Page images
PDF
EPUB

for suspicion, and do all in your power to convince him of your affection and fidelity' • Why so I do,' said she, “but to no purpose.' The Moor, in the meantime, did all in his power to prove what he desired not to find true, and begged the ensign to make him see the handkerchief in possession of the lieutenant. Although this was a difficult undertaking, yet the villain promised to do all in his power to give him a satisfactory proof of this. The lieutenant had a woman in the house, who was a notable embroiderer in muslin, and who, struck with the beauty of Desdemona's handkerchief, determined to copy it before it should be returned to her. She set about making one like it, and while she was at work, the ensign discovered that she sat at a window where any one who passed in the street might see her. This he took care to point out to the Moor, who was then fully persuaded that his chaste and innocent wife was an adultress. He agreed with the ensign to kill both her and the lieutenant; and, consulting together about the means, the Moor entreated him to undertake the assassination of the officer, promising never to forget so great an obligation. He refused, however, to attempt what was so very difficult and dangerous, as the lieutenant was equally brave and vigilant; but with much entreaty and considerable presents, he was prevailed on to say that he would hazard the experiment. One dark night, after taking this resolution, he observed the lieutenant coming out of the house of a female libertine where he usually passed his evenings, and assaulted him sword in band. He struck at his legs with a view of bringing him to the ground, and with the first blow cut him quite through the right thigh."

ACT IV. (1) SCENE I. Is't possible !--Confess !Handkerchief !-0, devil !

[Falls in a trance.] "The starts and broken reflections in this speech have something very terrible, and show the mind of the speaker to be in inexpressible agonies."-WARBURTON.

“When many confused and very interesting ideas pour in upon the mind all at once, and with such rapidity that it has not time to shape or digest them,

if it does not reliere itself by tears (which we know it often does, whether for joy or grief) it produces stupefaction and fainting.

“Othello, in broken sentences, and single words, all of which have a reference to the cause of his jealousy, shows, that all the proofs are present at once to his mind, which so overpowers it, that he falls into a trance, the natural consequence."-SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.

(2) SCENE III.

My mother had a maid call d Barbara :
She was in love; and he she lov'd prov'd mad,
And did forsake her : she had a song, of Willow,
An old thing 't was, but it express'd her fortune,

And she died singing it.] The old ballad so pathetically introduced has been reprinted by Capell and Dr. Percy from a black-letter copy in the Pepys' collection at Cambridge. The original, which we append, is the lament not of a forsaken female, but of a “lass-lorn bachelor," and Shakespeare, in adapting it for a woman, has slightly altered, and added to, the words :“A LOVER'S COMPLAINT, BEING FORSAKEN OF HIS LOVE. “A poore soule sat sighing under a sicamore tree;

O willow, willow, willow !
With his hand on his bosom, his head on his knee:

O willow, willow, willow !

O willow, willow, willow!
Sing, 0 the greene willow shall be my garland.
“He sigh'd in his singing, and after each grone,

Come willow, &c.
I am dead to all pleasure, my true love is gone;

O willow, &c.

“My love she is turned ; untrue she doth prove :

O willow, &c.
She renders me nothing but hate for my love.

O willow, &c.
“ O pitty me (cried he) ye lovers, each one ;

O willow, &c.
Her heart's hard as marble; she rues not my mone.

O willow, &c.
“The cold streams ran by him, his eyes wept apace;

O willow, &c.
The salt tears fell from him, which drowned his face :

O willow, &c.
" The mute birds sate by him, made tàme by his mones :

O willow, &c.
The salt tears fell from him, which softned the stones.

O willow, &c.
“Let nobody blame me, her scornes I do prove;

O willow, &c.
She was born to be faire; I, to die for her love.

O willow, &c.
“O that beauty should harbour a heart that's so hard !

O willow, &c.
My true love rejecting without all regard.

O willow, &c.
“Let love no more boast him in palace or bower;

O willow, &c.
For women are trothles, and flote in an houre.

O willow, &c.
“But what helps complaining? In vame I complaine ;

O willow, &c.
I must patiently suffer her scorne and disdaine.

O willow, &c.
“Come, all you forsaken, and sit down by me,

O willow, &c.
He that 'plaines of his false love, mine's falser than she.

O willow, &c.
“ The willow wreath weare I, since my love doth fleete ;

O willow, willow, willow!
A Garland for lovers forsaken most meete.

O willow, willow, willow!

O willow, willow, willow!
Sing, O the greene willow shall be my garland.”

ACT V.

(1) SCENE II.-I have done the state some service.] The policy of the Venetian commonwealth in never permitting a citizen to have command of the army, is mentioned more than once by Contareno:

" To exclude therfore out of our estate the danger or occasion of any such ambitious enterpriseo, our auncesters held it a better course to defend their dominions uppon the continent with forreyn mercenarie souldiers, than with their homeborn citizens, and to assigne them their pay and stipende out of the tributes and receipts of the Province, wherin they remayned: for it is just, and reasonable, that the souldiers shoulde be maintained at the charge of those in whose defence they are employed, and into their warfare, have many of our associates been ascribed, some of which have attained to the highest degree of commandement in our army.

The Cittizens therefore of Venice, for this only course are deprived of the honors belonging to warres by land, and are contented to transferre them over to straungers to which ende there was a lawe solemnely decreede, that no gentleman of Venice should have the charge and commaundement of above five and twentie souldiers," &c.

(2) SCENE II.

- of one, whose hand, Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away,

Richer than all his tribe.] So the quartos. In the folio we have,

“ Of one whose hand

(Like the base Iudean) threw," &c. Upon these two readings the commentators are at issue. Theobald, Warburton, Farmer, and Malone, all advocate Judean, considering that the allusion is manifestly to the story of Herod and Mariamne. This view of the passage has been very ably supported too, of late, by a correspondent in Mr. G. White's Shakespeare's Scholar, &c., p. 443. On the other hand, the latest editors, Messrs. Dyce, Collier, and Knight, side with Boswell, who preferred Indian, and adduced the following quotations, from succeeding poets, in maintenance of that lection :

“ So the unskilfull Indian those bright gems

Which might adde majestie to diadems
'Mong the waves scatters."

Habington's Castara.- To Castara weeping. And

“ Behold my queen
Who with no more concern I'le cast away
Then Indians do a pearl that ne're did know
Its value."

The Woman's Conquest, by Sir Edward Howard. We, too, follow the quartos, but must admit that a good case has been made out for the reading of the folio.

CRITICAL OPINIONS.

steal up

“THE beauties of this play impress themselves so strongly upon the attention of the reader, that they can draw no aid from critical illustration. The fiery openness of Othello, magnanimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection, inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate in his revenge ;' the cool malignity of Iago, silent in his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious at once of his interest and his vengeance; the soft simplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and conscious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her suit, and her slowness to suspect that she can be suspected, are such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer. The gradual progress which Iago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the circumstances which he employs to inflame him, are so artfully natural, that, though it will perhaps not be said of him as he says of himself, that he is a man not easily jealous, yet we cannot but pity him, when at last we find him perplexed in the extreme. “There is always danger, lest wickedness, conjoined with abilities, should

esteem, though it misses of approbation ; but the character of Iago is so conducted, that he is, from the first scene to the last, hated and despised. Even the inferior characters of this play would be very conspicuous in any other piece, not only for their justness, but their strength. Cassio is brave, benevolent, and honest, ruined only by his want of stubbornness to resist an insidious invitation. Roderigo's suspicious credulity, and impatient submission to the cheats which he sees practised upon him, and which by persuasion he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful desires to a false friend ; and the virtue of Æmilia is such as we often find worn loosely, but not cast off

, easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villanies.

“ The scenes from the beginning to the end are busy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting the progression of the story; and the narrative in the end, hough it tells but what is known already, yet is necessary to produce the death of Othello.

" Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occasionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and scrupulous regularity.”—JOHNSON.

“If. Romeo and Juliet' shines with the colours of the dawn of morning, but a dawn whose purple clouds already announce the thunder of a sultry day, * Othello' is, on the other hand, a strongly shaded picture: we might call it a tragical Rembrandt. What a fortunate mistake that the Moor (under which name, in the original novel, a baptized Saracen of the Northern coast of Africa was unquestionably meant), has been made by Shakspeare in every respect a negro! We recognize in Othello the wild nature of that glowing zone which generates the most deadly poisons, tamed only in appearance by the desire of fame, by foreign laws of honour, and by nobler and milder manners. His jealousy is not the jealousy of the heart, which is compatible with the tenderest feeling and adoration of the beloved object ; it is of that sensual kind which, in burning climes, has given birth to the disgraceful confinement of women and many other unnatural usages. A drop of this poison flows in his veins, and sets his whole blood in the wildest ferment. The Moor seems noble, frank, confiding, grateful for the love shown him; and he is all this, and, moreover, a hero who spurns at danger, a worthy leader of an army, a faithful servant of the State ; but the mere physical force of passion puts to flight in one moment all his acquired and mere habitual virtues, and gives the upper hand to the savage over the moral man. This tyranny of the blood over the will betrays itself even in the expression of his desire of revenge upon Cassio. In his repentance, a genuine tenderness for his murdered wife, and in the presence of the damning evidence of his deed, the painful feeling of annihilated honour at last bursts forth; and in the midst of these painful emotions, he assails himself with the rage wherewith a despot punishes a runaway slave. He suffers as a double man; at once in the higher and the lower sphere into which his being was divided. While the Moor bears the nightly colour of suspicion and deceit only on his visage, Iago is black within. He haunts Othello like his evil genius, and with his light (and therefore the more dangerous) insinuations, he leaves him no rest ; it is as if by means of an unfortunate affinity, founded however in nature, this influence was by necessity more powerful over him than the voice of his good angel Desdemona. A more artful villain than this Iago was never portrayed ; he spreads his nets with a skill which nothing can escape. The repugnance inspired by his aims becomes tolerable from the attention of the spectators being directed to his means : these furnish endless employment to the understanding. Cool, discontented, and morose, arrogant where he dares be so, but humble and insinuating when it suits his purposes, he is a complete master in the art of dissimulation ; accessible only to selfish emotions, he is thoroughly skilled in rousing the passions of others, and of availing himself of every opening which they give him : he is as excellent an observer of men as any one can be who is unacquainted with higher motives of action from his own experience; there is always some truth in his malicious observations on them. He does not merely pretend an obdurate incredulity as to the virtue of women, he actually entertains it; and this, too, falls in with his whole way of thinking, and makes him the more fit for the execution of his prurpose. As in everything he sees merely the hateful side, he dissolves in the rudest manner the charm which the imagination casts over the relation between the two sexes : he does so for the purpose of revolting Othello's senses, whose heart otherwise might easily have convinced him of Desdemona's innocence. This must serve as an excuse for the numerous expressions in the speeches of Iago from which modesty shrinks. If Shakspeare had written in our days he would not perhaps have dared to hazard them; and yet this must certainly have greatly injured the truth of his picture. Desdemona is a sacrifice without blemish. She is not, it is true, a high ideal representation of sweetness and enthusiastic passion like Juliet; full of simplicity, softness, and humility, and so innocent, that she can hardly form to herself an idea of the possibility of infidelity, she seems calculated to make the most yielding and tenderest of wives. The female propensity wholly to resign itself to a foreign destiny has led her into the only fault of her life, that of marrying without her father's consent. Her choice seems wrong; and yet she has been gained over to Othello by that which induces the female to honour in man her protector and guide,-admiration of his determined heroism, and compassion for the sufferings which he had undergone. With great art it is so contrived that from the very circumstance that the possibility of a suspicion of her own purity of motive never once enters her mind, she is the less reserved in her solicitations for Cassio, and thereby does but heighten more and more the jealousy of Othello. To throw out still more clearly the angelic purity of Desdemona, Shakspeare has in Emilia associated with her a companion of doubtful virtue. From the sinful levity of this woman, it is also conceivable that she should not confess the abstraction of the handkerchief when Othello violently demands it back: this would otherwise be the circumstance in the whole piece the most difficult to justify. Cassio is portrayed exactly as he ought to be to excite suspicion without actual guilt, -amiable and nobly disposed, but easily seduced. The public events of the first two acts show us Othello in his most glorious aspect, as the support of Venice and the terror of the Turks; they serve to withdraw the story from the mere domestic circle, just as this is done in * Romeo and Juliet' by the dissensions between the houses of Montague and Capulet. No eloquence is capable of painting the overwhelming force of the

« PreviousContinue »