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The movement of the passion in Othello is exceedingly different from that of Macbeth. In Macbeth there is a violent struggle between opposite feelings, between ambition and the stings of conscience, almost from first to last: in Othello, the doubtful conflict between contrary passions, though dreadful, continues only for a short time, and the chief interest is excited by the alternate ascendancy of different passions, the entire and unforseen change from the fondest love and most unbounded confidence, to the tortures of jealousy and the madness of hatred. The revenge of Othello, after it has once taken thorough possession of his mind, never quits it, but grows stronger and stronger at every moment of its delay. The nature of the Moor is noble, confiding, tender, and generous; but his blood is of the most inflammable kind; and being once roused by a sense of his wrongs, he is stopped by no considerations of remorse or pity, till he has given a loose to all the dictates of his rage and his despair. It is in working his noble nature up to this extremity, through rapid but gradual transitions, in raising passion to its height from the smallest beginnings and in spite of all obstacles, in painting the expiring conflict between love and hatred, tenderness and resentment, jealousy and remorse, in unfolding the strength and the weaknesses of our nature, in uniting sublimity of thought with the anguish of the keenest wo, in putting in motion the various impulses that agitate this our mortal being, and at last blending them in that noble tide of deep and sustained passion, impetuous but majestick, that "flows on to the Propontick, and
knows no ebb," that Shakspeare has shewn the mastery of his genius and of his power over the human heart. The third act of OTHELLO is his masterpiece, not of knowledge or passion separately, but of the two combined, of the knowledge of character with the expression of passion, of consummate art in the keeping up of appearances, with the profound workings of nature, and the convulsive movements of uncontrolable agony, of the power of inflicting torture and of suffering it. Not only is the tumult of passion heaved up from the very bottom of the soul, but even the slightest undulation of feeling is seen on the surface, as it arises from the impulses of imagination or the different probabilities maliciously suggested by lago. The progressive preparation for the catastrophe is wonderfully managed from the Moor's first gallant recital of the story of his love, of "the spells and witchcraft he had used," from his unlooked for and romantick success, the fond satisfaction with which he dotes on his own happiness, the unreserved tenderness of Desdemona and her innocent importunities in favour of Cassio, irritating the suspicions instilled into her husband's mind by the perfidy of Iago, and rankling there to poison, till he loses all command of himself, and his rage can only be appeased by blood. She is introduced, just before Iago begins to put his scheme in practice, pleading for Cassio with all the thoughtless gayety of friendship and winning confidence in the love of Othello.
"What! Michael Cassio ?
That came a wooing with you, and so many a time,
Hath ta'en your part, to have so much to do
To your own person. Nay, when I have a suit,
Wherein I mean to touch your love indeed,
It shall be full of poise, and fearful to be granted."
Othello's confidence, at first only staggered by broken hints and insinuations, recovers itself at sight of Desdemona; and he exclaims
"If she be false, O then Heav'n mocks itself:
But presently after, on brooding over his suspicions by himself, and yielding to his apprehensions of the worst, his smothered jealousy breaks out into open fury, and he returns to demand satisfaction of Iago, like a wild beast stung with the envenomed shaft of the hunters. "Look where he comes," &c. In this state of exasperation and violence, after the first paroxysms of his grief and tenderness have had their vent in that passionate apostrophe, "I felt not Cassio's kisses on her lips," lago by false aspersions, and by presenting the most revolting images to his mind,* easily turns the storm of passion from himself against Desdemona, and works him up into a trembling agony of doubt and fear, in which he abandons all his love and hopes in a breath.
"Now do I see 'tis true. Look here, Iago,
See the passage beginning, "It is impossible you should see this, were they as prime as goats," &c.
Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell;
From this time, his raging thoughts 66 never look back, ne'er ebb to humble love" till his revenge is sure of its object, the painful regrets and involuntary recollections of past circumstances, which cross his mind amidst the dim trances of passion, aggravating the sense of his wrongs, but not shaking his purpose. Once, indeed, where Iago shews him Cassio with the handkerchief in his hand, and making sport (as he thinks) of his misfortunes, the intolerable bitterness of his feelings, the extreme sense of shame, makes him fall to praising her accomplishments and relapse into a momentary fit of weakness, "Yet, Oh the pity of it, lago, the pity of it!" This returning fond ness however only serves, as it is managed by Iago, to whet his revenge, and set his heart more against her. In his conversations with Desdemona, the persuasion of her guilt and the immediate proofs of her duplicity seem to irritate his resentment and aversion to her; but in the scene immediately preceding her death, the recollection of his love returns upon him in all its tenderness and force; and after her death, he all at once forgets his wrongs in the sudden an irreparable sense of his loss.
"My wife! My wife! What wife? I have no wife.
This happens before he is assured of her innocence; but afterwards 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 any thing 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 practice upon his unsuspecting friendship, he
"Tis not to make me jealous,
To say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company,
This character is beautifully (and with affecting simplicity) confirmed by what Desdemona herself says of him to Emilia after she has lost the handkerchief, the first pledge of his love to her.
"Believe me, I had rather have lost my purse
To put him to ill thinking.
Emilia. Is he not jealous?
Desdemona. Who, he? I think the sun where he was born Drew all such humours from him."