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of the soliloquy.-Dr. Johnson was a great and good man; and I should feel that I were wanting in self-respect, to mention his name with irreverence: but English criticism had not then disenthralled itself from that greatest of all literary absurdities, the doctrine of the unities; and Dr. Johnson, brave old soul as he was, was almost terrified at his own boldness in taking so high a stand as he did in favour of Shakspeare.
But, to say nothing of the greater irregularity involved in the desired improvement, all the deeper and richer meaning of the first act would be lost in narration. If, indeed, this meaning were communicable in the narrative form, the dramatic form might as well be dispensed with altogether. For the only rational ground of the drama is, that action conveys something that cannot be done up in propositions ; so that I hazard nothing in saying, that if occasional narrative could supply the place of the first act in Othello, there would be nothing left for representation to do. I will go further: This unnecessary act, as it is called, is the one which we could least afford to spare ; it being in effect fundamental to the others, and necessary to a right understanding of them.
Critics, it seems to me, have often fallen into error by looking for too much simplicity of purpose in works of art. They have told us, for example, that the object of the drama is, to represent actions, and that, to keep the work clear of redundancies, the action must be one, with a beginning, a middle, and an end ; as if all the details, whether of events or persons, were merely for the sake of the catastrophe. Thus they seem to have presumed, that no one thing could be well understood, unless it were detached from every thing else. Such is
not the method of nature : in her works we everywhere meet with great complexity of purpose ; to accomplish any one aim, she carries many aims along together. In like manner, the appropriate merit of a work of art, its truth to nature, lies in the harmony of many co-ordinate and concurrent purposes. Such a work should stand out, not as a flat abstraction, but as a round plump fact; not as a mere line or surface pointing but in one direction and authorizing but one inference, but as a solid many-sided thing pointing in a thousand directions and authorizing a thousand inferences. Unity of effect is indeed essential ; but true unity as distinguished from mere oneness of effect comes, in art as in nature, by complexity of purpose ;-a complexity wherein each purpose is alternately the means and end of the others; as in human society we cannot tell whether the state is more for individuals, or individuals more for the state, because each is in turn and alike the means and end of the other.
Whether the aim of the drarna be more to evolve action, or character, or passion, cannot be affirmed, because these are in the nature of things mutually complementary, and neither of them can be, save in vital union with the others. Doubtless, however, if any one object be paramount in the drama, it is the development of character; this being the common substratum of the other two: but the complication and interaction of several characters is necessary to the development of any one; the persons serving as the play-ground of each other's transpirations, and reciprocally furnishing motives, impulses and occasions. For every society, whether actual or dramatic, is a concrescence of individuals ;
-individuals living not merely beside, but in, from, through and for those about them : men do not grow and develope alone, but by and into each other ; and many have to grow up together in order for any one to grow. Even the best part of their individual life comes and must come through or from the social organization: and as they are made, so they must be studied; as no man can grow by himself, so none can be understood by himself; as his character is partly derived, so it must be partly interpreted, from the particular state of things in which he lives. So that, to understand any one character, we have to study many characters; indeed, the knowledge of an individual involves a knowledge of the society to which he belongs.
Perhaps it is from oversight of these things, that certain critics have argued the superfluity of the first act in Othello. If the rise, progress and result of the Moor's jealousy, granting his passion to be jealousy, which, by the way, it is not, were the only object of the work, the first act might indeed be dispensed with. But we must first know something of his character and of the characters that act upon him, before we can decide, and in order to decide, whether his passion be jealousy or not; whether he acts for revenge or for justice. This knowl. edge the first act ought to give us, and probably will give us, if we be not too wise to consult it.
Again: We often speak of men as acting thus or thús, according as they are thus or thus influenced from without. And in one sense this is true; but not in such a sense but that it is rather the man that determines the motives than the motives that determine the man: for we often see the same influences moving men
in different and even opposite directions, according to their several pre-formations and predispositions of character; so that the same thing is with one a motive to virtue, with another a motive to vice, and with a third no motive at all. And, on the other hand, where the outward motions coincide, the inward springs are often quite distinct and even reverse : so that we cannot interpret a man's actions aright, without a presentiment of his actuating principle; without some forecast of what he is, we cannot understand what he does : in short, while his actions are the only index of his character, his character is the only light whereby that index can be read. The first business, then, of the dramatist : is, to give some preconception of the characters which may render their actions intelligible, and which may in turn receive additional illustration in and through the actions. The right method of the work lies in imparting at the outset a sort of prophetic insight of the persons, not, indeed, so that we can foresee what they will do, but so that we can see what they are doing and why; as the prophecy and fulfilment always interpret each other, and we can never understand either until we have them both.
Now, considering Shakspeare's alleged want of order and method, there are few things in his works more wonderful than, what several others have remarked upon, the judgment evinced in his first scenes; and perhaps the finest example of this is in the opening of Othello. The play begins strictly at the beginning, and goes regularly forward, instead of beginning in the middle, as Dr. Johnson would have it, and then going both ways: it starts with the disclosure of precisely
what is necessary to the understanding of all that follows, and what is in turn rendered more and more intelligible by every subsequent development. Into the opening scenes are gathered the prolific germs from which the whole work is evolved; the seminal ideas, of which all the details are the natural issues and offshoots: in a word, the first act is emphatically the seminary of the whole play ; contains the original text, of which the following acts are the appropriate comments: the one unfolding the characters in their principles; the others, in their phenomena. It is the overlooking or rejecting of what is there disclosed, that has caused so much misconception of what follows. Assuming the first act to be useless or of little account, and that the rest could be understood as well without it, critics have naturally enough concluded Othello to be actuated by jealousy and Iago by revenge. Finding, however, on this ground, no sufficient motive for Iago's course, they have been forced to pronounce the character unnatural ; and have made Othello out a liar in saying he did nought in hate, but all in honour;" but have nowhere informed us why it is, that we respect the noble Moor so much, while, by their account, we ought only to detest him. I shall be obliged to take very different ground from this in regard to both these characters; and the aforesaid unnecessary act contains, I doubt not, matter enough wherewith to refute all such criticisms. If, in deed, it did not, perhaps the play had better be burned than criticized.