« AnteriorContinuar »
This happens before he is assured of her innocence; but after. wards his remorse is as dreadful as his revenge has been, and yields only to fixed and death-like despair. His farewell speech, before he kills himself, in which he conveys his reasons to the senate for the murder of his wife, is equal to the first speech, in which he gave them an account of his courtship of her, and “his whole course of love.” Such an ending was alone worthy of such a commencement.
If anything could add to the force of our sympathy with Othello, or compassion for his fate, it would be the frankness and generosity of his nature, which so little deserve it. When lago first begins to practise upon his unsuspecting friendship, he answers,
-“ Tis not to make me jealous,
For she had eyes, and chose me.” This character is beautifully and with affecting simplicity) confirmed by what Desdemona herself says of him to Æmilia after she has lost the handkerchief, the first pledge of his love to her.
“ Believe me, I had rather have lost my purse
Is he not jealous ?
In a short speech of Æmilia's, there occurs one of those sideintimations of the fluctuations of passion which we seldom meet with but in Shakspeare. After Othello has resolved upon the death of his wife, and bids her dismiss her attendant for the night, she answers,
" I will, my Lord.
ÆMILIA. How goes it now! He looks gentler than he did." Shakspeare has here put into half a line what some authors would have spun out into ten set speeches.
The character of Desdemona herself is inimitable both in itself, and as it contrasts with Othello's groundless jealousy, and with the foul conspiracy of which she is the innocent victim. Her beauty and external graces are only indirectly glanced at; we see her visage in her mind;" her character everywhere predominates over her person.
* A maiden never bold:
There is one fine compliment paid to her by Cassio, who exclaims triumphantly when she comes ashore at Cyprus after the storm,
** Tempests themselves, high seas, and howling winds,
In general, as is the case with most of Shakspeare's females, we lose sight of her personal charms in her attachment and devotedness to her husband. “She is subdued even to the very quality of her lord;" and to Othello's "honors and his valiant parts her soul and fortunes consecrates." The lady protests so much herself, and she is as good as her word. The truth of conception, with which timidity and boldness are united in the same character, is marvellous. The extravagance of her reso. lutions, the pertinacity of her affections, may be said to arise out of the gentleness of her nature. They imply an unreserved reliance on the purity of her own intentions, an entire surrender of her feans to her love, a knitting of herself (heart and sou!) to the fate of another. Bating the commencement of her passion, which is a little fantastu al and headstroug (though evca that may perhaps be consistently accounted for fruen her ina. bility to resist a rising inclination *), her whole character consists in having no will of her own, no prompter but her obedi. ence. Her romantic turn is on, 'a con requence of the domestic and practical part of her disposition; and, instead of following Othello to the wars, she would gladly have “remained at home a moth of peace,” if her husband could have stayed with her. Her resignation and angelic sweetness of temper do not desert her at the last. The scenes in which she laments and tries to account for Othello's estrangement from her are exquisitely beautiful. After he has struck her, and called her names, she says,
-“O good lago,
Lago. I pray you be content; 't is but his humor.
DESDEMONA. If 't were no other!”The scene which follows with Æmilia and the song of the Willow, are equally beautiful, and show the author's extreme power of varying the expression of passion, in all its moods and in all circumstances.
* ÆMILIA. Would you had never seen him !
DESDEMONA. So would not I: my love doth so approve him,
• " Jago, Ay, too gentle.
OTHELLO. Nay, that's certain.”
Not the unjust suspicions of Othello, not lago's treachery, place Desdemona in a more amiable or interesting light than the casual conversation (half earnest, half jest) between her and Æmilia, on the common behavior of women to their husbands. This dialogue takes place just before the last fatal scene. If Othello had overheard it, it would have prevented the whole catastrophe; but then it would have spoiled the play.
The character of lago is one of the supererogations of Shakspeare's genius. Some persons, more nice than wise, have thought this whole character unnatural, because his villainy is without a sufficient motive. Shakspeare, who was as good a philosopher as he was a poet, thought otherwise. He knew that the love of power, which is another name for the love of mischief, is natural to man. He would know this as well or better than if it had been demonstrated to him by a logical dia. gram, merely from seeing children paddle in the dirt, or kill flies for sport. We might ask those who think the character of lago not natural, why they go to see it performed, but from the interest it excites, the sharper edge which it sets on the curiosity and imagination? Why do they go to see tragedies in general ! Why do we always read the accounts in the newspapers of dreadful fires and shocking murders, but for the same reason! Why do so many persons frequent trials and executions, or why do the lower classes almost universally take delight in barbarous sports and cruelty to animals, but because there is a natural tendency in the mind to strong excitement, a desire to have its faculties roused and stimulated to the utmost? Whenever this principle is not under the restraint of humanity, or the sense of moral obligation, there are no excesses to which it will not of itself give rise, without the assistance of any other motive, either of passion or self-interest. lago in fact belongs to a class of characters common to Shakspeare, and at the same time peculiar to him; whose beads am as acute and active as their hearts are hard and callous. lago is, to be sure, an extreme instance of the kind ; that is to say, of diseased intellectual activity, with an almost perfect indifference to mural goud or evil, or rather with a decided preference of the latter, because it falls more readily in with his favorite propensity, gives greater zest to his
thoughts and scope to his actions. Be it observed, too (for the sake of those who are for squaring all human actions by the maxims of Rochefoucauld), that he is quite or nearly as indifferent to his own fate as to that of others; he runs all risks for a trifling and doubtful advantage ; and is himself the dupe and victim of his ruling passion-an insatiable craving after action of the most difficult and dangerous kind. “Our ancient" is a philosopher, who fancies that a lie that kills has more point in it than an alliteration or an antithesis ; who thinks a fatal experiment on the peace of a family a better thing than watching the palpitations in the heart of a flea in a microscope ; who plots the ruin of his friends as an exercise for his ingenuity, and stabs men in the dark to prevent ennui. Now this, though it be sport, yet is dreadful sport. There is no room for trifling and indifference, nor scarcely for the appearance of it; the very object of his whole plot is to keep his faculties stretched on the rack, in a state of watch and ward, in a sort of breathless sus. pense, without a moment’s interval of repose. He has a desperate stake to play for, like a man who fences with poisoned weapons, and has business enough on his hands to call for the whole stock of his sober circumspection, his dark duplicity, and insidious gravity. He resembles a man who sits down to play at chess, for the sake of the difficulty and complication of the game, and who immediately becomes absorbed in it. His amusements, if such they may be called, are severe and saturnineeven his wit blisters. His gaiety, such as it is, arises from the success of his treachery; his ease from the torture he has in. flicted on others.
Even if other circumstances permitted it, the part he has to play with Othello requires that he should assume the most serious concern, and something of the plausibility of a confessor. * His cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o' Bedlam." He is repeatedly called “honest lago," which looks as if there were something suspicious in his appearance which admitted a different construction. The tone which he adopts in the scenes with Roderigo, Desdemona, and Cassio, is only a relaxation from the more arduous business of the play, yet there is in all his conversation an inveterate misanthropy, a licentious