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In a short speech of Æmelia's, there occurs one of those side intimations 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.
Emilia. 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 every where predominates over her per
"A maiden never bold :
Of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion
Blushed at itself."
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,
As having sense of beauty, do omit
Their mortal natures; letting safe go by
The divine Desdemona."
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 "honours 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 resolutions, 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 fears to her love, a knitting of herself (heart and soul) to the fate of another. Bating the commencement of her passion, which is a little fantastical and headstrong (though even that may perhaps be consistently accounted for from her inability to resist a rising inclination*) her whole character consists in having no will of her own, no prompter but her obedience. Her romantick turn is only a consequence of the domestick 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 staid with her. Her resignation and angelick 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,
"Iago. Ay, too gentle.
What shall I do to win my lord again?
Good friend, go to him; for by this light of heaven,
I know not how I lost him. Here I kneel;
If e'er my will did trespass 'gainst his love,
Either in discourse, or thought, or actual deed,
Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense
And ever will, though he do shake me off
To beggarly divorcement, love him dearly,
But never taint my love.
Iago. I pray you be content: 'tis but his humour.
Desdemona. If 'twere no other !"-
The scene which follows with Emilia, and the song of the Willow, are equally beautiful, and shew the author's extreme power of varying the expression of passion, in all its moods and in all circumstances.
Emilia. Would you had never seen him.
Desdemona. So would not I: my love doth so approve him, That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns,
Have grace and favour in them," &c.
Not the unjust suspicions of Othello, not Iago's treachery, place Desdemona in a more amiable or interesting light than the casual conversation (half earnest, half jest) between her and Emilia, on the common behaviour 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 Iago is one of the supererogations of Shakspeare's genius. Some persons, more nice than wise, have thought this whole character unnatural, because his villany 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 de monstrated to him by a logical diagram, merely from seeing children paddle in the dirt or kill flies for sport. Iago in fact belongs to a class of characters, common to Shakspeare, and at the same time peculiar to him; whose heads are as acute and active as their hearts are hard and callous. Iago is to be sure an extreme instance of the kind; that is to say, of diseased intellectual activity, with an almost perfect indifference to moral good or evil, or rather with a decided preference of the latter, because it falls more readily in with his favourite propensity, gives greater zest to his thoughts and scope to his actions. 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. His gayety, such as it is, arises from the success of his treachery; his ease from the torture he has inflicted on others. He is an amateur of tragedy in real life; and instead of employing his invention on imaginary characters, or long forgotten incidents, he takes the bolder and more desperate course of getting up his plot at home, casts the principal parts among his nearest friends and connexions, and rehearses it in downright earnest, with steady nerves and unabated resolution. We will just give an illustration or two.
One of his most characteristick speeches is that immediately after the marriage of Othello.
"Roderigo. What a full fortune does the thick lips owe, If he can carry her thus!
Iago. Call up her father:
Rouse bim (Othello) make after him, poison his delight,
Proclaim him in the streets, incense her kinsmen,
And tho' he in a fertile climate dwell,
Plague him with flies: Tho' that his joy be joy,
Yet throw such changes of vexation on it,
As it may lose some colour."
In the next passage, his imagination runs riot in the mischief he is plotting, and breaks out into the wildness and impetuosity of real enthusi
"Roderigo. Here is her father's house: I'll call aloud.
As when, by night and negligence, the fire
Is spied in populous cities."