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  • Title: Cinthio's Tale (Modern)
  • Translator: Joseph Grossi
  • Editor: Jessica Slights

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-proift purposes; for all other uses contact the Coordinating Editor.
    Author: Cinthio
    Editor: Jessica Slights
    Peer Reviewed

    Cinthio's Tale (Modern)

    Story 7

    . . . it happens sometimes that a blameless, loyal, and loving woman, through traps set by a villainous heart and the weakness of one who is more credulous than he should be, is killed by a faithful husband, as you will clearly see from what I am about to relate.

    There once lived in Venice a Moor, a very valiant man, who, because of the advantages of his person, and because he had proven his great judgment and his lively intelligence in matters of war, was dear to those lords who in rewarding virtuous deeds surpass those of all other republics. It happened that a virtuous woman, a marvelous beauty called Disdemona, drawn not by her womanly desire but by the Moor's virtue, fell in love with him. And he, won over by her beauty and noble mind, was likewise inflamed with passion for her. So agreeably did their love proceed that they were joined in marriage, even though her relatives did what they could to make her wed someone else. And they lived so harmoniously and in such tranquility while they were in Venice that they never exchanged a word that was not sweet and loving.

    It happened that the Venetian lords made a change in the men-at-arms that they are wont to maintain in Cyprus, and they sent the Moor to be captain of those soldiers. Though he was delighted by the honor (since such an office is given only to noble, strong, and loyal men who have proven their worth), his joy was nevertheless diminished by the prospect of having to undertake such a long and uncomfortable journey since he believed that Disdemona might take offence at it. The Lady, who had no other love in the world but the Moor and was very pleased to witness the honor that so noble and powerful a republic had bestowed upon her husband for his competence, could not wait to see her husband set out with his aides, and to accompany him in such an honored position; but she was troubled to see that the Moor was worried, and, as she did not know the cause of this, one day while they were dining said to him: "Why is it, Moor, that despite the great honor which the signory have bestowed upon you, you are so sad?" The Moor replied to Disdemona: "My joy at the honor I have received is clouded by the love I feel for you because I see one of two things happening: either I take you with me to the dangers of the sea or, to avoid such hardship, I leave you behind in Venice. The first would be grievous to me because every discomfort you experienced and every danger we encountered would cause me extreme anxiety. The second, leaving you behind, would be even more hateful to me because in being parted from you I would be parting from my own life."

    5Disdemona, on hearing this, said: "Ah, my husband, what thoughts are these that run through your mind? Why do you allow yourself to be upset by such things? I want to come with you wherever you go, even if it means walking through fire in my nightgown rather than travelling with you by sea in a safe and well-equipped ship as I am about to do, and even if there are dangers and hardships I want to share them with you. I should consider myself little loved by you if, rather than having my company at sea, you were to leave me in Venice, or if you persuaded yourself that I would rather stay safely here than be with you in the same danger you face. So I want you to prepare yourself for the trip with all the joy that befits your high rank." The Moor then joyfully threw his arms around his wife's neck and with a loving kiss said to her: "God preserve us long in this love, my dear wife." And after a short time, having gathered his apparel and prepared himself for the trip, he embarked on the ship with his wife and all his train, and with sails to the wind he set off on the journey, on calm seas, to Cyprus.

    In his company he had an Ensign who was very handsome but had the most wicked disposition in the world. He was very dear to the Moor, who had no idea of his wickedness for although he had a very wicked mind he concealed the wickedness that he harbored in his heart with lofty and arrogant words and with his manner to such an extent that he seemed like a Hector or an Achilles. This evil man had also brought his wife, a beautiful and virtuous young woman, to Cyprus, and because she was Italian she was dearly loved by the Moor's wife and spent the greater part of the day with her.

    In the same company there was also a corporal who was very dear to the Moor. He often visited the Moor at home and dined with him and his wife. As the Lady knew him to be so well liked by her husband, she showed him signs of greatest kindness. This was much appreciated by the Moor. The wicked Ensign, disregarding the promise he had made to his wife and the friendship, loyalty, and duty he owed the Moor, fell passionately in love with Disdemona, and he turned all his thoughts to how he might enjoy possession of her, but he did not dare reveal himself, fearful that should the Moor notice he would immediately be put to death. He tried in various ways and as secretively as possible to make the Lady aware of his love, but she, who thought only of the Moor, did not notice the Ensign or any other man, and everything he tried to make her fall in love with him had as little effect as if he had not tried at all. He then imagined that she might have behaved this way because she was in love with the Corporal, and he therefore decided to get rid of him and bent his thoughts to this end. But the love that he bore for the Lady changed to the most bitter hatred, and he focused all his thoughts on how, once the Corporal had been killed, he could, if he should fail to enjoy the Lady, prevent the Moor from enjoying her either. After turning over in his mind various wicked and evil plans, he decided in the end to accuse her of adultery and to make her husband believe that the adulterer was the Corporal. But, as he understood the particular love of the Moor for his wife and his friendship with the Corporal, he realized that unless he could devise a particularly cunning deception he would be unable to convince the Moor of either accusation. Wherefore he began to wait for the right time and place in order to enact his wicked plan.

    And not long after, the Moor reduced the Corporal's rank for having drawn his sword and wounded a soldier while on guard duty; this [decision of the Moor's] grieved Disdemona deeply. She tried many times to reconcile her husband and the Corporal. In the meantime, the Moor told the wicked Ensign that his wife pestered him so much about the Corporal that he feared he would be compelled to reinstate him. The evil man took from this the notion of putting his plan into action, and said: "Perhaps Disdemona has reason to look upon him so favorably." "And why is that?" asked the Moor. "I do not want," answered the Ensign, "to come between husband and wife, but if you keep your eyes open, you will see for yourself." Not for all the Moor's entreaties would the Ensign do more. Nonetheless his words remained such a sharp thorn in the Moor's mind that he gave himself over to studying their meaning and became all melancholic.

    Wherefore one day, as his wife was trying to moderate his anger towards the Corporal, beseeching him not to ignore his many years of service and friendship for such a small fault—especially as there had been a complete reconciliation between the wounded soldier and the Corporal—the Moor was angered and said to her: "There must be a very good reason, Disdemona, for you to care so much for him. He is not your brother nor your relative that you have him so much in your heart." The Lady, with all courtesy and humility, said: "I do not want you to be angry with me. Nothing moves me but the sadness of seeing you deprived of so dear a friend as you have attested the Corporal has been to you. He has not committed a grave enough fault to deserve such hatred. But you Moors are of such a hot nature that any little matter moves you to anger and revenge."

    10Made more angry by these words, the Moor replied: "Anyone who does not believe that may easily have proof of it! I shall take revenge for injuries done to me until I am fully satisfied." The Lady was dismayed at these words and, observing her husband's uncustomary fury with her, said humbly: "Nothing but good intentions prompted me to speak, but rather than have you angry with me I shall speak no more of this." The Moor, seeing the insistence with which his wife once again pleaded in favor of the Corporal, guessed that the words spoken by the Ensign were meant to suggest that Disdemona was in love with the Corporal, and in deep melancholy the Moor went to talk to the rascal and tried to convince him to speak more openly of the matter. The Ensign, intent upon harming the poor Lady, after having pretended not to want to say anything that might displease the Moor, seemed to be persuaded by his entreaties and said: "I cannot deny that it vexes me greatly to have to tell you something that must cause you enormous distress, but as you want me to, and because the care I have for your honor as my lord spurs me to it, I do not want to fail now to satisfy your request nor to do my duty to you. Just know, therefore, that it wounds your Lady to see the Corporal in disgrace with you for no other reason than that she takes pleasure in him whenever he comes to your house, as though she had already grown bored of your blackness."

    These words went to the core of the Moor's heart, but in order to know more—although he believed what the Ensign had said, for suspicion had already been born in his mind—he said with a proud look: "I do not know what is holding me back from cutting out that very bold tongue of yours, which has dared to speak such infamy against my wife." The Ensign said: "I did not expect any glory, Captain, other than the reward of my loving service, but as my duty and care for your honor have carried me this far, I will reply that the situation stands exactly as you understand it, and if the Lady, with a show of love, has so obscured your eyes that you have not seen what you should have, that does not mean that I am not telling the truth. For the Corporal himself has told me, like one whose happiness is not complete unless he has made another aware of it. And if I had not feared your anger, I would, when he told me, have given him the punishment he deserved by killing him. But since letting you know what concerns you more than anyone else brings me such undeserved reward, I wish I had kept silent so as not to have fallen into your disfavor." The Moor then said furiously, "If you do not help me to see with my own eyes what you have just told me, rest assured I shall make you understand that it would have been better for you to have been born mute." "I could have facilitated this," added the villain, "when he used to come to your house, but now that you have cast him off, not for just cause but for an unimportant reason, it will be difficult for me to prove it, for though I think that he still enjoys Disdemona whenever you give him the opportunity, he has to act much more cautiously now that he knows you have come to hate him. Yet, I do not lose hope of being able to show you that which you do not want to believe from me." And with these words they parted.

    The wretched Moor, as if he had been stabbed by the sharpest of arrows, returned home to wait for the day when the Ensign would be able to show him the thing that would make him miserable forever and ever. But the chastity observed by the Lady caused the accursed Ensign no little annoyance, for he seemed unable to find a way to make the Moor believe the truth of what he had falsely told him, and, turning over various ideas in his mind, the wicked man came up with a new piece of maliciousness. Often the wife of the Moor, as I have said, visited the home of the Ensign's wife and stayed with her a great part of the day, and because the Ensign saw that the Lady often took with her a handkerchief which he knew was a gift from the Moor that was most delicately worked in the Moorish fashion and was very dear to the Lady and likewise to the Moor, he planned to steal it from her and to prepare her final destruction. He had a three-year-old daughter who was much loved by Disdemona, so he took the child in his arms one day when the wretched Lady had gone to the rogue's house and placed her in the arms of the Lady, who drew her to her bosom. This deceitful scoundrel, who was very deft of hand, lifted the handkerchief from her belt so carefully that her suspicion was not raised, and cheerfully departed from her. Disdemona, knowing nothing, went home, and, busy with other thoughts, did not miss the handkerchief. But then several days later, searching for it and not finding it, she became worried lest the Moor ask her about it, as he often did. The wicked Ensign, seizing a convenient opportunity, went to the Corporal's house and with clever spite left the handkerchief at the head of the bed. The Corporal did not notice it until the following day when as he got out of bed he put his foot on it since it had fallen to the ground. Unable to imagine how it came to be in his house and recognizing it as Disdemona's, he determined to give it to her. Waiting for the Moor to leave the house, he went to the back door and knocked. It appeared as though Fortune had conspired with the Ensign to bring about the death of the poor Lady, since at that very moment the Moor came home and, hearing a knock at the door, he went to the window and angrily demanded "Who is knocking?" The Corporal heard the Moor's voice and, fearing that he might come down and hurt him, ran away without answering. The Moor went downstairs, opened the doors, and went out into the street and searched around but saw no one. Going back into the house full of hatred, he asked his wife who had been knocking at the door. The Lady replied honestly that she did not know. But the Moor said, "It looked to me like the Corporal." "I do not know," she responded, "if it was he or another."

    The Moor controlled his rage although he was burning with anger. He decided not to act until he had first talked to the Ensign, to whom he went right away, telling him what had happened and begging him to find out from the Corporal all he could about it. The Ensign, delighted by what had occurred, promised to do so. And so one day he spoke to the Corporal when the Moor was in a place where he could see them as they conversed. And talking to him of everything but the Lady, the Ensign burst into the loudest laughter in the world and, with a show of astonishment, he gestured with his head and hands as though he were hearing extraordinary things. The Moor, as soon as he saw them part ways, went to the Ensign to learn what the other man had told him. The Ensign, after making the Moor beg him for a long time, finally said: "He hid nothing from me, and told me that he enjoyed your wife every time you gave them the opportunity with your absence, and that the last time he was with her she gave him the handkerchief that you had given her as a gift when you married her." The Moor thanked the Ensign and thought that if the Lady no longer had the handkerchief, then it was clear that things must be as the Ensign said. Wherefore one day, after dinner, while discussing various matters with his wife, he asked her for the handkerchief. The poor woman, who had greatly feared this, grew red in the face at the request, and, to conceal her blushing, which the Moor noted well, she ran to the chest pretending to look for it. And after much searching, she said, "I do not know why I cannot find it. Perhaps you have had it." "If I had it," said he, "why would I ask you for it? But you will try again with more success."

    When he had left, he began thinking how he might murder both his wife and the Corporal such that he was not faulted for their deaths. And since he thought about this day and night, the Lady necessarily noticed that he did not act toward her as he had before. She said several times, "What is bothering you? What is disturbing you? You that used to be the most joyful man in the world are now the gloomiest man that ever lived!" The Moor found various excuses with which to respond to the Lady, but she remained completely unsatisfied. And, while she knew of no action of hers that could have so troubled the Moor, she nonetheless worried that because of the excessive number of times he had had her he had become bored. Sometimes she would tell the Ensign's wife: "I do not know what to make of the Moor. He used to be all loving towards me, but over the last few days he has become another man; and I very much fear that I shall become a warning to your girls not to marry against their parents' wishes, and Italian ladies will learn from me not to match with a man from whom Nature, Heaven, and way of life separates us. But, because I know that he is very friendly with your husband and communicates with him about his affairs, please, if you have learned anything from him of which you can advise me, do not fail to help me." She cried bitterly as she spoke. The Ensign's wife, who knew everything (as her husband had wanted to use her as an assistant in the death of the Lady though she had not been willing to agree) feared her husband and did not dare to tell her anything. She said only: "Be careful not to arouse your husband's suspicion, and try your hardest to make him know your love and loyalty." "That is exactly what I do," said she, "but to no avail."

    15The Moor, in the meantime, tried every way to get more proof of that which he did not want to uncover, and he begged the Ensign to work it so that he could see the handkerchief in the Corporal's possession, and, although that was difficult for the villain, he promised nonetheless to use all diligence to get him this proof. The Corporal had a woman at home who worked marvelous embroidery on linen, and when she saw the handkerchief and that it belonged to the Moor's wife, she agreed to make a copy before it was to be returned. And while she worked, the Ensign observed that she was near a window and could be seen by passersby on the street, so he caused her to be seen by the Moor who was now convinced that the virtuous Lady was in fact an adulteress. Then he arranged with the Ensign to kill her and the Corporal, treating them as it appeared they deserved. The Moor begged the Ensign to kill the Corporal, promising to remain eternally beholden to him. The Ensign refused to do this as it was very difficult and dangerous because the Corporal was as skillful as he was courageous, but after the Moor had begged him insistently, and given him a large sum of money, he made him promise that he would try to tempt Fortune.

    This having been resolved upon, one evening the Corporal left the home of a prostitute with whom he was amusing himself. The night being dark, he was accosted by the Ensign with his sword in his hand, who stabbed at his leg to make him fall; and it happened that he cut his right thigh through so that the poor man fell and the Ensign was on him to finish him off. But the Corporal, who was courageous and accustomed to blood and death, had drawn his sword and, wounded as he was, began to defend himself, shouting: "I am being murdered!" As a result, the Ensign, hearing some people and soldiers who were housed thereabouts come running, began to flee so as not to be caught; then, turning around, he pretended to have run up upon hearing the uproar. And standing among the others looking at the severed leg, he judged that although the Corporal was not dead he would eventually die of his wound. And although he was delighted, nevertheless he commiserated with the Corporal as though he had been his brother.

    In the morning the news had spread throughout the city and likewise reached

    Disdemona's ears; whereupon, she, being kind and not thinking that harm would come to her from it, showed the greatest sorrow at what had happened, from which the Moor drew the worst possible conclusions. And he went to find the Ensign, and said to him: "You know well that my ass of a wife is in such a state about the Corporal's accident that she has gone mad!" "And how could you expect otherwise," the Ensign said, "as he is her life and soul?" "Her soul, eh?" replied the Moor, "I shall pull the soul from her body; I would not be a man if I did not kill such an evil one." As they were discussing whether poison or a knife should slay the Lady, and not settling on one or the other, the Ensign said, "A way has come into my mind that will satisfy you and that will not draw any suspicion. It is this: the house where you have been staying is very old and the ceiling of your room has many cracks; I propose we beat Disdemona with a stocking full of sand so badly that she dies but without showing any sign of the beating on her body. When she is dead we will smash the Lady's head, pretending that a beam killed her as it fell, and in this way no one will suspect you as everyone will judge her death to be accidental." This cruel advice pleased the Moor, and they awaited a fitting time.

    One night he was in bed with her and, having already hidden the Ensign in a dressing room that opened into the bedroom according to their plan, the Ensign made a noise in the dressing room, and hearing it the Moor immediately said to his wife, "Did you hear that noise?" "I heard it," she said. "Get up," added the Moor, "and see what it is." The unfortunate Disdemona got up and as soon as she approached the dressing room the Ensign emerged and, being strong and muscular, hit her with the stocking he had ready, giving her a cruel blow in the middle of the back so that she immediately fell down unable to breathe. But with the little voice she had, she called on the Moor to help her, and he, leaping from bed, said to her, "Wicked woman, this is the reward for your dishonesty; this is how such women are treated when, pretending to love their husbands, they put horns on their heads." The wretched Lady, hearing this and feeling the end was near (for the Ensign had given her another blow), called on divine justice to witness her honor since earthly justice had failed her, and called on God to help her; upon receiving a third blow, she was killed by the wicked Ensign. Afterwards, placing her in bed and smashing her skull, he and the Moor brought down the ceiling as they had planned and the Moor began to call for help, that the house was collapsing. Hearing his voice, the neighbors ran in and discovered the bed, and found the Lady dead under the beams, wherefore everyone grieved for the good life led by the Lady.

    20The next day Disdemona was buried amid the universal mourning of the people. But God, the just observer of souls, did not want such great wickedness to go without the punishment it deserved. Thus the Moor, who had loved the Lady as much as his eyes, finding himself free, began to have so much desire for her that he went about looking for her in every part of the house; seeing that the Ensign had caused him to lose his wife and all love of life he hated the villain so much that he could not stand to see him and, if he had not been afraid of the inviolable justice of the Venetian signory, would have killed him. As he could not do this with safety, he deprived him of his rank and no longer accepted him in his company, whereupon was born such an animosity between them that no one could imagine a greater or more serious. Consequently, the Ensign, the worst of all villains, turned all of his thoughts to injuring the Moor, and, seeking out the Corporal, who had already recovered and went about with a wooden leg instead of the one that had been severed, said to him: "The time has come for you to take revenge for your lost leg, and, if you wish to come with me to Venice, I shall tell you who the wrongdoer was as here I dare not say for many reasons, and I shall testify for you in court."

    The Corporal, who knew himself greatly wronged but did not know why, thanked the Ensign and went to Venice with him. When they got there the Ensign told him that it was the Moor who had cut off his leg because he had developed a suspicion that he had slept with Disdemona, and that for the same reason he had murdered her and afterwards claimed that the collapsed ceiling had killed her. The Corporal, hearing this, denounced the Moor to the Signory both for cutting off his leg and for causing the Lady's death, and he called as a witness the Ensign, who said that both were true because the Moor had wanted him to commit both crimes, and that, having killed his wife out of an inhuman jealousy that had taken root in his mind, he had recounted to him how he had brought about her death. The Venetian signory, learning of the cruelty inflicted by the man from Barbary in their town, ordered that the Moor be arrested in Cyprus and brought to Venice, and they tried through torture to extract the truth. But overcoming with courage of spirit every torment, he denied all so staunchly that nothing could be drawn from him. Although by his resoluteness he escaped death, he was, after being many days in prison, condemned to perpetual exile where he was finally killed by relatives of the Lady as he deserved.

    The Ensign travelled to his homeland and, not wishing to give up his customary behavior, he accused one of his companions, saying he had sought to have him kill his enemy who was a nobleman, for which reason the man was arrested and tortured, and when he denied the truth of what his accuser said the Ensign was likewise tortured for comparison, where he was given such a blow that his innards ruptured. Whereupon he was released from prison and taken home where he died in misery. Thus did God avenge the innocence of Disdemona. And the Ensign's wife, who was aware of what had happened, recounted this entire series of events after he had died, just as I have told it to you.