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shall do her a great wrong, and ourselves a greater wrong, if we suppose, for a moment, that she would not rather die by her husband's hand than owe her life to any protection against him. What, indeed, were life, what could it be, to her, since suspicion has fallen on her innocency? That her husband could not, would not, dare not, wrong her, even because she had trusted in him, and because in her sacred defencelessness she could not resist nor resent the wrong, — this is the only protection from which she would not pray on her bended knees to be delivered!
Coleridge justly remarks upon the art shown in Iago, that the character, with all its inscrutable depravity, neither revolts nor seduces the mind : the interest of his part amounts almost to fascination, yet there is not the slightest moral taint or infection about it. Hardly less wonderful is the Poet's skill in carrying the Moor through such a course of undeserved infliction, without any loosening of his hold on our sympathy and respect. Deep and intense as is the feeling that goes along with the heroine, Othello fairly divides it with her : rather the virtues and sufferings of each are so managed as to heighten the interest of the other. The impression still waits upon the Moor, that he does “nought in hate, but all in honour.” Nor is the mischief made to work through any vice or weakness perceived or felt in him, but rather through such qualities as lift him higher in our regard. Under the conviction that she in whom he had set his faith and garnered up his heart; that she in whom he had looked to find how much more blessed it is to give than to receive, has desecrated all his gifts, and turned his very religion into sacrilege ; —under this conviction, all the grace, the poetry, the consecration, of life is gone; his whole being, with its freight of hopes, memories, affections, is reduced to an utter wreck; a last farewell to whatsoever has made life attractive, the conditions, motives, prospects, of noble achievement, is all there is left him: in brief, he feels literally unmade, robbed not only of the laurels he has won, but of the spirit that manned him to the winning of them; so that he can neither live nobly nor nobly die, but is doomed to a sort of living death, an object of scorn and loathing unto himself. In this state of mind, no wonder his thoughts reel and totter, and cling convulsively to his honour, which is the only thing that now remains to him, until in his effort to rescue this he loses all, and has no refuge but in self-destruction! (He approaches the dreadful task in the bitterness as well as calmness of despair. In sacrificing his love to save his honour he really performs the most heroic self-sacrifice; for the taking of Desdemona's life is to him far worse than to lose his own. Nor could he have loved her so much, had he not loved honour more. Her love for him, too, is based on the selfsame principle which now prompts and nerves him to the sacrifice. And as at last our pity for her rises into awe, so our awe of him melts into pity; the catastrophe thus blending their several virtues and sufferings into one most profound, solemn, sweetly-mournful impression. Well may we ask, with Coleridge, “ as the curtain drops, which do we pity most ?”
THE TRAGEDY OF CORIOLANUS was never printed till in the folio of 1623, and is among the worst specimens of printing in that volume. The text as there delivered abounds in palpable corruptions; critical sagacity and ingenuity have done their utmost, apparently, towards rectifying the numerous errors, and in not a few cases have been rewarded with fair success; still there are some passages that seem to defy all the resources of corrective art. Collier's famous second folio has furnished more of valuable aid in this than in any other play of the series. For instance, the change there made of “ bosom multiplied ” into
«bisson multitude," in Act üi. scene 1, is undoubtedly among our happiest corrections or restorations of the Poet's language. Several others from the same source, if not so important in themselves, are hardly less apt for the sense.
The tragedy is not heard of at all through any notice or allusion made during the author's life : in fact, we have no contemporary note of reference to it whatever, save in the elegy on Richard Burbadge,* where we learn that the hero's part was sustained by that celebrated actor. So that we are left without any external evidence as to the date of the writing. Nor does the piece itself contain a traceable vestige of allusion to any known contemporary events; such, for instance, as that to the new creation of baronets in Othello. Our only argument, therefore, as regards the time of composition lies in marks of style, use of language, and complexion of imagery and thought; in all which respects it clearly falls among the very latest of the Poet's writing. Certainly no play of the series surpasses it, and very few, if any, equal it, in boldness of metaphor, in autocratic prerogative of expression, or in passages marked by an overcrowding of matter or an overcompression of language. The strength of civil wisdom, also, the searching anatomy of public characters and motives, the wide and firm grasp of social and political questions, in short, the whole moral and intellectual climate of the piece, — all concur with the former notes in marking it off to the Poet's
hold it to be among his greatest triumphs in organization: I cannot point out, I believe no one has pointed out, a single instance where the parts might have been better ordered for the proper effect of the whole; while the interest never once flags or falters, nor suffers any break or
holds on with ever-increasing force throughout, and draws all the details into its current; so that the unity of impres
The same that is quoted on page 425 of this volume.
sion is literally perfect. In this great point of dramatic architecture, I think it bears the palm clean away from both the other Roman tragedies; and indeed I am not sure but it should be set down as the peer of Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear.
In this, as in the other Roman plays, the historical matter was drawn from Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch. The events of the drama as related in the old Greek's Life of Coriolanus extend over a period of about four years, from the popular secession to the Sacred Mount, B. C. 494, to the hero's death, B. C. 490. The capture of Corioli is now reckoned to the year B. C. 493.
The severity of criticism applied in recent times has made rather sweeping work with the dim heroic traditions of old Rome; insomuch that the story of Coriolanus has now come to be generally regarded as among the most beautiful of the early Roman legends. With these questions, however, Shakespeare of course did not concern himself: like others of his time, he was content to take the rambling and credulous, but lively and graphic narratives of Plutarch as veritable and authentic history. And he would have been every way justifiable in doing this, even if the later arts of historic doubting and sifting, together with the results thereof, had been at his command. For his business as an artist was to set forth a free and life-like portraiture of human character as modified by the old Roman nationality, and clothed with the drapery of the old Roman manners. Here, then, the garrulous and gossiping old story-teller of Cheronea was just the man for him; since it will hardly be questioned that his tales, whether legendary or not, are replete with the spirit and life of the times and places to which they refer.
The Coriolanus of Plutarch offered the Poet a capital basis for the construction of a great dramatic hero. Hardly any other passage indeed of Roman history could furnish so grand and inviting a theme for personal delineation. The
main outlines of the man's character, and also the principal actions ascribed to him, are copied faithfully from the historian; while those outlines are filled up and finished with a wealth of invention and a depth of judgment which the Poet has perhaps nowhere surpassed. The proportions are indeed gigantic, not to say superhuman; so much so, that the boldest of delineators might well have scrupled such a portrait, but that he had so strong a warrant of historic faith to bear him out. The other personal figures, also, with the one exception of Menenius Agrippa, were in like sort derived from the same time-honoured repository. And the point most worth noting is, that from the parts and fragments thence derived, rich and fresh as these often are, the Poet should have reproduced, as it were, the entire form and order of their being, creating an atmosphere and environing which so fit and cohere with what he borrowed, that the whole has the air and movement of an original work. For it may be observed that all the humorous and amusing scenes -- and Shakespeare has few that are more choicely conceived or more aptly used — are supplied from the Poet's own mind; there being no hint towards these in Plutarch, except the fable rehearsed and applied by old Menenius, who is merely described as one of “the pleasantest old men, and the most acceptable to the people.” And yet how exquisite the keeping of these scenes with the other matter of the play! and how perfectly steeped they seem to be in the very genius and spirit of the old Roman life and manners!
Nor does the Poet's borrowing in this case stop with incidents or with lines of character: it extends to the very words and sentences of the old translator, and this sometimes for a considerable space together. In illustration of this, I copy, with slight abridgment, the passage describing the flight of Coriolanus to Antium, and his reception by Aufidius:
“It was even twilight when he entered the city, and many people met him in the streets, but no man knew him.