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more than once represented as desperation at the thought that he is eternally 'lost'; the same idea appears in the attempt of Claudius at repentance; and as Hamlet nears its close the 'religious' tone of the tragedy is deepened in two ways. In the first place, 'accident' is introduced into the plot in its barest and least dramatic form, when Hamlet is brought back to Denmark by the chance of the meeting with the pirate ship. This incident has been therefore severely criticised as a lame expedient,1 but it appears probable that the 'accident' is meant to impress the imagination as the very reverse of accidental, and with many readers it certainly does so. And that this was the intention is made the more likely by a second fact, the fact that in connection with the events of the voyage Shakespeare introduces that feeling, on Hamlet's part, of his being in the hands of Providence. The repeated expressions of this feeling are not, I have maintained, a sign that Hamlet has now formed a fixed resolution to do his duty forthwith; but their effect is to strengthen in the spectator the feeling that, whatever may become of Hamlet, and whether he wills it or not, his task will surely be accomplished, because it is the purpose of a power against which both he and his enemy are impotent, and which makes of them the instruments of its own will

Observing this, we may remember another significant point of resemblance between Hamlet and Macbeth, the appearance in each play of a Ghost, —a figure which seems quite in place in either, whereas it would seem utterly out of place in Othello or King Lear. Much might be said of the Ghost in Hamlet, but I confine myself to the matter which we are now considering. What is the effect of the appearance of the Ghost? And, in

1 The attempt to explain this meeting as pre-arranged by Hamlet is scarcely worth mention.

particular, why does Shakespeare make this Ghost so majestical a phantom, giving it that measured and solemn utterance, and that air of impersonal abstraction which forbids, for example, all expression of affection for Hamlet and checks in Hamlet the outburst of pity for his father? Whatever the intention may have been, the result is that the Ghost affects imagination not simply as the apparition of a dead king who desires the accomplishment of his purposes, but also as the → representative of that hidden ultimate power, the messenger of divine justice set upon the expiation of offences which it appeared impossible for man to discover and avenge, a reminder or a symbol of the connexion of the limited world of ordinary experience with the vaster life of which it is but a partial appearance. And as, at the beginning of the play, we have this intimation, conveyed through the medium of the received religious idea of a soul come from purgatory, so at the end, conveyed through the similar idea of a soul carried by angels to its rest, we have an intimation of the same character, and a reminder that the apparent failure of Hamlet's life is not the ultimate truth concerning him.

If these various peculiarities of the tragedy are considered, it will be agreed that, while Hamlet certainly cannot be called in the specific sense a ' religious drama,' there is in it nevertheless both a freer use of popular religious ideas, and a more decided, though always imaginative, intimation of a supreme power concerned in human evil and good, than can be found in any other of Shakespeare's tragedies. And this is probably one of the causes of the special popularity of this play, just as Macbeth, the tragedy which in these respects most nearly approaches it, has also the place next to it in general esteem.



There is practically no doubt that Othello was the tragedy written next after Hamlet. Such external evidence as we possess points to this conclusion, and it is confirmed by similarities of style, diction and versification, and also by the fact that ideas and phrases of the earlier play are echoed in the later. There is, further (not to speak of one curious point, to be considered when we come to Iago), a certain resemblance in the subjects. The heroes of the two plays are doubtless extremely unlike, so unlike that each could have dealt without much difficulty with the situation which proved fatal to the other; but still each is a man exceptionally noble and trustful, and each endures the shock of a terrible disillusionment. This theme is treated by Shakespeare for the first time in Hamlet, for the second in Othello. It recurs with modifications in King Lear, and it probably formed the attraction which drew Shakespeare to refashion in part another writer's tragedy of Timon. These four dramas

1 One instance is worth pointing out, because the passage in Othello has, oddly enough, given trouble. Desdemona says of the maid Barbara: 'She was in love, and he she loved proved mad And did forsake her.' Theobald changed 'mad' to 'bad.' Warburton read and he she loved forsook her, And she proved mad'! Johnson said 'mad' meant only 'wild, frantic, uncertain.' But what Desdemona says of Barbara is just what Ophelia might have said

of herself.

may so far be grouped together in distinction from the remaining tragedies.

But in point of substance, and, in certain respects, in point of style, the unlikeness of Othello to Hamlet is much greater than the likeness, and the later play belongs decidedly to one group with its successors. We have seen that, like them, it is a tragedy of passion, a description inapplicable to Julius Caesar or Hamlet. And with this change goes another, an enlargement in the stature of the hero. There is in most of the later heroes something colossal, something which reminds us of Michael Angelo's figures. They are not merely exceptional men, they are huge men; as it were, survivors of the heroic age living in a later and smaller world. We do not receive this impression from Romeo or Brutus or Hamlet, nor did it lie in Shakespeare's design to allow more than touches of this trait to Julius Caesar himself; but it is strongly marked in Lear and Coriolanus, and quite distinct in Macbeth and even in Antony. Othello is the first of these men, a being essentially large and grand, towering above his fellows, holding a volume of force which in repose ensures preeminence without an effort, and in commotion reminds us rather of the fury of the elements than of the tumult of common human passion.


What is the peculiarity of Othello? What is the distinctive impression that it leaves? Of all Shakespeare's tragedies, I would answer, not even excepting King Lear, Othello is the most painfully exciting and the most terrible. From the moment when the temptation of the hero begins, the reader's heart and mind are held in a vice, experiencing the extremes of pity and fear, sympathy and repulsion, sickening hope and dreadful expectation.

Evil is displayed before him, not indeed with the profusion found in King Lear, but forming, as it were, the soul of a single character, and united with ah intellectual superiority so great that he watches its advance fascinated and appalled. He sees it, in itself almost irresistible, aided at every step by fortunate accidents and the innocent mistakes of its victims. He seems to breathe an atmosphere as fateful as that of King Lear, but more confined and oppressive, the darkness not of night but of a close-shut murderous room. His imagination is excited to intense activity, but it is the activity of concentration rather than dilation.

I will not dwell now on aspects of the play which modify this impression, and I reserve for later discussion one of its principal sources, the character of Iago. But if we glance at some of its other sources, we shall find at the same time certain distinguishing characteristics of Othello.

(1) One of these has been already mentioned in our discussion of Shakespeare's technique. Othello is not only the most masterly of the tragedies in point of construction, but its method of construction is unusual. And this method, by which the conflict begins late, and advances without appreciable pause and with accelerating speed to the catastrophe, is a main cause of the painful tension just described. To this may be added that, after the conflict has begun, there is very little relief by way of the ridiculous. Henceforward at any rate Iago's humour never raises a smile. The clown is a poor one; we hardly attend to him and quickly forget him; I believe most readers of Shakespeare, if asked whether there is a clown in Othello, would answer No.

(2) In the second place, there is no subject more exciting than sexual jealousy rising to the pitch of passion; and there can hardly be any spectacle at once so engrossing and so painful as that of a


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