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NOTES ON OTHELLO.
Act I. sc. 1.
DMIRABLE is the preparation, so truly and
peculiarly Shakspearian, in the introduction of Roderigo, as the dupe on whom layo shall first exercise his art, and in so doing display his own character. Roderigo, without any fixed principle, but not without the moral notions and sympathies with honour, which his rank and connections had hung upon him, is already well fitted and predisposed for the purpose ; for very want of character and strength of passion, like wind loudest in an empty house, constitute his character. The first three lines happily state the nature and foundation of the friendship between him and Iago, - the purse,—as also the contrast of Roderigo’s intemperance of mind with Iago's coolness,—the coolness of a preconceiving experimenter. The mere language of protestation
If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me, which falling in with the associative link, determines Roderigo's continuation of complaint
Thou told'st me, thou didst hold bin in thy hate
elicits at length a true feeling of Iago's mind, the dread of contempt habitual to those, who encourage in themselves, and have their keenest pleasure in, the expression of contempt for others. Observe Iago's high self-opinion, and the moral, that a wicked man will employ real feelings, as well as assume those most alien from his own, as instruments of his purposes :
-Ind, by the faith of man,
A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife
the true one, as fitting to Iago's contempt for what.' ever did not display power, and that intellectual power. In what follows, let the reader feel how bv and through the glass of two passions, disappointed vanity and
vices of which he is complaining, are made to act upon him as if they were so many excellences, and the more appropriately, because cunning is always admired and wished for by minds conscious of inward weakness ;-but they act only by half, like music on an inattentive auditor, swelling the thoughts which prevent him from listening to it.
Rod. What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe, If be can carry 't thus.
Roderigo turns off to Othello; and here comes one, if not the only, seeming justification of our blackamoor or negro Othello. Even if we supposed this an uninterrupted tradition of the theatre, and
that Shakspeare 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 barbarons negro plead royal birth,—at a time, too, when negroes were not known except as slaves ? - As for lago'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 wiltul 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 Shakspeare 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 personce 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 dis
proportionateness, a want of balance, in Desdemona, which Shakspeare does not appear to have in the least contemplated. Ib. Brabantio's speech :
This accident is not unlike my dream :The old careful senator, being caught careless, transfers his caution to his dreaming power at least. Ib. lago's speech
-For their souls,
The forced praise of Othello followed by the bitter hatred of him in this speech! Ind observe how Brabantio's dream prepares for his recurrence to the notion of philtres, and how both prepare
for carrying on the plot of the arraignment of Othello on this ground. Ib. sc. 2.
Oih. 'Tis better as it is. How well these few words impress at the outset the truth of Othello's own character of himself at the end—that he was not easily wrought !' His self-government contradistinguishes him throughout from Leontes. Ib. Othello's speech :
demerits May speak, unbonnetledThe argument in Theobald's note, where and
bonnetted' is suggested, goes on the assumption
Please your grace, my ancient;
To his conveyance ! assiyn my wife.
Bru, Look to her, Moor; have a quick eye to see; She bas deceiv'd her father, and may thee.
Oth. My life upon her faith. In real life, how do we look back to little speeches as presentimental of, or contrasted with, an affecting event! Even so, Shakspeare, as secure of being read over and over, of becoming a family friend, provides this passage for his readers, and leaves it to them.
Ib. Iago's speech :
Virtue ? a fig! 'tis in ourselves, that we are thus, or thus, Sic.
This speech comprises the passionless character