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Richer than all his tribe; of one, whose subdu'd eyes, Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Lod. O bloody period!
All, that's spoke, is marr❜d.
Oth. I kiss'd thee, ere I kill'd thee;-No way but [Falling upon DESDEMONA.
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.
Cas. This did I fear, but thought he had no
For he was great of heart.
This is thy work: the object poisons sight;-
43 It is said that it was immediate death for a Christian to strike a Turk in Aleppo.
44 The dogs of Spartan race were reckoned among those of the most fierce and savage kind.
45 i. e. judgment, the sentence.
THE beauties of this play impress themselves so strongly upon the attention of the reader, that they can draw no aid from critical illustration. The fiery openness of Othello, magnanimous, artless, and credulous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his affection, inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate in his revenge; the cool malignity of Iago, silent in his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious at once of his interest and his vengeance; the soft simplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and conscious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her suit, and her slowness to suspect that she can be suspected, are such proofs of Shakspeare's skill in human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer. The gradual progress which Iago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the circumstances which he employs to enflame him, are so artfully natural, that though it will perhaps not be said of him as he says of himself, that he is a man not easily jealous, yet we cannot but pity him, when at last we find him perplexed in the extreme.
There is always danger, lest wickedness, conjoined with abilities, should steal upon esteem, though it misses of approbation; but the character of Iago is so conducted, that he is from the first scene to the last hated and despised.
Even the inferior characters of this play would be very conspicuous in any other piece, not only for their justness, but their strength. Cassio is brave, benevolent, and honest, ruined only by his want of stubbornness to resist an insidious invitation. Roderigo's suspicious credulity, and impatient submission to the cheats which he sees practised upon him, and which by persuasion he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful desires to a false friend; and the virtue of Emilia is such as we often find, worn loosely, but not cast off, easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villanies.
The scenes from the beginning to the end are busy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting the progression of the story; and the narrative in the end, though it tells but what is known already, yet is necessary to produce the death of Othello.
Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occasionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and scrupulous regularity.
To I Johnson's admirable and nicely discriminative character of Othello, it may seem unnecessary to make any addition; yet I cannot forbear to conclude our commentaries on this transcendent poet, with the fine eulogy which the judicious and learned
Lowth has pronounced on him, with a particular reference to this tragedy, perhaps the most perfect of his works:
In his viris [tragediæ Græcæ scilicet scriptoribus] accessio quædam Philosophiæ erat Poetica facultas: neque sane quisquam adhuc Poesin ad fastigium suum ac culmen evexit, nisi qui prius in intima Philosophia artis suæ fundamenta jecerit.
Quod si quis objiciat, nonnullos in hoc poeseos genere excelluisse, qui nunquam habiti sunt Philosophi, ac ne literis quidem præter cæteros imbuti; sciat is, me rem ipsam quærere, non de vulgari opinione, aut de verbo laborare: qui autem tantum ingenio consecutus est, ut naturas hominum, vimque omnem humanitatis, causasque eas, quibus aut incitatur mentis impetus aut retunditur, penitus perspectas habeat, ejusque omnes motus oratione non modo explicet, sed effingat planeque oculis subjiciat ; sed excitet, regat, commoveat, moderetur; eum, etsi disciplinarum instrumento munus adjutum eximie tamen esse Philosophum arbitrari. Quo in genere affectum zelotypiæ, ejusque causas, adjuncta, progressiones, effectus, in una SHAKSPEARI nostri fabula, copiosus, subtilius, accuratius etiam veriusque pertractari existimo, quam ab omnibus omnium Philosophorum scholis in simili argumento, est unquam disputatum. [Prælectio prima, edit. 1763, p. 8.]— MALONE.
If by the most perfect' is meant the most regular of the foregoing plays, I subscribe to Mr. Malone's opinion; but if his words were designed to convey a more exalted praise, without a moment's hesitation I should transfer it to Macbeth.
It is true that the domestic tragedy of Othello affords room for a various and forcible display of character. The less familiar groundwork of Macbeth (as Dr. Johnson has observed) excludes the influence of peculiar dispositions. That exclusion, however, is recompensed by a loftier strain of poetry, and by events of higher rank; by supernatural agency, by the solemnities of incantation, by shades of guilt and horror deepening in their progress, and by visions of futurity selected in aid of hope, but eventually the ministers of despair.
Were it necessary to weigh the pathetick effusions of these dramas against each other, it is generally allowed that the sorrows of Desdemona would be more than counterbalanced by those of Macduff. Yet if our author's rival pieces (the distinct property of their subjects considered) are written with equal force, it must still be admitted that the latter has more of originality. A novel of considerable length (perhaps amplified and embellished by the English translator of it) supplied a regular and circumstantial outline for Othello; while a few slight hints collected from separate narratives of Holinshed, were expanded into the sublime and awful tragedy of Macbeth.
Should readers, who are alike conversant with the appropriate
excellences of poetry and painting, pronounce on the reciprocal merits of these great productions, I must suppose that they would describe them as of different pedigrees. They would add, that one was of the school of Raphael, the other from that of Michael Angelo; and that if the steady Sophocles and Virgil should have decided in favour of Othello, the remonstrances of the daring Eschylus and Homer would have claimed the laurel for Macbeth.
To the sentiments of Dr. Lowth respecting the tragedy of Othello, a general eulogium on the dramatick works of Shakspeare, imputed by a judicious and amiable critic to Milton, may not improperly be subjoined :
There is good reason to suppose (says my late friend the Rev. Thomas Warton) that Milton threw many additions and corrections into the Theatrum Poetarum, a book published by his nephew Edward Philips in 1675. It contains criticisms far above the taste of that period. Among these is the following judgment on Shakspeare, which was not then I believe the general opinion: In tragedy, never any expressed a more lofty and tragick height, never any represented nature more purely to the life; and where the polishments of art are most wanting, as probably his learning was not extraordinary, he pleases with a certain wild and native elegance.'-Milton's Minor Poems, p. 194, Note on l'Allegro.
What greater praise can any poet have received, than that of the author of Paradise Lost?
C. and C. Whittingham, College House, Chiswick.