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One of his most favourite topicks, on which he is rich indeed, and in descanting on which his spleen serves him for a Muse, is the disproportionate match between Desdemona and the Moor. This is a clue to the character of the lady which he is by no means ready to part with. It is brought forward in the first. scene, and he recurs to it, when in answer to his insinuations against Desdemona, Roderigo says,
"I cannot believe that in her--she's full of most blest conditions. Iago. Bless'd fig's end. The wine she drinks is made of grapes. If she had been blest, she would never have married the Moor."
And again with still more spirit and fatal effect afterwards, when he turns this very suggestion arising in Othello's own breast to her prejudice.
"Othello. And yet, how nature erring from itselfIago. Aye, there's the point ;-as to be bold with you, Not to affect many proposed matches
Of her own clime, complexion, and degree." &c.
This is probing to the quick. Iago here turns the character of poor Desdemona, as it were, inside out. It is certain that nothing but the genius of Shakspeare could have preserved the entire interest and delicacy of the part, and have even drawn an additional elegance and dignity from the peculiar circumstances in which she is placed.-The habitual licentiousness of lago's conversation is not to be traced to the pleasure he takes in gross or lascivious images, but to his desire of finding out the worst side of every thing, and of proving himself an overmatch for appearances. He has none of "the milk
of human kindness" in his composition. His imagination rejects every thing that has not a strong infusion of the most unpalatable ingredients; his mind digests only poisons. Virtue, or goodness, or whatever has the least "relish of salvation in it," is, to his depraved appetite, sickly and insipid: and he even resents the good opinion entertained of his own integrity, as if it were an affront cast on the masculine sense and spirit of his character. Thus at the meeting between Othello and Desdemona, he exclaims-" Oh, you are well tuned now: but I'll set down the pegs that make this musick, as honest as I am"-his character of bonhommie not sitting at all easily upon him. In the scenes, where he tries to work Othello to his purpose, he is proportionably guarded, insidious, dark, and deliberate. We believe nothing ever came up to the profound dissimulation and dextrous artifice of the well known dialogue in the third act, where he first enters upon the execution of his design.
"Iago. My noble lord.
Othello. What dost thou say, Iago?
Iago. Did Michael Cassio,
When you woo'd my lady, know of your love?
Othello. He did, from first to last.
Why dost thou ask?
Iago. But for a satisfaction of my thought,
No further harm.
Othello. Why of thy thought, Iago?
Iago. I did not think he had been acquainted with it.
Othello. O yes, and went between us very oft
Othello. Indeed? Ay, indeed. Discern'st thou aught of
Is he not honest?
Iago. Honest, my lord?
Othello. Honest? Ay, honest.
What do'st thou think?
Iago. Think, my lord !
Othello. Think, my lord! Alas, thou echo'st me,
As if there was some monster in thy thought
Too hideous to be shewn." —.
The stops and breaks, the deep workings of treachery under the mask of love and honesty, the anxious watchfulness, the cool earnestness, and if we may so say, the passion of hypocrisy marked in every line, receive their last finishing in that inconceivable burst of pretended indignation at Othello's doubts of his sincerity.
"O grace! O Heaven forgive me!
Are you a man? Have you a soul or sense?
God be wi' you; take mine office. O wretched fool,
That lov'st to make thine honesty a vice!
Oh monstrous world! take note, take note, world!
To be direct and honest, is not safe.
I thank you for this profit, and from hence
I'll love no friend, since love breeds such offence."
If lago is detestable enough when he has business on his hands and all his engines at work, he is still worse when he has nothing to do, and we only see into the hollowness of his heart. His indifference when Othello falls into a swoon, is perfectly diabolical.
"Iago. How is it, General? Have you not hurt your head? Othello. Do'st thou mock me?
Iago. I mock you not, by Heaven," &c.
The part indeed would hardly be tolerated, even as a foil to the virtue and generosity of the other characters in the play, but for its indefatigable industry and inexhaustible resources, which divert the attention of the spectator (as well as his own) from the end he has in view to the means by which it must be accomplished.-Edmund the Bastard in Lear is something of the same character, placed in less prominent circumstances. Zanga is a vulgar caricature of it.
TIMON OF ATHENS.
TIMON OF ATHENS always appeared to us to be written with as intense a feeling of his subject as any one play of Shakspeare. It is one of the few in which he seems to be in earnest throughout, never to trifle nor go out of his way. He does not relax in his efforts, nor lose sight of the unity of his design. It is the only play of our author in which spleen is the predominant feeling of the mind. It is as much a satire as a play and contains some of the finest pieces of invective possible to be conceived, both in the snarling, captious answers of the cynick Apemantus, and in the impassioned and more terrible imprecations of Timon. The latter remind the classical reader of the force and swelling impetuosity of the moral declamations in Juvenal, while the former have all the keenness and caustick severity of the old Stoick philosophers. The soul of Diogenes appears to have been seated on the lips of Apemantus. The churlish profession of misanthropy in the cynick is contrasted with the profound feeling of it in Timon, and also with the soldier