down beside Desdemona’s body and began moaning and weeping.
‘You can well lie down there and roar,’ said Emilia, ‘for you have killed the sweetest, most innocent, creature that ever was born.’
He got up again and faced the visitors. ‘Oh she was foul,’ he said.’ I hardly knew you, Uncle,’ he said to Gratiano. ‘There’s your niece lying there, who I have, indeed, killed. I realise this act seems horrible and grim.’
Gratiano wiped the tear that rolled down his cheek. ‘Poor Desdemona,’ he said. I’m glad your father’s dead – your marriage killed him, and pure grief cut his soul in two. If he were alive now, this sight would make him do something desperate. Yes, he would abandon the better side of himself and do some evil.’
‘It’s pitiful,’ said Othello. ‘But Iago knows that she committed this act of shame with Cassio a thousand times. Cassio confessed it, and she rewarded his amorous acts with that token of love that I gave her. I saw it in his hand. It was a handkerchief, a family token that my father gave my mother.’
‘Oh God!’ screamed Emilia. She pointed at Iago. ‘Oh heavenly powers!’
‘For God’s sake, shut up!’ Iago’s face was threatening.
‘It will out, it will out!’ she said. ‘I shut up? No, I’ll speak as freely as the north wind. Let heaven and human beings and devils all cry shame against me, I’ll still speak out!’
Iago moved towards her. ‘Be wise and go home.’
‘I won’t,’ she said.
He drew his sword then, and held it pointed towards her.
Gratiano gasped. ‘For shame! Your sword on a woman!’
Emilia ignored her furious husband and his drawn sword. ‘Oh you stupid Moor,’ she said. ‘That handkerchief you’re talking about, I found it by chance and gave it to my husband because he had begged me with a great earnestness out of proportion to such a small thing..’
‘Villainous whore!’ Iago tried again to intimidate her with his sword, but she ignored him.
‘She gave it to Cassio? No, sadly, I found it and gave it to my husband.’
‘Filth!’ exclaimed Iago. ‘You’re lying.’
‘By heaven, I’m not!’ She appealed to the others. ‘I’m not, gentlemen. Oh, the murderous fool. How could such a fool have such a good wife?’
Othello suddenly drew his sword and drew his arm back to thrust at Iago. ‘Are the stones in heaven only for making thunder and not for punishing such villians?’ he roared.
Montano moved quickly, pulled at his arm, twisted, it and forced him to drop his sword. While that was happening, Iago stabbed Emilia in her back
and ran out of the room.
‘The woman is falling!’ shouted Gratiano. ‘He’s killed his wife!’
Emilia lay, groaning, on the floor. ‘Oh, lie me at my mistress’ side,’ she moaned.
Gratiano and Montano lifted her onto the bed.
‘He’s gone,’ said Gratiano, ‘but his wife’s dead.’
‘What a villain!’ said Montano. He beckoned one of the attendants. ‘Here, take this sword that I’ve confiscated from the Moor. Go and guard the castle gate. Don’t let him pass – kill him rather. I’ll go and look for him myself: he’s a damned villain.’
Montano and Gratiano hurried out. Othello slumped down on a chair and placed his head in his hands. He was useless when any puny fellow could take his sword. But what did it matter? Let it go.
Emilia was bleeding profoundly, and gasping for breath. ‘What did that song mean, lady?’ she whispered. ‘Listen, can you hear me now? I’ll be like a swan and die in music. Willow, willow, willow.’ She tried to sit up. ‘Moor, she was chaste. She loved you, cruel Moor. So my soul is saved as I speak the truth. So speaking out my thoughts, I die, I die.’
Othello stood up and looked around. He had another sword somewhere in the room, a sharp Spanish sword. Ah, there it was. ‘Uncle,’ he called, ‘I have to come out.’
Gratiano was in the passage outside the room. ‘If you try it,’ he said, ‘it will cost you dear. You have no weapon and will just have to put up with that.’
‘Come in here then, and talk to me, or, naked as I am, I’ll attack you.’
He stood at the bedside, holding the sword and when Gratiano came in he said, ‘Look, I have a weapon. There was never a better sword on a soldier’s thigh. I’ve seen the time when, with this little arm and this good sword, I have made my way through twenty times the amount of obstacles that you present. But, vain boast, I couldn’t do that now. Don’t be afraid, even though I have a weapon. This is my journey’s end, this is my last ship. Why are you backing away? It’s a waste of time. Mount just one rush against my breast and I’ll give up. Where can Othello go?’
He went back to the bed and knelt at its side. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘what do you look like now? Oh, ill-starred girl! Pale as your night dress. When we meet at the accounting place this look of yours will hurl my soul from heaven and devils will snatch at it.’
He took her hand. ‘Cold, cold, my girl,’ he said. ‘Just like your chastity.’
He looked up to the ceiling. ‘O, cursed, cursed slave,’ he roared. ‘Whip me away, you devils, from this heavenly sight. Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur! Wash me in steep-sided gulfs of liquid fire!’ He lifted her body and held it against his. ‘Oh Desdemona! Dead Desdemona! Dead! Oh! Oh!’
Montano came in leading a group comprised of Lodovico, Cassio, in a chair, carried in by attendants and Iago, guarded by soldiers.
‘Where is this rash and most unfortunate man?’ said Lodovico.
‘That’s he that was Othello,’ said Othello. He stood up. ‘Here I am.’
‘And where’s that viper?’ said Lodovico, turning to look at the captive Iago. ‘Bring him here.’
Othello stepped forward and stood in front of Iago. ‘There’s nothing I can do,’ he said. He drew his sword. ‘If you are a devil I can’t kill you.’ He plunged his sword into Iago’s chest. Iago gasped and stepped back
‘Wrench his sword from him!’ shouted Lodovico and two soldiers grabbed the sword. Othello didn’t resist. Lodovico put his hand on Iago’s
‘I bleed, sir, but I’m not killed,’ said Iago.
‘I’m not sorry about that,’ said Othello, ‘because the way I’m feeling, dying would be happiness.’
Lodovico stared at Othello and shook his head. ‘Oh you, Othello, who was once so good’ he said. ‘Fallen into such evil. What can one say to you?’
‘You can say anything,’ said Othello. ‘You could call me an honourable murderer. I didn’t do it in hate, but in honour.’
‘This wretch has partly confessed his villainy. Did you and he conspire to kill Cassio?’
‘Yes,’ said Othello.
Cassio tried to raise himself from his chair. ‘Dear General, I never gave you cause.’
‘I know,’ said Othello, ‘and I ask your pardon.’ He looked around at the men who stood, bewildered and shocked. ‘Will you, I pray, ask that demi-devil why he has ensnared my body and soul?’
Iago snarled at him. ‘Ask me nothing,’ he said. ‘You know what you know. From this moment I won’t speak a word.’
‘What?’ said Lodovico. ‘Not even to pray?’
‘Torture will open his mouth,’ said Gratiano.
‘Well its best that you don’t say anything,’ said Othello and turned away from him.
Lodovico held some letters. ‘Sir,’ he said. ‘I will explain what’s happened, which, I believe, you don’t understand. Here is a letter that was found in the pocket of the dead Roderigo, and here’s another. One commissions the death of Cassio, to be undertook by Roderigo.’
‘Oh villain!’ said Othello.
‘Most unholy and most foul!’ said Cassio.
‘Now here’s a second letter,’ said Lodovico. ‘Also found in his pocket. It seems that he meant to send this one to this damned villain but, it seems, Iago killed him before it could be sent.’
‘Oh, the pernicious rascal!’ said Othello. ‘How did you get hold of my wife’s handkerchief, Cassio?’
‘I found it in my room. And he confessed just a moment ago that he dropped it there for his special purposes.’
Othello beat his head. ‘Oh fool, fool, fool!’
‘And, in addition,’ continued Cassio, ‘in Roderigo’s letter he complains to Iago about the fact that he made him attack me on the watch, the incident that led to my dismissal. And just a moment ago he spoke, after having appeared to be dead – Iago wounded him, Iago was the one who set upon him.’
Lodovico drew himself up and faced Othello. ‘You must leave this room and go with us,’ he said. ‘Your authority and your command have been removed and Cassio now rules in Cyrus. As for this slave, if there’s any bad torture that can be devised and prolongued, he will have it. You will remain under close arrest until the Venetian state knows about your crime. Come! Take him away.’ Lodovico turned to go.
As the guards were about to escort him out Othello held his hand up. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘A word or two before you go. I have served the state well and they know it. Anyway, that’s over. I ask that when you make your report about these unfortunate matters you speak of me as I am. Don’t elaborate, nor write down anything out of spite. Then you’ll be speaking about someone who didn’t love wisely, but too well; of one not easily made jealous but, being manipulated, provoked to the extreme; of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw away a pearl richer than all his tribe; of one whose eyes, although unused to crying, drop tears as readily as Arabian trees shed their medicinal gum. Write that down. And also say that once in Aleppo where a malignant and turbaned Turk insulted us by beating a Venetian I took the circumcised dog by the throat…’ Othello reached towards the mattress and pulled a dagger from beneath it. ‘And killed him…’ He stabbed himself in the chest with tremendous force – ‘… like this!’
They rushed towards him and Montano grabbed the dagger, but it was too late.
‘Oh violent end!’ said Lodovico.
‘He’s spoilt everything that he spoke,’ said Gratiano.
Othello, gasping, fell on to the bed and again, and with great effort, raised Desdemona’s body. ‘I kissed you before I killed you,’ he said. ‘There was no other way but this, in killing myself, but to die on a kiss.’ He fell, lifeless, beside Desdemona.
‘I was afraid of this,’ said Cassio. ‘I thought he didn’t have a weapon, though.’
It was a pitiful scene and they all gazed on it in silence. Then Lodovico spoke: ‘Oh Spartan dog!’ he said, addressing Iago. ‘More deadly than pain, hunger or the sea. Look at the tragic loading of this bed. This is your work! It poisons our sight. Hide it!’
An attendant drew the curtains.
Lodovico addressed Gratiano. ‘Do an inventory of the Moor’s possessions and take them, because you’re his heir.’ He turned to Montano. ‘To you, Lord Governor, there remains the punishment of this hellish villain.
The time, the place, the torture – oh, enforce it! I’m going back to Venice immediately, to relate this heavy act with a heavy heart.’