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And it is from a due consideration of the Moor's “ free and open nature,” that Iago is induced to depend for the
revenge upon the effect of such subtle insinuations as Othello, believing him to be honest, was compelled to credit.
“ The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest, that but seem to be so ;
Othello had too much fire in his soul to suffer him to play the mean and dilatory and patient part of a man naturally suspicious, who is always lying in wait for opportunities to discover his own misery and dishonour, and who treasures up long and greedily the minute evidences that feed his hateful passion. “Think'st thou," he exclaims
“ Think'st thou, I'd make a life of jealousy,
To follow still the changes of the moon
When he is sent by the Senate on the expedition to Cyprus, with what perfect confidence he places his young and lovely wife in the charge of Iago ; and when Brabantio says,
“ Look to her, Moor; have a quick eye to see ;
She has deceived her father, and may thee."
What is his answer ?
“My life upon her faith.!"
And to show, out of his own mouth, how little he was inclined to insist upon a strict surveillance of his wife, or to build his doubts of her fidelity on trifles, let me quote part of his speech to Iago, even after that artful villain had poured the first drops of bitterness into Othello's cup. It is not the language of a man originally disposed to be mistrustful.
« 'Tis not to make me jealous, To say-my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company,
Is free of speech, sings, plays and dances well;
Away at once with love, or jealousy." When a man is naturally disposed to indulge the passion of jealousy, never does he exhibit it more strongly than when he is first working his way into the affections of his mistress ; and Othello from being a mere soldier, “rude
“ rude in speech and little blessed with the set phrase of peace," and having a complexion and cast of features that he was quite conscious were not generally attractive to the Venetian ladies, might have been excused some little anxiety respecting the possible triumph of his rivals. Her father never supposed for a moment that his reception of Othello's visits would lead to so strange a match, and when the event actually occurred he was so perplexed and bewildered, that he could only attribute it to supernatural arts.
* She is abused, stolen from me, and corrupted
By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks :
And even the pert Emilia could not help expressing her surprise that Desdemona had forsaken so many noble matches on his account. In her generous passion at the suspicions of the Moor in one of the latter scenes of the play, she boldly tells him to his face that Desdemona was “ but too fond of her most filthy bargain.” Yet notwithstanding Othello's manifest disadvantages as a lover and a lady's man, of which he was so fully conscious, Desdemona never seems to have discovered in him, until the poison infused by Iago had worked its effect, the slighest indication of jealousy. After the scene of the handkerchief, when
Emilia asks if this man is not jealous, Desdemona answers with an exclamation that she “ne'er saw this before.” In a preceding part of the same scene the following dialogue occurs.
Des.—Where should I lose that handkerchief, Emilia ?
I had rather have lost my purse
To put him to ill-thinking.
Drew all such humours from him.
I repeat my opinion, that Othello was not naturally jealous, but on the contrary of a most trustful and generous disposition. Shakespeare's object, it appears, was not to display the petty and never-resting suspicions of a little mind, but to exhibit a fearful picture of the tempest and desolation and delirium into which its sudden admission may throw the noblest natures.
If Othello had not been affected by the evidence so artfully brought forward by Iago, whom he looked upon as a zealous and disinterested friend, and whose good faith had never been suspected by himself or others, whose honesty in fact was proverbial, we might have fairly censured him for his blind and overweening confidence in his wife's constancy, or his own power over her affections. He would in that case have almost deserved dishonor. We ought not to forget that we are behind the scene, and know more than the unhappy Othello himself of the true characters and designs of the individual actors. When the light breaks in upon him and he discovers how completely he has been deluded, his amazement is even stronger than his anger. When Iago is brought before him, he looks to see if he is cloven-footed.
Othello.- I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable :
If thạt thou be'est a devil, I cannot kill thee.
It would be easy to add to these extracts many others of a similar tendency. But it is not necessary. I shall give but one more brief quotation and conclude. It is Othello's character from his own mouth, and I think it a true one.
PERPLEXED IN THE EXTREME. The character of Iago has been compared with that of Zanga in Young's tragedy of The Revenge. But we might as well compare a Saracen's head on a sign-post with one of Rembrandt's portraits. Hazlitt justly styles it a vulgar caricature. Dr. Gregory in one of his letters informs us, that when he was a very young man he used to think Zanga a better drawn character than Iago, but that more knowledge of the world convinced him of his error. In an edition of The Revenge, now before me, the editor remarks that “though similar in some degree, to the story of Shakespeare's Othello, the motives for resentment in Zanga are of a more noble and consistent nature, and the credulous object of his deadly hatred more excusable and more pitied in yielding to his fate.” It is not worth any one's while to contradict this nonsense. I suspect, the critic must have studied Rymer's “ Reflections on Shakespeare” in his Short View of Tragedy.” That critic, with an exquisite refinement of thought and phraseology, styles “ the tragic part of Othello a bloody farce, without salt or savour;" and being of opinion I suppose, that “great events” ought not to spring from " trivial causes,” maintains that the handkerchief is so remote a trifle that no booby on this side of Mauritania could make any consequence from it*.”
* An English writer would be looked upon as a madman, who in the present day should speak in the style of Rymer of Shakespeare's productions; but when that critic published his insults on our great Bard (in 1793) they seem
in Shakespeare's plays may seem to some critics to be an argu. ment against their truth and nature. It is exactly the reverse. It is a glorious proof of that dramatic power which enabled him so entirely to forget himself—to enter into the heart of othersand to pourtray men exactly as they are, in every change of position and with all their inconsistencies, both real and apparent. To understand them thoroughly requires the same studious observation and knowledge of human nature, as are employed in an intelligent intercourse with the living world. His characters are not described ;-they act. They are not allegorical personages. They are not automatons or lay figures. They “ live and move and have their being.” The characters in the plays of those poets who do not possess the dramatic faculty, however capable may be the writers of pourtraying with truth and vigour their
to have excited neither astonishment nor indignation. We may form a pretty good notion of what was Rymer's idea of dramatic excellence from his having termed Sackville's Gordobuc, a fable better turned for tragedy than any on this side of the Alps, in the time of Lord Buckhurst (Sackville), and might have been a better direction to Shakespeare and Ben Jonson than any guide they have had the luck to follow." Rymer is especially angry that Shakespeare should have given rank and reputation to “ a Negro." With us,” he says, a Blackumoor might rise to be a trumpeter, but Shakespeare would not have him less than a Lieutenant-General.” He is apparently ignorant of the fact that in Morocco the Negroes were in such high repute for their warlike qualities that they constituted the most considerable part of the Emperor's army, and were generally appointed to the government of provinces and towns. He thinks it an insult to the profession of arms that Iago is a soldier, as if a red coat must charm away all impurities, or cover, like charity, a multitude of sins ; or in other words that in certain human flocks that are blessed with Rymer's approbation, there can be no black sheep. The noble character of Cassio, or that of Othello himself, is not to be considered as a set-off against the villainy of Iago. Rymer has fallen into well-merited oblivion, and yet Dryden “himself, the best critic of his time," characterizes one of the critiques in the volume containing these literary blasphemies, as “excellent." And in his preface to the Fables styles him “our learned Mr. Rymer”-“that great critic who deserves no little commendation from us his countrymen.” Pope also has styled him “one of the best critics we ever had.” Johnson, in his life of Dryden, draws a parallel between him and Rymer. “ Dryden's criticism," says he, “has the majesty of a queen ; Rymer's has the ferocity of a tyrant."