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Yet well and wisely hath the poet said,
STANZAS WRITTEN AT SEA.
LIKE blossoms pale the vernal orchard strewing
Through the stiff shrouds the gale is loudly singing,
But here no human foes with fierce commotion
[ 188 ]
TO A YOUNG LADY ON HER BIRTH-DAY.
This is the holiest day of all the year
[ 189 ]
OTHELLO AND IAGO.
COLERIDGE gave it out as a discovery, that Othello was not jealous. This is either an idle truism or an outrageous paradox. If he meant that the Moor was not naturally suspicious, he merely echoed the general judgment; but if he really thought that the cunning insinuations of Iago instilled no jealousy into Othello's mind, and that it was not Shakespeare's intention to exhibit the progress and effects of that passion, his opinion is equally new and strange*.
It is true that the jealousy of the Moor is not of that despicable character which always anticipates evil, and is ever on the watch. He is not one of those sly and greedy listeners who, according to the vulgar proverb, never hear any good of themselves. He is not a Paul Pry. His is the jealousy of a fiery and impassioned nature that cannot brook a taint of dishonour either in love or
* Dr. Lowth observes, “that the passion of jealousy, its causes, circumstances, progress, and effects, are more accurately, more copiously, more satisfactorily described in this one drama of Shakespeare, than in all the disputations of philosophy.”
“ A savage jealousy that sometimes savours nobly.”
If his jealousy had been of that cast which characterizes mean and suspicious minds, instead of sympathizing with him in his afflictions, we should have regarded him with mingled hatred and contempt. His distress would have seemed a fitting punishment. Even if his jealousy had spontaneously arisen in his own heart, instead of its being forced upon him, as it was, by the circumvention of a fiend in human form, it would have greatly lessened our sympathy and respect. It is almost unnecessary to observe that it was not Shakespeare's desire to render him repulsive or contemptible, but on the contrary to compel us to love and honor him even while he is writhing with a passion which would have rendered a meaner nature intolerably hateful. Though he becomes the murderer of his spotless wife, he only deepens our pity. The more pure and precious was that angelic being, the heavier was his misfortune, We forget his guilt in his agony. Who does not sympathize with that terrible straining of the heartstrings, when the sense of his wife's death comes suddenly home to his apprehension, while Amelia is knocking at the chamberdoor?
“ If she come in, she'll sure speak to my wife :
0, insupportable ! O, heavy hour!"
of his own mean imagination sometimes catches a slight glimpse of the dreadful interior of Iago's mind, and then all is veiled again. A noble spirit like that of Othello could form no conception of those hideous images that haunt the obscure cells of a villain's brain. But the Moor and Roderigo* were not the only dupes of the plotting and malignant "ancient.” He must have deceived even the more keen and worldly-minded of his associates, for he had obtained such a character for truth and frankness that they must have been nearly as tired of hearing of the honesty of Iago as the Athenians of the justice of Aristides. That Othello should have rejected as he did, the first suggestions of Iago, insinuated with such consummate address, and with such apparent reluctance, shows that he was not " easily jealous," though“ being wrought, perplexed in the extreme."
No man could have wholly resisted the shrewd hints and the circumstantial evidence adduced by Iago, backed as they were by his reputation for sincerity.
When the poison of jealousy has once fairly entered the heart, the most trivial circumstances tend to strengthen and confirm its influence; but with such a man as Othello, the misery is not at first self-inflicted. The Moor was the very reverse of a suspicious character, which is always a mean one. In the words of Dr. Johnson, he was magnanimous, artless, and credulous—ardent in his affection, and boundless in his confidence. Even Iago, who “knew all qualities with a learned spirit of human dealing," repeatedly acknowledges the generous trustfulness and high character of the man whom he hates.
66 The Moor-howbeit that I endure him not,
Is of a constant, loving, noble nature ;
* How different is the simplicity of the Moor from the simplicity of Roderigo !