Act 1: Scene 3
The Ottoman Empire seeks to wage war on the Republic of Venice, and set fire to its land and people. Their naval ships set sail upon the Mediterranean Sea and at this time pursue a course for the island of Cyprus. If lost, the island and its wealth of resources, which Venice relies on intently, will only fuel their Republic's destruction once the Turks gain hold. So the Duke of Venice and his senators gather in the city to discuss the brewing blight.
"The reports coming in all say the same thing; the Turkish army is heading for Cyprus. We don't know for certain how many ships they sail, but we do know that they have gathered much of their fleet." The Duke of Venice addressed his senators, who even collectively were unable to bring forth any decisive evidence regarding the matters. The hour was late, yet the forces of war do not heed to the time of day and without a proper plan the state of Venice would fall, allowing all of its influences to be snuffed by the hand of Turkey.
"My reports say the Turks sail with a hundred and seven ships, my lord," reported one senator.
"I have heard they sail with a hundred and forty," replied the duke.
"I was told they have two-hundred ships," said a second senator, "but these inconsistencies don't matter when we know that the Empire has mobilized its army."
Many of the senators had information concerning the advancing Turkish army, but they found the only consistency among their reports were the inconsistencies which plagued them. The formal nature of the senate quickly degraded into a raucous debate littered with foul arguments and inherently fraudulent merits implored ferociously as fact to the effect of creating a notably normal proceeding, which would calm in moments as is most often the case.
The quarrel predictably subsided and the gentlemen retook their seats to continue cordially their late night address.
"We are all correct," the duke began, " and yet, in the same moment we are wrong as we search for knowledge which wishes not to be found. We are indeed on the edge of war with Turkey and that alone cannot be denied." The man paused for a moment to allow his more sensitive senators time to understand. "If it's a war they want then we will stand fast with shining arms for our Republic. We will not bend to the will of a soiled empire" -
A cry cut short the duke's speech of valor.
An officer standing guard at the door glanced down the hall and answered to the senators' jarred looks. "It's little Tiberius, the messenger. He hails from the war ships."
Another cry rang out, and another as the runt scrambled toward the meeting hall's great stone birth.
"Hello! I beg your attention and pardon, sires; I bear word from the outpost." The small boy, tripping over his poor and unfitted shoes, stumbled into the meeting hall breathless. His blonde hair protruded in muddy spikes while clean wisps flounced in the heavy chamber air. He was uncouth and seemingly divorced from his faculties, but such is the trademark of his post.
"I was sent to tell you that the Turkish ships have changed course," the boy clamored without a breath. "Signor Angelo says the Turks now head for Rhodes, not Cyprus."
This news weighed heavy on the room, for it was not in the best interest of the Turks to attack such a well fortified city. The members of the senate sat waiting for their duke to speak, but there was little for any man to say in light of this puzzling news.
The duke called upon his first senator. "What do you think of this change? Do the Turks truly sail for Rhodes of Greece?"
"I think it highly unlikely, my duke." The vehement senator responded to his leader and with confidence gave his reasoning. "They aim to take us off guard and disillusion us in hopes that we will divide our forces unevenly between the two territories. Cyprus holds the bounty that they seek; it is the only island east of Rhodes that has sufficient resources to house an army. The island has no defenses aside from what soldiers we can spare, so I find it hard to believe that they would pass on such an easy target in an effort to gain the foothold of Rhodes so early in this war."
The duke agreed with the man. "It does seem all too unlikely that they would attempt to take Rhodes, and pass on the lame island Cyprus. They would need the food and materials it holds to replenish soldiers and wares."
The officer at the door announced that another messenger had just arrived. An august young man entered the hall to address the duke and senators with more news of the Turkish army's movements.
"I come bearing news, gentlemen; the Turks have sailed to Rhodes and joined with another fleet." The young man waited patiently for a response, but the room fell quiet once more.
It was unknown what the Turkish Army planned to do with its new found size and strength, and this startling news left the senate members to stare at one another in search for answers that no one possessed, until the first senator spoke.
"I had feared as much; leave it to the Ottomans to seek help when their own army is not enough. The hand should be well acquainted with the arm in matters of reach, lest its grasp fall short. What cowards! They are planning to attack our cities with force. How many ships would you say they gained, boy?"
"Thirty ships," he said, foregoing hesitation, "and it was said that they have now turned from Rhodes toward Cyprus. Signor Montano has sent me with this news and with a request for reinforcements to relieve him from his post."
"Now it is certain that the Turkish military once again sales for Cyprus." The duke's head hung in is dry hands, smearing the sweat on his sullen brow. Looking up he asked of his first senator, "Is Marcus Luccicos in town?"
"He is in Florence, sir."
"Write to him immediately then, and tell him that his duke requires he serve Venice at once!" The duke growled, perturbed by the onerous night.
The first senator called for an inkpot and paper, and soon after the noble-boy left to fetch them the doors to the chamber opened once again.
"If I may lord...Brabantio and the brave Moor are here now," said the first senator, announcing the guests which his duke had not yet acknowledged.
A dark skinned man followed by a posh elderly fellow made their way from the entrance to the table where the duke and his senators were meeting. These men were followed by their own court and a staff of officers as well. Despite a disturbing air whisked about by the old man's swagger, he went unnoticed. The dark man however, whom the senator called 'the brave Moor', commanded all of the attention the statesmen had to offer.
The duke, most of all, was entirely too pleased to see this man and greeted him warmly.
"Brave Othello, I am so pleased to see you at this time!" The duke quickly rose from his seat and grabbed Othello's extended arm, but pulled him close and embraced the unexpecting man. The senators stirred in their seats, caught off guard to see their ruler show such affection for a foreign man.
"I am humbled as always, my lord," said Othello, releasing himself from the husky man's clasp. "Soldiers on the road say that the Turkish fleet..."
Othello was cut off by the elderly man he had come with.
"To hell with your stately affairs!" -
The old man had shrieked obnoxiously, rather than yell as he intended, and with that he gained the attention of all in attendance. Several glances from senators were warded off by his fiery expressions. He composed himself for the Duke and continued his interruption with a more deftly tone.
"I have dire affairs of my own, and it would seem the good duke cares nothing for them or myself, and would rather dote on this costumed mutt than help a member of his own Republic."
Brabantio was in fact referring to the dark skinned Othello, who at this time was wiping away the sweat he inherited from the duke's lingering grasp.
The duke turned to this outspoken fellow and warmly issued him pleasantries.
"Dear Brabantio! I didn't even see you skulking over there," bellowed the duke. "Tell me friend, what troubles do you speak of?"
The old Brabantio scowled, "My daughter!" Brabantio's gruff voice was snared by emotion, but it was obvious to the room that he was deeply upset and rather possessed with anger.
"Is your girl dead, Brabantio?" asked the duke's first senator. "What has become of your daughter?"
"My Desdemona, such a fair and sweet child, is very much dead to me. Taken from under my wing with enchantments of black magic." Brabantio spoke and many in the room began to shift in their expressions. Several who had just looked upon the man with pity now glared in exhaustion at the old fool's act. He wasn't finished. "She would never leave me by her own free will; I tell you now, a spell has been cast on my daughter."
Some flares of laughter fluttered amongst the chamber members, though none so loudly so as to mark for blame. Still, the duke had offered to listen to his old friend and continued to pay the respect due by that agreement, albeit with a flit of disbelief on his rapturous tongue.
"I'm sure that what you tell me is true to you, old friend. Name this assailant and I will let you choose his punishment." The duke held Brabantio under his arm and guided him toward the light of the room. Then he boasted with devotion to his own claim, "Even if the culprit is my own son, if you choose to hang him or have him stoned by the villagers, I won't hesitate to string him up myself."
The duke had proved to be in a playful mood despite the night being haunted by such ghastly affairs and throughout the hall members of the senate shifted in their hard chairs, weary of his behavior.
"Thank you, Sire." Brabantio shuffled feverishly toward the entrance of the hall, suddenly stopping to grab a man's arm and hold it oddly above his head toward the duke. "This is the dirty bastard who stole my daughter. And it seems you had your own reasons for summoning him here. Maybe you had need for some exotic jungle pet."
The room's atmosphere teemed with a hearty gold shimmer which flowed with the laughter at Brabantio's bluster. That bright moment was promptly overcome by the natural grime and dust of the old cement hall; the candles' lights quieted down and the duke settled into the solemn shadows.
There was a murmur humming around the room, and the duke brashly shared the sentiments of his court before sharing some feelings of his own.
"We are all very sorry to hear about your daughter and of how upset you feel, but this man you speak of is not a bastard. He is a soldier; he was born a soldier and has lived the life of a soldier. He is a brother of this Republic and a General of the Venetian Army. I'll have him speak since he deserves that respect. What do you say for yourself, Othello?"
Hurt for being taken as the fool, Brabantio sulked but piped up to defend his honor once more. "There's nothing the snake can say, but I'm telling you it's true."
The duke settled Brabantio's claims with a wave of his hand and pressed Othello once more.
Othello stepped forward and spoke.
"Noble and honorable gentlemen whom I serve, it's true that I have taken this man's daughter from him. I married the girl and that hurt the fellow's feelings, but that's all the wrong I've done. I'm not happy that I hurt this man, but it was he who brought me into his daughter's life to begin with. He would call on me and I would go to him and tell him stories of my life." Othello now recounted some of the life events he had disclosed to Brabantio at the man's own request. "Always the girl would listen on the edge of her seat, captivated by the story of my life. Our love began one afternoon when she stopped me in the garden while I was leaving her father's company, and she asked me to tell her more stories."
"I could not have intended the effect they had on her. She wept for my difficult life, and cradled my soul inside her own. Our minds and our spirits have truly bonded."
"Lies!" cried Brabantio. "My Desdemona is quiet and obedient. She is of fine stock and could never willingly love a crude barbarian who has spent his life soaked in soot, a man whose skin is stained red from the blood of countless men. This is treachery if I ever saw it! The dark beast swayed her with an evil potion."
"Still your tongue, Brabantio, before it wags its way atop and o'er the hill to escape you." The duke had heard enough of the old man's ramblings about sorcery and began to foster a root of pity for his friend. "I know it hurts to lose the one's we love, but that doesn't mean he took your dear daughter with trickery. Every bird leaves the nest at some point, and they don't always fly with the same flock their parents flew with. You give no evidence that Othello tricked her; I'm sorry, my friend."
"Tell us Othello, did you trick the girl or did you two indeed enter this marriage as equals?" The senator who had made his presence obvious all night now spoke on behalf of the other senators who had been acting as the audience to this bizarre scene.
"Send for Desdemona and hear her testimony," Othello requested of the senator. Looking at Brabantio, he solidified his position. "If she says that I tricked her, then I will accept whatever fate you choose for me."
"Send a man for her, Othello. If we are going to get to the bottom of this, and let the old man rest tonight, then we need to hear from her." The duke ordered Othello, who promptly summoned a member of his own court.
Until now it had just been Othello and Brabantio who had entered the gaping hall, or so it seemed. A small group of men had actually taken residence along a back wall, and for any who passed by they would have appeared at most to be dirty statues decaying with aging stone walls and the mortar dust they shed. The candle light did not quite reach their position and gave them great cover to go unnoticed during the debacle.
Othello ordered one of the men, "Iago, fetch Desdemona from the Inn for me please."
Earnestly the man accepted these orders and he left with the rest of Othello's small enclave.
The duke issued a recess for the participants to reprieve them from the strange business they had attended.
Iago and the other men returned shortly with Desdemona, and the party gathered once more to continue the odd hearing.
"Now that we are all here," the duke began, "we can tend to this family matter and lay it to rest. Othello has told us stories that would woo my own daughter, and we ask you, Desdemona, if you fell in love with the man or if he tricked you into loving him?"
Desdemona was tall and beautiful by all accounts. Her skin played pleasantly with the candle light and divulged her livelihood in a brilliant fashion. She swayed musically as she walked, not to a sweet melody, but a more realistic and lovely one which showed both the pain and the joy that life holds. All eyes were on the sweet flower.
"I am sorry to have my father waste your time, honorable statesmen, but I love Othello and there were no tricks which caused that love. And I am sorry to you father, but just as my mother favored you over her father, my faith and loyalty now lie with my husband."
Desdemona's speech cleared the thick chamber air and filled the room with a poignant sense of clarity.
"Forgive me for wasting your time, my duke. I would rather welcome another child into my family than lose one from it." Brabantio marched to Othello and did his best to be cordial. "If you did not already have my daughter, I would die if that would keep you from it. But, since you already have her I will give you my blessing and hope that you take care of her always. It's best I only had one child, after this I would lock up any others."
In an effort to console the pained Brabantio, the duke offered a sentiment.
"There is an old proverb which may help you through this time. If something bad has already happened then don't cry over it because then you are only creating heartache when the disturbance has already passed. A man who does not cry over stolen possessions is superior to the thief, but the one who cries is wasting time."
Brabantio smiled wildly and grumbled at the duke, "So as long as we don't cry when the Turks take Cyprus then it will all be ok! It's easy to try and heal wounds with words, but words are worthless compared to what is lost. I won't trouble you any longer, return to your affairs and leave me be. I'll find my own peace in time."
The duke reclaimed the room from the drama and returned it to its previous state of business.
"I suspect you already know, Othello, that the Turkish army is amassing on Cyprus, and although we have a capable officer stationed there the census says that you are the man for the job. I'm told that you have intimate knowledge of the city's defenses and I must ask that you put your marital celebrations on hold and go to Cyprus. The city could fall without you, but I warn you it is terribly dangerous."
"As you said before, I am a soldier through and through. It is my nature to fall into battle. I will protect the island, but I ask that you do me a favor and protect my new wife."
"Of course, Othello." The duke pondered with brevity and rashly claimed, "She can stay with her father."
"No she can't." declared the squat Brabantio. He was calm and clear without making a fuss, he said his piece and then kept quiet.
"I wouldn't think of staying with my father anyhow, causing undue pain to himself and my own. Please listen to what I have to say," pleaded Desdemona.
"Have it out then." The duke was beginning to feel the strain of the late hour.
Desdemona made her case to the senate and the duke.
"When I fell in love with Othello, I fell in love with the soldier. That man who will faithfully fall into battle, will fall with me in tail. I wish to follow him, such a brave and noble man. Let me go with my husband. Not to lie with him and distract him from the strategies of war, but to offer him my guidance and support him when he needs it."
The senate stirred again, quite a customary gesture this evening.
"I beg you to let her come with me. She is of sound mind and tells the truth, I do need her. In my age I need a crutch to bear my heavy mind and soul."
Having heard Desdemona and Othello's plea, the duke made his final speech.
"You can decide that amongst yourselves. It makes no difference to me whether she stays or she goes, but you leave here tonight so make up your minds quickly. We meet again at nine in the morning. Leave an officer behind to gather your belongings."
"Thank you, sire. I'll leave my ensign, Iago. He is a good, honest man and will accompany my wife to meet me on the island." Othello shined brightly, thankful that the duke had granted him such a favor. Perhaps it was the late hour growing on the aging duke that swayed him, but Othello liked to think he was simply a kind hearted man.
The duke made his way from the hall and the senator followed.
The duke's first senator stopped briefly for Othello and said, "Goodbye, black Moor, treat your wife well."
It was a wish of good will towards Othello, and he happily accepted it.
"Honest Iago," said Othello. "I will leave my wife with you. Have Emilia care for her and surround her with proper people of her status." Then to Desdemona pleaded, "Come dear, we have preparations to make and very little time."
The couple dashed from the hall together leaving the ensign Iago and his small friend, Roderigo.
"What do you think I should do?" asked the small man.
"I think you should go to sleep, it's been a long and exaggerated night." Iago spoke without looking at his friend, he focused only on the duke's exorbitant throne.
"I think I would rather drown myself."
Roderigo had now captured Iago's attention.
"Are you a fool? Such a stupid idea. If you kill yourself, I'll never respect you. That's just a pitiful thing."
"Then what am I to do!" said the flustered Roderigo. A passion was beginning to overtake him, but it would not last long. "I love Desdemona, with my all my body and my soul, but I can never have her. She is with the Moor."
"Indeed she is with the Moor, but that is not the reason you will never have her. I will tell you two things you need to know, Roderigo. The first is that you don't love Desdemona. You lust for the woman. You aren't capable of love because it is an institution and you consume yourself with primal urges. You can't love because you don't have the will to see beyond the fields of breasts to see the hearts that beat beneath. Second, you have no money. If you want Desdemona then bide your time and get as much money as you can. Sell off your assets and save the money. You can get a girl with money and in time maybe you will learn to love her. But in all likelihood you would break her spirit with uncontrolled infidelity long before you find your love for her, and by then she may not love you. So best you start working on both of those things."
"Can I trust you?" Roderigo asked of Iago. "I know we are friends, but would you truly have my back it this goes sour?"
"You can always trust me. Now go get cash and we will meet at my house early in the morning." Iago said his piece and as Roderigo started to walk away Iago beckoned him once more.
"Yes, what is it?" asked the sulking Roderigo.
"No more talk of killing yourself, alright? See that you do better by yourself."
Roderigo left the room and Iago remained in the giant senate chamber.
"I just can't help myself. I always play some poor fool. Right now I am setting up poor Roderigo to take a leap and fall, but it will be Othello who is hit the hardest in the end. He will be sorry that he did not pay me the respect and honor I was due. I am surrounded by fools, and if I don't make them responsible for their actions in this life then who will?"
Iago slid through the heavy chamber doors, leaving the dark stone walls to their lonely dirt and grime.