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that where by the blows of her husband's hand and tongue she is made to feel that she has lost him. Too innocent to suspect that she is suspected, she cannot for a long time understand nor imagine the motive of his harshness; and her errings in quest of excuses and apologies for him are deeply pathetic, inasmuch as they manifestly spring from her incapability of an impure thought. And the sense that the heart of his confidence is gone from her, and for what cause it is gone, comes upon her like a dead stifling weight of agony and woe, which benumbs her to all other pains. She does not show any thing that can be properly called pangs of suffering; the effect is too deep for that; the blow falling so heavy that it stuns her sensibilities into a sort of lethargy.
Desdemona's character may almost be said to consist in the union of purity and impressibility. All her organs of sense and motion seem perfectly ensouled, and her visible form instinct in every part with the spirit and intelligence of moral life.
Her by her sight; her pure and eloquent blood
Hence her father describes her as "a maiden never bold; of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion blush'd at itself." Which gives the idea of a being whose whole frame is so receptive of influences and impressions from without, who lives so entranced amid a world of beauty and delight, that her soul keeps ever looking and listening; and if at any time she chance upon a stray thought or vision of herself, she shrinks back surprised and abashed, as though she had caught herself in the presence of a stranger whom modesty kept her from looking in the face. It is through this most delicate impressibility that she sometimes gets frightened out of her real character; as in her equivocation about the handkerchief, and her childlike pleading for life in the last scene; where her perfect candour and resignation are overmastered by sudden impressions of terror.
But, with all her openness to influences from without, she is still susceptive only of the good. No element of impurity can insinuate itself. Her nature seems wrought about with some subtle texture of moral sympathies and antipathies, which selects as by instinct whatsoever pure, without taking any thought or touch of the evil mixed with it. Even Iago's moral oil-of-vitriol cannot eat a passage into her mind: from his envenomed wit she extracts the element of harmless mirth, without receiving or suspecting the venom with which it is charged. Thus the world's contagions pass before her, yet dare not touch nor come near her, because she has nothin to sympathise with them or own their acquaintance. And so her life is like a quiet stream,
"In whose calm depth the beautiful and pure
Desdemona's heroism, we fear, is not of the kind to take very well with such an age of individual ensconcement as the present. Though of a "high and plenteous wit and invention," this quality never makes any special report of itself: like Cordelia, all the parts of her being speak in such harmony that the intellectual tones may not be distinctly heard. Besides, her mind and character were formed under that old-fashioned way of thinking which, regarding man and wife as socially one, legislated round them, not between them; so that the wife naturally sought protection in her husband, instead of resorting to legal methods for protection against him. Affection does indeed fill her with courage and energy of purpose she is heroic to link her life with the man she loves; heroic to do and suffer with him and for him after she is his; but, poor gentle soul! she knows no heroism that can prompt her, in respect of him, to cast aside the awful prerogative of defencelessness that she has lost him, is what hurts her; and this is a hurt that cannot be salved with anger or resentment: so that her only strength is to be meek, uncomplaining, submissive in the worst that his hand may execute. Swayed by that power whose "favourite seat is feeble woman's breast," she is of course "a child to chiding," ," and sinks beneath unkindness, instead of having the spirit to outface it.
They err greatly, who think to school Desdemona in the doctrine of woman's rights. When her husband has been shaken from his confidence in her truth and loyalty, what can she care for her rights as a woman? To be under the necessity of asserting them, is to have lost and more than lost them. A constrained abstinence from evil deeds and unkind words bears no price with her; and to be sheltered from the wind and storm, is worse than nothing, unless she have a living fountain of light and warmth in the being that shelters her. But, indeed, the beauty of the woman is so hid in the affection and obedience of the wife, that it seems almost a profanation to praise it. As brave to suffer wrong as she is fearful to do it, there is a holiness in her mute resignation which ought, perhaps, to be kept, where the Poet has left it, veiled from all save those whom a severe discipline of humanity may have qualified for duly respecting it. At all events, whoever would get at her secret, let him study her as a pupil, not as a critic; and until his inmost heart speaks her approval, let him rest assured that he is not competent to judge her. But if he have the gift to see that her whole course, from the first intimation of the gentle, submissive daughter, to the last groan of the ever-loving, ever-obedient, broken-hearted wife, is replete with the beauty and grace and
holiness of womanhood, then let him weep, weep, for her; so may
Coleridge has justly remarked 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 from him of our sympathy or respect. Deep and intense as is the feeling that goes along with Desdemona, Othello fairly divides it with her nay, more; the virtues and sufferings of each are so managed as to heighten the interest of the other. The impression still waits upon him, 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 built his faith and garnered up his heart,
that she, in whom he 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 poetry, the grace, the consecration, every thing that can beautify or gladden existence is gone; his whole being, with its freight of hopes, memories, affections, is reduced to a total 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 efforts to rescue this he loses all, and has no refuge but in self-destruction. He approaches the awful task in the bitterness as well as the 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 something worse than to lose his own. Nor could he ever have loved her so much, had he not loved honour more. Her love for him, too, is based upon the very principle that 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. "Othello," says Coleridge," had no life but in Desdemona :- the belief that she, his angel, had fallen from the heaven of her native innocence, wrought a civil war in his heart. She is his counterpart; and, like him, is almost sanctified in our eyes by her absolute unsuspiciousness, and holy entireness of love. As the curtain drops, which do we pity the most?"
PREFACE TO THE QUARTO EDITION
THE STATIONER TO THE READER.
To set forth a book without an epistle, were like to the old English proverb, "A blue coat without a badge;" and, the author being dead, I thought good to take that piece of work upon me. To commend it, I will not; for that which is good I hope every man will commend without intreaty; and I am the bolder, because the author's name is sufficient to vent his work. Thus leaving every one to the liberty of judgment, I have ventured to print this play, and leave it to the general censure.
The DUKE of VENICE.
CASSIO, his Lieutenant.
RODERIGO, a Venetian Gentleman.
MONTANO, Governor of Cyprus.
DESDEMONA, Othello's Wife, Daughter to Brabantio.
Officers, Gentlemen, Messengers, Musicians, Sailors, Attendants, &c.
SCENE, for the first Act, in Venice; during the rest of the Play, at a Seaport in Cyprus.