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erigo there speaks as a disappointed lover, seeking to revenge himself on the cause of his disappointment. We all know how common it is for coxcombs like him, when balked and mortified in rivalry with their betters, to fly off into extravagant terms of disparagement and reproach; their petulant vanity easing and soothing itself by calling them any thing they may wish them to be. It is true, the Moor is several times spoken of as black; but this term was often used, as it still is, of a tawny skin in comparison with one that is fair. So in Antony and Cleopatra the heroine speaks of herself as being "with Phoebus' amorous pinches black;" and in The Two Gentlemen of Verona Thurio, when told that Silvia says his face is a fair one, replies, "Nay, then the wanton lies my face is black." But, indeed, the calling a darkcomplexioned white person black is as common as almost any form of speech in the language.
It would seem, from Othello's being so often called "the Moor," that there ought to be no question about what the Poet meant him to be. For the difference between Moors and Negroes was probably as well understood in his time as it is now; and there is no more evidence in this play that he thought them the same, than there is in The Merchant of Venice, where the Prince of Morocco comes as a suitor to Portia, and in a stage-direction of the old quarto is called "a tawny Moor." Othello, as may be seen in Act iv. sc. 2, note 22, was a Mauritanian prince, for Iago there speaks of his purposed retirement to Mauritania as his home. Consistently with this, the same speaker in another place uses terms implying him to be a native of Barbary, Mauritania being the old name of one of the Barbary States. Iago, to be sure, is an unscrupulous liar; but then he has more cunning than to lie when telling the truth will stand with his purpose, as it evidently will here. So that there needs no scruple about endorsing the argument of Mr. White, in his Shakespeare's Scholar. "Shakespeare," says he, "nowhere calls Othello an Ethiopian, and also does not apply the term to Aaron in the horrible Titus Andronicus; but he continually speaks of both as Moors; and as he has used the first word elsewhere, and certainly had use for it as a reproach in the mouth of Iago, it seems that he must have been fully aware of the distinction in grade between the two races. Indeed I never could see the least reason for supposing that Shakespeare intended Othello to be represented as a Negro. With the Negroes, the Venetians had nothing to do, that we know of, and could not have in the natural course of things; whereas, with their over-theway neighbours, the Moors, they were continually brought in contact. These were a warlike, civilized, and enterprising race, which could furnish an Othello."
That the question may, if possible, be thoroughly shut up and done with, we will add the remarks of Coleridge on the aforesaid custom of the stage: "Even if we supposed this an uninterrupted
tradition of the theatre, and that Shakespeare himself, from want of scenes, and the experience that nothing could be made too marked for the senses of his audience, had practically sanctioned it, would this prove aught concerning his own intention as a poet for all ages? Can we imagine him so utterly ignorant as to make a barbarous Negro plead royal birth, at a time, too, when Negroes were not known except as slaves? As for Iago's language to Brabantio, it implies merely that Othello was a Moor, that is, black. Though I think the rivalry of Roderigo sufficient to account for his wilful confusion of Moor and Negro; yet, even if compelled to give this up, I should think it only adapted for the acting of the day, and should complain of an enormity built on a single word, in direct contradiction to Iago's Barbary horse.' Besides, if we could in good earnest believe Shakespeare ignorant of the distinction, still why should we adopt one disagreeable possibility, instead of a ten times greater and more pleasing probability? It is a common error to mistake the epithets applied by the dramatis persone to each other, as truly descriptive of what the audience ought to see or know. No doubt, Desdemona 'saw Othello's visage in his mind;' yet, as we are constituted, and most surely as an English audience was disposed in the beginning of the seventeenth century, it would be something monstrous to conceive this beautiful Venetian girl falling in love with a veritable Negro. It would argue a disproportionateness, a want of balance, in Desdemona, which Shakespeare does not appear to have in the least contemplated."
The character of Othello, direct and single in itself, worked out with great breadth and clearness. And here again the first Act is peculiarly fruitful of significant points; furnishing, in respect of him as of lago, the seminal ideas of which the subsequent details are the natural issues and offshoots. In the opening scene we have Iago telling various lies about the Moor; yet his lying is so managed as, while effecting its immediate purpose on the gull, to be at the same time more or less suggestive of the truth: he caricatures Othello, but is too artful a caricaturist to let the peculiar features of the subject be lost in an excess of misrepresentation; that is, there is truth enough in what he says, to make it pass with one who wishes it true, and whose mind is too weak to prevent such a wish from growing into belief.
Othello's mind is strongly charged with the natural enthusiasm of high principle and earnest feeling, and this gives a certain ele vated and imaginative turn to his manner of thought and speech. In the deportment of such a man there is apt to be something upon which a cold and crafty malice can easily stick the imputation of being haughty and grandiloquent, or of "loving his own pride and purposes." Especially, when urged with unseasonable or impertinent solicitations, his answers are apt to be in such a style, that they can hardly pass through an Iagoish mind, without catching
the air of strutting and bombastic evasion. For a man like Othello will not stoop to be the advocate or apologist of himself: it is enough that he stands justified to his own sense of right; and if others dislike his course, this does not shake him, as he did not take it with a view to please them: he acts from his own mind; and to explain his conduct, save where he is responsible, looks like soliciting an endorsement from others, as though the consciousness of rectitude were not enough to sustain him. Such a man, if his fortune and his other parts be at all in proportion, commonly succeeds; for by his strength of character he naturally creates a sphere which himself alone can fill, and so makes himself necessary. On the other hand, a subtle and malignant rogue, like Iago, while fearing to be known as the enemy of such a man, envies his success, and from this envy affects contempt of his qualities. For the proper triumph of a bad man over his envied superiors is, to scoff at the very gifts which gnaw him.
The intimations, then, derived from Iago lead us to regard the Moor, before we meet with him, as one who deliberates calmly, and therefore decides firmly. His refusing to explain his conduct where he is not responsible, is a pledge that he will not shrink from any responsibility where he truly owes it. In his first reply when urged by Iago to elude Brabantio's pursuit, our expectations are made good. We see that, as he acts from honour and principle, so he will cheerfully abide the consequences. Full of equanimity and firmness, he is content to let the reasons of his course appear in the issues thereof; whereas Iago delights in stating his reasons, as giving scope for mental activity and display.
From his characteristic intrepidity and calmness, the Moor, as we learn in the sequel, has come to be esteemed, by those who know him best, as one whom "passion cannot shake." For the passions are in him both tempered and strengthened by the energy of higher principles; and, if kept under reason, the stronger they are, the more they exalt reason. This feature of Othello is well seen at his meeting with Brabantio and attendants, when the parties are on the point of fighting, and he quiets them by exclaiming, "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them; where the belligerent spirit is as much charmed down by his playful logic, as overawed by his sternness of command. So, too, when Brabantio calls out, "Down with him, thief!" and he replies, "Good signior, you shall more command with years than with your weapons."
Such is our sturdy warrior's habitual carriage: no upstart exigency disconcerts him; no obloquy exasperates him to violence or recrimination: peril, perplexity, provocation rather augment than impair his self-possession; and the more deeply he is stirred, the more calmly and steadily he acts. This calmness of intensity is most finely displayed in his address to the Senate, where the words, though they fall on the ear as softly as an evening breeze,
seem charged with life from every part of his being. All is grace and modesty and gent'eness, yet what strength and dignity! the union of perfect repose and impassioned energy. Perhaps the finest point of contrast between Othello and Iago lies in the method of their several minds. Iago is morbidly introversive and selfexplicative; his mind is ever busy spinning out its own contents; and he takes no pleasure either in viewing or in showing things, till he has baptized them in his own spirit, and then seems chuckling inwardly as he holds them up reeking with the slime he has dipped them in. In Othello, on the contrary, every thing is direct, healthy, objective; and he reproduces in transparent diction the truth as revealed to him from without; his mind being like a clear, even mirror which, invisible itself, renders back in its exact shape and colour whatsoever stands before it.
We know of nothing in Shakespeare that has this quality more conspicuous than the Moor's account "how he did thrive in this fair lady's love, and she in his." The dark man eloquent literally speaks in pictures. We see the silent blushing maiden moving about her household tasks, ever and anon turning her eye upon the earnest warrior; leaving the door open as she goes out of the room, that she may catch the tones of his voice; hastening back to her father's side, as though drawn to the spot by some new impulse of filial attachment; afraid to look the speaker in the face, yet unable to keep out of his presence, and drinking in with ear and heart every word of his marvellous tale: the Moor, meanwhile, waxing more eloquent when this modest listener was by, partly because he saw she was interested, and partly because he wished to interest her still more. Yet we believe all he says, for the virtual presence of the things he describes enables us, as it were, to test his fidelity of representation.
In his simplicity, however, he lets out a truth of which he seems not to have been aware. At Brabantio's fireside he has been unwittingly making love by his manner, before he was even conscious of loving; and thought he was but listening for a disclosure of the lady's feelings, while he was really soliciting a response to his own for this is a matter wherein heart often calls and answers to heart, without giving the head any notice of its proceedings. His quick perception of the interest he had awakened is a confession of the interest he felt, the state of his mind coming out in his anxiety to know that of hers. And how natural it was that he should thus honestly think he was but returning her passion, while it was his own passion that caused him to see or suspect she had any to be returned ! And so she seems to have understood the matter; whereupon, appreciating the modesty that kept him silent, she gave him a hint of encouragement to speak. In his feelings, moreover, respect keeps pace with affection; and he involuntarily seeks some tacit assurance of a return of his passion as a sort of permission to cherish and confess it. It is this feeling that origi
nates the delicate, reverential courtesy, the ardent, yet distant, and therefore beautiful regards, with which a truly honourable mind instinctively attires itself towards its best object; - a feeling that throws a majestic grace around the most unpromising figure, and endows the plainest features with something more eloquent than beauty.
The often-alleged unfitness of Othello's match has been mainly disposed of by what we have already said respecting his origin. The rest of it, if there be any, may be safely left to the fact of his being honoured by the Venetian Senate, and a cherished guest at Brabantio's fireside. At all events, we cannot help thinking that the noble Moor and his sweet lady have the very sort of resemblance which people thus united ought to have; and their likeness seems all the better for being joined with so much of unlikeness. It is the chaste, beautiful wedlock of meekness and magnanimity, where the inward correspondence stands the more approved for the outward diversity; and reminds us of what we are too apt to forget, that the stout, valiant soul is the chosen home of reverence and tenderness. Our heroic warrior's dark, rough exterior is found to enclose a heart strong as a giant's, yet soft and sweet as infancy. Such a marriage of bravery and gentleness proclaims that beauty is an overmatch for strength; and that true delicacy is among the highest forms of power.
Equally beautiful is the fact, that Desdemona has the heart to recognise the proper complement of herself beneath such an uninviting appearance. Perhaps none but so pure and gentle a being could have discerned the real gentleness of Othello through so many obscurations. To her fine sense, that tale of wild adventures and mischances, which often did beguile her of her tears, - a tale wherein another might have seen but the marks of a rude, coarse, animal strength, ― disclosed the history of a most meek, brave, manly soul. Nobly blind to whatsoever is repulsive in his manhood's vesture of accidents, her thoughts are filled with "his honours and his valiant parts;" his ungracious aspect is lost to her in his graces of character; and the shrine, that were else so unattractive to look upon, is made beautiful by the life with which her chaste eye sees it irradiated.
In herself, Desdemona is not more interesting than several of the Poet's women; but perhaps none of the others is in a condition so proper for developing the innermost springs of pathos. In her character and sufferings there is a nameless something that haunts the reader's mind, and hangs like a spell of compassionate sorrow upon the beatings of his heart: his thoughts revert to her and linger about her, as under a mysterious fascination of pity which they cannot shake off, and which is only kept from being painful by the sacred charm of beauty and eloquence that blends with the feeling while kindling it. It is remarkable, that the sympathies are not so deeply moved in the scene of her death, as in