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catastrophe in Othello,'—the pressure of feelings which measure out in a moment the abysses of eternity.”-SCHLEGEL.
“Admirable is the preparation, so truly and peculiarly Shakesperian, in the introduction of Roderigo, as the dupe on whom Iago shall first exercise his art, and in doing so display his own character. Roderigo, without any fixed principle, but not without the moral notions and sympathies with honour which his rank and connexions had hung upon him, is already well fitted and predisposed for the purpose ; for very want of character and strength of passion, like wind loudest in an empty house, constitute his character. The first three lines happily state the nature and foundation of the friendship between him and Iago,--the purse, -as also the contrast of Roderigo's intemperance of mind with Iago's coolness, the coolness of a preconceiving experimenter. The mere language of protestation
. If ever I did dream of such a matter,
which falling in with the associative link, determines Roderigo's continuation of complaint,
• Thou told'st me, thou didst hold him in thy hate,'
elicits at length a true feeling of Iago's mind, the dread of contempt habitual to those who encourage in themselves, and have their keenest pleasure in, the expression of contempt for others. Observe Iago's high self-opinion, and the moral, that a wicked man will employ real feelings, as well as assume those most alien from his own, as instruments of his purposes :
and by the faith of man I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.'
In what follows, let the reader feel how by and through the glass of two passions, disappointed vanity and envy, the very vices of which he is complaining are made to act upon him as if they were so many excellences, and the more appropriately because cunning is always admired and wished for by minds conscious of inward weakness : but they act only by half, like music on an inattentive auditor, swelling the thoughts which prevent him from listening to it.
Rod. What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe
If he can carry't thus!'
Roderigo turns off to Othello ; and here comes one, if not the only, seeming justification of our blackamoor or negro Othello. Even if we supposed this an uninterrupted tradition of the theatre, and that Shakespear himself, from want of scenes, and the experience that nothing could be too marked for the senses of his audience, had practically sanctioned it, would this prove aught concerning his own intention as a poet for all ages? Can we imagine him so utterly ignorant as to make a barbarous negro plead royal birth-at a time too when negroes were not known except as slaves ? As for Iago's language to Brabantio, it implies merely that Othello was a Moor, that is, black. Though I think the rivalry of Roderigo sufficient to account for his wilful confusion of Moor and negro, yet, even if compelled to give this up, I should think it only adapted for the acting of the day, and should complain of an enormity built on a single word, in direct contradiction to Iago's · Barbary Horse.' Besides, if we could in good earnest believe Shakespear ignorant of the distinction, still why should we adopt one disagreeable possibility instead of a ten times greater and more pleasing probability ? It is a common error to mistake the epithets applied by the dramatis persona to each other as truly descriptive of what the audience ought to see or know. No doubt Desdemona saw Othello's visage in his mind ; yet, as we are constituted, and most surely as an English audience was disposed in the beginning of the seventeenth century, it would be something monstrous to conceive this beautiful Venetian girl falling in love with a veritable negro.
It would argue a disproportionateness, a want of balance in Desdemona, which Shakespear does not appear to have in the least contemplated.
" Iago's speech — · Virtue ? a fig! 't is in ourselves that we are thus, or thus,' &c.
comprises the passionless character of Iago. It is all will in intellect ; and therefore he is here a bold partisan of the truth, but yet of a truth converted into a falsehood by the absence of all the necessary modifications caused by the frail nature of man. And then comes the last sentiment Our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this, that you call-love, to be a sect or scion !' Here is the true Iagoism of alas ! how many! Note Iago's pride of mastery in the repetition of 'Go, make money!' to his anticipated dupe, even stronger than his love of lucre: and when Roderigo is completely won, when the effect has been fully produced, the repetition of triumph — Go to; farewell; put money enough in your purse !' The remainder-Iago's soliloquy—the motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity. how awful it is! Yea, whilst he is still allowed to bear the divine image, it is too fiendish for his own steady view, for the lonely gaze of a being next to devil, and not quite devil,—and yet a character which Shakespear has attempted and executed, without disgust and without scandal !
“ Dr. Johnson has remarked that little or nothing is wanting to render the Othello' a regular tragedy, but to have opened the play with the arrival of Othello in Cyprus, and to have thrown the preceding act into the form of narration. Here then is the place to determine whether such a change would or would not be an improvement: nay (to throw down the glove with a full challenge), whether the tragedy would or not by such an arrangement become more regular—that is, more consonant with the rules dictated by universal reason, or the true common-sense of mankind, in its application to the particular case. For in all acts of judgment, it can never be too often recollected, and scarcely too often repeated, that rules are means to ends, and, consequently, that the end must be determined and understood before it can be known what the rules are or ought to be. Now, from a certain species of drama, proposing to itself the accomplishment of certain ends—these partly arising from the idea of the species itself, but in part, likewise, forced upon the dramatist by accidental circumstances beyond his power to remove or control—three rules have been abstracted ;-in other words, the means most conducive to the attainment of the proposed ends have been generalized, and prescribed under the names of the three unities—the unity of time, the unity of place, and the unity of action, which last would, perhaps, have been as appropriately, as well as more intelligibly, entitled the unity of interest. With this last the present question has no immediate concern: in fact, its conjunction with the former two is a mere delusion of words. It is not properly a rule, but in itself the great end, not only of the drama, but of the epic poem, the lyric ode, of all poetry, down to the candle-flame cone of an epigram, nay, of poesy in general, as the proper generic term inclusive of all the fine arts as its species. But of the unities of time and place, which alone are entitled to the name of rules, the history of their origin will be their best criterion. You might take the Greek chorus to a place, but you could not bring a place to them without as palpable an equivoque as bringing Birnam Wood to Macbeth at Dunsinane. It was the same, though in a less degree, with regard to the unity of time :-the positive fact, not for a moment removed from the senses, the presence, I mean, of the same identical chorus, was a continued measure of time; and although the imagination may supersede perception, yet it must be granted to be an imperfection, however easily tolerated, to place the two in broad contradiction to each other. In truth, it is a mere accident of terms: for the Trilogy of the Greek theatre was a drama in three acts, and notwithstanding this, what strange contrivances as to place there are in the Aristophanic Frogs. Besides, if the law of mere actual perception is once violated, as it is repeatedly even in the Greek tragedies, why is it more difficult to imagine three hours to be three years than to be a whole day and night?
“ Observe in how many ways Othello is made, first our acquaintance, then our friend, then the object of our anxiety, before the duper is to be approached ! And Cassio's warm-hearted, yet perfectly disengaged, praise of Desdemona * that paragons description and wild fame, and sympathy with the most fortunately' wived Othello ;-and yet Cassio is an enthusiastic admirer, almost worshipper, of Desdemona. 0, that detestable code, that excellence cannot be loved in any form that is female, but it must needs be selfish! Observe Othello's 'honest' and Cassio’s ‘bold'Iago, and Cassio's full guileless-hearted wishes for the safety and love-raptures of Othello and 'the divine Desdemona." And also note the exquisite circumstance of Cassio's kissing Iago's wife, as if it ought to be impossible that the dullest auditor should not feel Cassio's religious love of Desdemona's purity. Iago's answers are the sneers which a proud bad intellect feels towards women, and expresses to a wife. Surely it ought to be considered a very exalted compliment to women, that all the sarcasms on them in Shakespear are put in the mouths of villains.
“ Finally, Othello does not kill Desdemona in jealousy, but in a conviction forced upon him by the almost superhuman art of Iago, such a conviction as any man would and must have entertained who had believed Iago's honesty as Othello did. We, the audience, know that Iago is a villain from the beginning: but in considering the essence of the Shakesperian Othello, we must perseveringly place ourselves in his situation, and under his circumstances. Then we shall immediately feel the fundamental difference between the solemn agony of the noble Moor, and the wretched fishing jealousies of Leontes, and the morbid suspiciousness of Leonatus, who is in other respects a fine character. Othello had no life but in Desdemona :--the belief that she, his angel, had fallen from the heaven of her native innocence, wrought a civil war in his heart. She is his counterpart; and like him, is almost sanctified in our eyes by her absolute unsuspiciousness, and holy entireness of love. As the curtain drops, which do we pity the most ?”-COLERIDGE,