Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

merely from contempt for Othello's intellect. He can trust him to use violence, but thinks he may bungle anything that requires adroitness.

(3) When the conversation breaks off here (225) Iago has brought Othello back to the position reached at the end of the Temptation scene (111. iii.). Cassio and Desdemona are to be killed; and, in addition, the time is hastened; it is to be 'tonight,' not 'within three days.'

The constructional idea clearly is that, after the Temptation scene, Othello tends to relapse and wait, which is terribly dangerous to Iago, who therefore in this scene quickens his purpose. Yet Othello relapses again. He has declared that he will not expostulate with her (IV. i. 217). But he cannot keep his word, and there follows the scene of accusation. Its dramatic purposes are obvious, but Othello seems to have no purpose in it. He asks no questions, or, rather, none that shows the least glimpse of doubt or hope. He is merely torturing himself.

NOTE N.

TWO PASSAGES IN THE LAST SCENE OF OTHELLO.

(1) v. ii. 71 f. Desdemona demands that Cassio be sent for to 'confess' the truth that she never gave him the handkerchief. Othello answers that Cassio has confessed the truth-has confessed the adultery. The dialogue goes on:

Des. He will not say so.

Oth.

No, his mouth is stopp'd:

Honest lago hath ta'en order for 't.

Des. O my fear interprets: what, is he dead?

Oth. Had all his hairs been lives, my great revenge

Had stomach for them all.

Des. Alas! he is betray'd and I undone.

It is a ghastly idea, but I believe Shakespeare means that, at the mention of Iago's name, Desdemona suddenly sees that he is the villain whose existence he had declared to be impossible when, an hour before, Emilia had suggested that someone had poisoned Othello's mind. But her words rouse Othello to such furious

indignation ('Out, strumpet! Weep'st thou for him to my face?')

that 'it is too late.'

(2) v. ii. 286 f.

Oth. I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable.

If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee. [WoundsIago. Lod. Wrench his sword from him.

I bleed, sir, but not killed.

Iago. Are Iago's strange words meant to show his absorption of interest in himself amidst so much anguish? I think rather he is meant to be alluding to Othello's words, and saying, with a cold contemptuous smile, 'You see he is right; I am a devil.'

NOTE O.

OTHELLO ON DESDEMONA'S LAST WORDS.

I have said that the last scene of Othello, though terribly painful, contains almost nothing to diminish the admiration and love which heighten our pity for the hero (p. 198). I said 'almost' in view of the following passage (v. ii. 123 ff.):

Emil. O, who hath done this deed?

Des. Nobody; I myself. Farewell:

Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell!
Why, how should she be murder'd?1

Alas, who knows?

Oth.
Emil.
Oth. You heard her say herself, it was not I.
Emil. She said so: I must needs report the truth.
Oth. She's, like a liar, gone to burning hell:
'Twas I that kill'd her.

Emil.

O, the more angel she,
And you the blacker devil!

Oth. She turn'd to folly, and she was a whore.

[Dies.

This is a strange passage. What did Shakespeare mean us to feel? One is astonished that Othello should not be startled, nay thunder-struck, when he hears such dying words coming from the lips of an obdurate adulteress. One is shocked by the moral blindness or obliquity which takes them only as a further sign of her worthlessness. Here alone, I think, in the scene 1 He alludes to her cry, 'O falsely, falsely murder'd !'

sympathy with Othello quite disappears. Did Shakespeare mean us to feel thus, and to realise how completely confused and perverted Othello's mind has become? I suppose so: and yet Othello's words continue to strike me as very strange, and also as not like Othello, especially as at this point he was not in anger, much less enraged. It has sometimes occurred to me that there is a touch of personal animus in the passage. One remembers the place in Hamlet (written but a little while before) where Hamlet thinks he is unwilling to kill the King at his prayers, for fear they may take him to heaven; and one remembers Shakespeare's irony, how he shows that those prayers do not go to heaven, and that the soul of this praying murderer is at that moment as murderous as ever (see p. 171), just as here the soul of the lying Desdemona is angelic in its lie. Is it conceivable that in both passages he was intentionally striking at conventional 'religious' ideas; and, in particular, that the belief that a man's everlasting fate is decided by the occupation of his last moment excited in him indignation as well as contempt? I admit that this fancy seems un-Shakespearean, and yet it comes back on me whenever I read this passage. [The words 'I suppose so' (1. 3 above) gave my conclusion; but I wish to withdraw the whole Note]

[graphic]

NOTE P.

DID EMILIA SUSPECT IAGO?

I have answered No (p. 216), and have no doubt about the matter; but at one time I was puzzled, as perhaps others have been, by a single phrase of Emilia's. It occurs in the conversation between her and Iago and Desdemona (Iv. ii. 130 f.):

I will be hang'd if some eternal villain,

Some busy and insinuating rogue,

Some cogging, cozening slave, to get some office,
Have not devised this slander; I'll be hang'd else.

Emilia, it may be said, knew that Cassio was the suspected man, so that she must be thinking of his office, and must mean that Iago has poisoned Othello's mind in order to prevent his reinstatement and to get the lieutenancy for himself. And, it may be said, she speaks indefinitely so that Iago alone may understand her (for Desdemona does not know that Cassio is the suspected

man). Hence too, it may be said, when, at v. ii. 190, she exclaims,

Villany, villany, villany!

I think upon't, I think: I smell't: O villany!
I thought so then :-I'll kill myself for grief;

she refers in the words italicised to the occasion of the passage in IV. ii., and is reproaching herself for not having taken steps on her suspicion of Iago.

I have explained in the text why I think it impossible to suppose that Emilia suspected her husband; and I do not think any one who follows her speeches in v. ii., and who realises that, if she did suspect him, she must have been simply pretending surprise when Othello told her that Iago was his informant, will feel any doubt. Her idea in the lines at IV. ii. 130 is, I believe, merely that someone is trying to establish a ground for asking a favour from Othello in return for information which nearly concerns him. It does not follow that, because she knew Cassio was suspected, she must have been referring to Cassio's office. She was a stupid woman, and, even if she had not been, she would not put two and two together so easily as the reader of the play.

In the line,

I thought so then: I'll kill myself for grief,

I think she certainly refers to IV. ii. 130 f. and also Iv. ii. 15 (Steevens's idea that she is thinking of the time when she let Iago take the handkerchief is absurd). If 'I'll kill myself for grief' is to be taken in close connection with the preceding words (which is not certain), she may mean that she reproaches herself for not having acted on her general suspicion, or (less probably) that she reproaches herself for not having suspected that Iago was the

rogue.

With regard to my view that she failed to think of the handkerchief when she saw how angry Othello was, those who believe that she did think of it will of course also believe that she suspected Iago. But in addition to other difficulties, they will have to "suppose that her astonishment, when Othello at last mentioned the handkerchief, was mere acting. And anyone who can believe this seems to me beyond argument. [I regret that I cannot now discuss some suggestions made to me in regard to the subjects of Notes O and P.]

NOTE Q.

IAGO'S SUSPICION REGARDING CASSIO AND EMILIA.

The one expression of this suspicion appears in a very curious manner. Iago, soliloquising, says (11. i. 311):

[ocr errors]

Which thing to do,

If this poor trash of Venice, whom I trash
For his quick hunting, stand the putting on,

I'll have our Michael Cassio on the hip,

Abuse him to the Moor in the rank [F. right] garb—

For I fear Cassio with my night-cap too

Make the Moor thank me, etc.

Why For I fear Cassio,' etc.? He can hardly be giving himself an additional reason for involving Cassio; the parenthesis must be explanatory of the preceding line or some part of it. I think it explains 'rank garb' or 'right garb,' and the meaning is, 'For Cassio is what I shall accuse him of being, a seducer of wives.' He is returning to the thought with which the soliloquy begins, 'That Cassio loves her, I do well believe it.' In saying this he is unconsciously trying to believe that Cassio would at any rate like to be an adulterer, so that it is not so very abominable to say that he is one. And the idea 'I suspect him with Emilia' is a second and stronger attempt of the same kind. The idea probably was born and died in one moment. It is a curious example of Iago's secret subjection to morality.

NOTE R.

REMINISCENCES OF OTHELLO IN KING LEAR.

The following is a list, made without any special search, and doubtless incomplete, of words and phrases in King Lear which recall words and phrases in Othello, and many of which occur only in these two plays :

'waterish,' I. i. 261, appears only here and in O. III. iii. 15. 'fortune's alms,' I. i. 281, appears only here and in O. III. iv. 122,

« ZurückWeiter »