The Original Othello

Hecatommithi (1565) is a collection of tales by Giraldi Cinthio.

Cinthio’s is a sordid, melodramatic tale of sexual jealousy….The heroine, called Disdemona, does not elope with the Moor (whose name is not given); her family agree to the marriage, though with some reluctance; and the couple live together in great happiness in Venice.  The Moor is appointed to the command in Cyprus (Cinthio makes no mention of the Turkish danger).  The Moor and his wife travel on the same boat.  The villain’s sole motive for his actions is his unsuccessful love for Disdemona, for which he blames the Captain (Shakespeare’s Cassio).  His plot is directed not against the Moor, but against Disdemona; and he is sexually, but not professionally, jealous of the Captain.  The latter draws his sword upon one of the guard.  He is not make drunk by the Ensign and there is no Roderigo.  The Ensign steals the handkerchief while Disdemona is caressing his child.  The Captain finds it in his house and, knowing it to be Disdemona’s, he tries to return it; but he leaves hurriedly on hearing the Moor’s voice.  The murder of Disdemona is carried out by the villain and the Moor together; they knock her senseless with a sandbag and make the roof fall, so as to make the deed look like an accident.  Finally , the Moor is killed by Disdemona’s kinsmen.  The Ensign is tortured to death for another crime; and his wife was privy to the whole story.  We have some pity for his victim, but no sympathy for the Moor.

(source: Kenneth Muir, The New Penguin Othello, 1968)


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