I wrote this a few years ago about a lost love. At the time it felt like I had been hurt and betrayed in a way I couldn’t possibly recover from. This is as true now as it was then.
Shakespeare wrote many plays during his lifetime, but none speaks to me of deceit and betrayal the way Othello does. In my first year as an active member of Chi Beta, I did a monologue from Othello. It was one of my very best performances, and that may have been because I played the ever so crazy Iago, a man driven crazy by greed and jealously. His maniacal laugh and charismatic behavior helped him to betray his friends leaving them all dead. His ambition drove him to the point of pure madness where he begins to believe the lies he has created.
However, today I stand here not as Iago, but as Desdemona, the wife of Othello. I am obviously not dead but my heart feels like it had died. I stand here thinking, remembering, and feeling for Desdemona’s pain on the eve of her death. As she sat in her tub being bathed by her maid Emilia, Iago’s wife, singing a song of love gone wrong.
My mother had a maid call’d Barbara:
She was in love, and he she loved proved mad
And did forsake her: she had a song of ‘willow;’
An old thing ’twas, but it express’d her fortune,
And she died singing it: that song to-night
Will not go from my mind; I have much to do,
But to go hang my head all at one side,
And sing it like poor Barbara.
“[Singing] The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow:
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones”
Sing willow, willow, willow” (Othello Act 4. Scene 3)
She sang the song of a love that was too strong and too one sided. I stand here not because I loved an Othello. For a man to love you so much that he is driven mad by the idea of you loving another is to perfect of a utopia for me. No, I stand here having loved an Iago. A man who only loved himself. A man so driven by greed and jealously that he never saw past his desires. Never saw what was in front of him, so instead of keeping what he had. He reached for more leaving him with nothing and me empty. For having given all I had to give. Having loved all I could. It was not enough. He was just like the greedy dog in Aesop’s fable that lost his bone attacking his own reflection in the water.
He let me go, to grasp for what he thought was a bigger and better bone. Was it really a bigger bone? I do not know. I do, however, know that he lost both in the process. I feel as if I were Desdemona, that irony would treat me so nicely as to reward me with the opportunity to be her, to have so drastically changed roles, to have so purely lived, and to have so egregiously died.
How I was left to die is unimportant. What is important is how I came to be left there. How I came to love so dearly. He was my friend a kind and wonderful man. We would spend all of our time together living, loving, laughing, and learning. We had a common love for history and thirst for knowledge that lead to many a healthy and hearty debate. We would stay up late talking about religion, government, and more. There wasn’t a topic that we could not put an interesting spin to. We would argue whether God was misogynistic, or if the writers of the bible were. We would spend our time learning from each other. Just enjoying each other’s presence. He even told me he loved me the night before I found out the truth.
The truth. Saying that has a strange ring to it. As if, everything that had existed before was merely lies and falsities. It could have been. He could have lied to me every day about loving me. He could have been lying to me all the time, but I don’t believe he was. I don’t believe he did. Maybe he should be given an Emmy award for best actor, no an Academy Award. Maybe I created this reality myself, but I don’t believe I did. I don’t believe I concocted this. I don’t believe it was all a lie, but it is hard to tell what was and what wasn’t.
He may have loved me. I believed he did love me. Just not as much as he loved himself. The truth that I found, my dear audience, the truth that Desdemona and I share, is that he wanted more of me than what existed. He imagined me up into a different being and loved her not me. Just as Iago never loved Emilia or Desdemona just the idea of them, so I stand here having lost a love. Having died as Desdemona; guiltless yet still loving, I say.
“Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones”
Sing willow, willow, willow”