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by Mr. Peter Cunningham, represents the piece to have been performed before the King at Whitehall in November, 1604. Both of these records, however, have since been set aside by the highest authority as forgeries. So that we are now thrown back upon the old ground, and are left without any external evidence as to the date of the writing; while the only piece of clear internal evidence is in Act ii., scene 4, where the Moor says to Desdemona, —
“A liberal hand : the hearts of old gave hands;
But our new heraldry is hands, not hearts.”
The new order of the Baronetage was instituted by King James in 1611, and the figure of a bloody hand was among the armorial bearings of those who received the new title. The Poet's allusion can hardly have been to any thing else. And it is not a little remarkable that, even before the above-mentioned forgeries were exposed, Mr. White still held it certain that the forecited passage at least must have been written “after the creation of the first baronets.”
Herewith agree all the other points of internal evidence. The workmanship abounds in marks of the Poet's latest style; the language, versification, cast of imagery, and psychologic grain, being such as to bespeak his highest maturity of power and art. So much is this the case, that Verplanck, writing while the account of performance at Harefield was still deemed authentic, thought the play must have been rewritten after that date, and perhaps made as different from what it was at first as the finished Hamlet was from the earliest copy.-I must add that we have one authentic contemporary notice of the play. Richard Burbadge, the great actor of that age, died in 1619; and a manuscript elegy written upon that occasion was discovered some years ago, which ascertains him to have acted the part of Othello. The writer gives a list of the principal characters in which Burbadge was distinguished, and winds up with the following:
“But let me not forget one chiefest part
The tragedy was founded on one of Giraldi Cinthio's novels. Whether the story was accessible to Shakespeare in English is uncertain, no translation of so early a date having been discovered. But I have already observed more than once that we are not without indications of his having known enough of Italian to take the matter directly from
rowed any thing more than a few incidents and the outline of the plot; the character, passion, pathos, and poetry being entirely his own. The following abstract of the tale will show the nature and extent of his obligations:
A Moorish captain, distinguished for his valour and con
living at Venice, his noble qualities captivated the heart of a very beautiful and virtuous lady called Desdemona. He returned her love; and they were married, against the wishes of her friends. Some time after the marriage, he
accompanied thither by his wife. He had for his ensign a man of a pleasing person, but a very wicked heart. The ensign was also married, his wife being a discreet and handsome woman, who was much liked by Desdemona; and the two passed a good deal of their time together. Both of these went with the Moor to his command; as did also his lieutenant, a man to whom he was strongly attached, and who was highly esteemed by Desdemona for her husband's sake. The ensign became enamoured of Desdemona; but, on finding he could make no impression upon her, his passion soon turned to revenge: so he took it into his head that she was in love with the lieutenant, and determined to work the ruin of them both by accusing them to the Moor. The Moor was so strong in love for his wife, and in friendship for the lieutenant, that the villain knew he would have to be very cunning and artful in his practice, else the mischief would recoil upon himself. After a while, the lieu
iered by the Moor; and the lady, grieved at her husband's losing so good a friend, went to pleading for his restoration. Thereupon the ensign began to work his craft, by insinuating to the Moor that her solicitations were for no good cause. On being required to speak more plainly, he directly accused her of preferring the lieutenant to her husband on account of the latter's complexion. The Moor then told him he ought to have his tongue cut out for thus attacking the lady's honour, and demanded ocular proof of his accu
ing, but still managed so craftily as to draw the other more and more into his toils, and finally engaged to furnish the proof required.
Now Desdemona often went to the ensign's house, and spent some time with his wife, taking with her a handkerchief which the Moor had given her, and which, being delicately embroidered in the Moorish style, was much prized by them both. The ensign had a little girl that Desdemona was very fond of; and one day, while she was caressing the child, he stole away the handkerchief so adroitly that she did not perceive the act. His next device was to leave the handkerchief on the lieutenant's bolster; where the latter soon found it, and, knowing it to be Desdemona's,
and going to the window, asked who was there; whereupon the lieutenant, fearing his anger, ran away without answering. The ensign was very glad of this incident, as it gave him more matter to work with; and he contrived one day to have an interview with the lieutenant in a place where the Moor could see them. In the course of their talk, which was on a different subject, he laughed much, and by his gestures made as if he were greatly surprised at the other's disclosures. The interview over, and the Moor asking what had passed between them, the ensign then,
after much feigning of reluctance, said the lieutenant had boasted of his frequent meetings with Desdemona, and how, the last time he was with her, she had given hijn the handkerchief. Shortly after, the Moor asked his wife for the handkerchief; and, as she could not find it, this strengthened his suspicions into conviction: still, before proceeding to extremities, he craved the further proof of seeing the handkerchief in the lieutenant's possession. So, while the lieutenant's mistress was sitting at the window of his house, and copying the embroidery, the ensign pointed her out to the Moor. The two then arrange for killing both the parties: the ensign sets upon the lieutenant in the night, and wounds him; but he fights manfully, and raises an alarm, which draws a crowd to the spot, the ensign himself appearing among them, as if roused by the cry. Upon hearing of this, the lady speaks her grief for the lieutenant; whịch so enrages the Moor, that he forthwith contrives her death. The ensign hides himself in a closet of her chamber; at the time appointed he makes a noise; Desdemona rises and goes to see what it is, and he then beats her to death with a stocking full of sand; the Moor meanwhile accusing her of the crime, and she protesting her innocence. This done, they pull down the ceiling upon her, and run out crying that the house is falling: people rush in, and find her dead under the beams, no one suspecting the truth of the matter. But the Moor soon becomes distracted with remorse. Hating the sight of the ensign, he degrades him, and drives him out of his company; whereupon the villain goes to plotting revenge upon him. He reveals to the lieutenant the truth about the lady's death, omitting his own share in it; the lieutenant accuses the Moor to the Senate, and calls in the ensign as his witness. The Moor is imprisoned, banished, and finally put to death by his wife's kindred. The ensign, returning to Venice, and continuing at his old practices, is taken up, put to the torture, and racked so violently, that he soon dies.
Such, in brief, are the leading incidents of the novel. Of
course the parts of Othello and Desdemona, Iago and Emilia, Cassio and Bianca, were suggested by what the Poet found in the tale. The novel has nothing answering to the part of Roderigo; nor did it furnish any of the names except Desdemona. Some of Iago's characteristic traits may be said to have been taken from the ensign: but this is about the whole of the Poet's obligation in the matter of character. The tale describes the Moor as valiant, prudent, and capable, Desdemona as virtuous and beautiful; and states that she loved the Moor for his nobleness of character, and that her family was much opposed to the match. These are all the hints which Shakespeare had towards the mighty delineations of character in this play, as distinguished from the incidents of the plot. For, as Mr. White remarks,“ of the complex psychological structure of the various personages, and of their harmonious mental and moral action, there is not even a rudimentary hint in the story.” It is to be observed, also, that Roderigo serves as a most effective occasion in the drama; Iago's most inward and idiomatic traits being made to transpire upon him; and this in such a way as to lift the characters of Othello and Desdemona into a much higher region, and invest them with a far deeper and more pathetic interest.
The island of Cyprus, where the scene of the drama is chiefly laid, became subject to the Republic of Venice, and was first garrisoned with Venetian troops, in 1471. After that time, the only attempt ever made upon that island by the Turks was under Selim the Second, in 1570. It was then invaded by a powerful force, and conquered in 1571; since which time it has continued a part of the Turkish Empire. The play represents that there was a junction of the Turkish fleet at Rhodes for the purpose of invading Cyprus; that the fleet started towards Cyprus, went back to Rhodes, there met another squadron, and then resumed its course to Cyprus. These are historical facts, and took place when Mustapha, Selim's general, attacked Cyprus,