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THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO.
IL MORO DI VENEZIA is the title of one of the novels in Gi. raldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi. The material for THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE, was partly derived from this source. Whether the story was accessible to Shakespeare in English, we have no certain knowledge. No translation of so early a date has been seen or beard of in modern times; and we have already in several cases found reason to think he knew enough of Italian to take the matter directly from the original. We proceed, as usual, to give such an abstract of the tale as may fully discover the nature and extent of the Poet's obligations :
There lived in Venice a valiant Moor who was held in high esteen for his military genius and services. Desdemona, a lady of great virtue and beauty, won by his noble qualities, fell in love with him. He also became equally enamoured of her, and, notwithstanding the opposition of her friends, married her. They were altogether happy in each other until the Moor was chosen to the military command of Cyprus. Though much pleased with this honour, he was troubled to think that he must either part from bis wife or else expose her to the dangers of the voyage. She, seeing him troubled and not knowing the cause, asked him one day how he could be so melancholy after being thus honoured by the Senate; and, on being told the reason, begged him to dismiss such idle thoughts, as she was resolved to follow him wherever he should go, and, if there were any dangers in the way, to share them with him. So, the necessary preparations being made, be soon afterwards embarked with his wife, and sailed for Cyprus. In his company he had an ensign, of a fine-looking person, but exceedingly depraved in heart, a boaster and a coward, who by bis craftiness and pretension bad imposed on the Moor's simplicity, and gained his friendship. This rascal also took his wife along, a handsome and discreet woman, who, being an Italian, was much cherished by Desdemona. In the same company was also a lieutenant to whom the Moor was much attached, and often bad him to dine with him and his wife ; Desdemona showing him great attention and civility for her husband's sake.
The ensign, falling passionately in love with Desdemona, and not daring to avow it lest the Moor should kill him, sought by private means to make her aware of his passion. But when be saw that all his efforts came to nothing, and that she was too much wrapped up in her husband to think of him or any one else, he at last took it into his head that she was in love with the lieutenant, and determined to work the ruin of them both by accusing them to the Moor of adultery. But he saw that he would have to be very artful in his treachery, else the Moor would not believe bim, so great was his affection for his wife, and his friendship for the lieutenant. He therefore watched for an opportunity of putting his design into act; and it was not long before be found one. For, the lieutenant having drawn bis sword and wounded a soldier upon guard, the Moor cashiered him. Desdemona tried very hard to get him pardoned, and received again to favour. When the Moor told his ensign how earnest she was in this cause, the villain saw it was the proper time for opening his scheme : so, he suggested that she might be fond of the lieutenant's company; and, the Moor asking him why, he replied, “Nay, I do not choose to meddle between man and wife; but watch her properly, and you will then understand me." The Moor could get no further explanation from him, and, being stung to the quick by his words, kept brooding upon them, and trying to make out their meaning; and when bis wife, some time after, again begged him to forgive the lieutenant, and not to let one slight fault cancel a friendship of so many years, he at last grew angry, and wondered why she should trouble herselt so much about the fellow, as he was no relation of hers. She replied with much sweeiness, that her only motive in speaking was the pain she felt in seeing her husband deprived of so good a friend.
Upon this solicitation, he began to suspect that the ensign's words meant that she was in love with the lieutenant. So, being full of melancholy thoughts, he went to the ensign, and tried to make him speak more intelligibly; who, feigning great reluctance to say more, and making as though he yielded to his pressing entreaties, at last replied, -“You must know, then, that Desdemona is grieved for the lieutenant only because, when he comes to your house, she consoles herself with him for the disgust she now has at your blackness."
At this, the Moor was more deeply stung than ever ; but, wishing to be informed further, he put on a threatening look, and said, “I know not what keeps me from cutting out that insolent tongue of yours, which has thus attacked the honour of my wife.” The ensign replied that be expected no other reward for his friendship, but still protested that he had spoken the truth. “If,” said he, “ her feigned affection has blinded you to such a degree that you cannot see what is so very visible, that does not lessen the truth of my assertion. The lieutenant himself, being one of those who are not content unless some others are made privy to their secret enjoyments, told me so; and I would have given him his death at the time, but that I feared your displeasure : but, since you thus reward my friendship, I am sorry I did not hold my tongue.” The Moor answered in great passion, If you do not make me see with my own eyes the truth of what you tell me, be assured that I will make you wish you bad been born dumb.” — " That would have been easy enough,” said the ensign, “ when the lieutenant came to your house ; but now that you have driven him away, it will be hard to prove it. But I do not despair of causing you to see that which you will not believe on my word.”
The Moor then went home with a barbed arrow in his side, impatient for the time when he was to see what would render him forever miserable. Meanwhile, the known purity of Desdemona made the ensign very uneasy lest he should not be able to convince the Moor of what he had said. He therefore went to hatching new devices of malice. Now, Desdemona often went to his house, and spent part of the day with his wife. Having observed that she brought with her a handkerchief which the Moor had given her, and which, being delicately worked in the Moorish style, was much prized by them both, he devised to steal it. He had a little girl of three years old, who was much caressed by Desdemona. So, one day, when she was at his house, he put the child into her arms, and while she was pressing the little girl to her bosom, be stole away the handkerchief so dexterously that she did not perceive it. This put him in high spirits. And the lady, being occupied with other things, did not think of the bandkerchief till some days after, when, not being able to find it, she began to fear lest the Moor should ask for it, as he often did. The ensign, watching his opportunity, went to the lieutenant, and left the handkerchief on his bolster. When the lieutenant found it, he could not imagine how it came there ; but, knowing it to be Desdemona's, he resolved to carry it to her : so, waiting till the Moor was gone out, he went to the back door, and knocked. The Moor, having that instant returned, went to the window, and asked who was there ; whereupon the lieutenant, hearing his voice, ran away without answering. The Moor then went to the door, and, finding no one there, returned full of suspicion, and asked his wife if she knew who it was that had knocked. She answered with truth that she did not; but he, thinking it was the lieutenant, went to the ensign, told him what had happened, and engaged him to ascertain what he could on the subject.
The ensign, being much delighted at this incident, contrived one day to have an interview with the lieutenant in a place where the Moor could see them. In the course of their talk, which was on a different subject, he laughed much, and by his motions expressed