Imatges de pÓgina

stances in which she is placed. The character indeed has always had the greatest charm for minds of the finest sensibility. For our own part, we are a little of Iago's council in this matter; and all circumstances considered, and platonics out of the question, if we were to cast the complexion of Desdemona physiognomically, we should say she had a very fair skin, and very light auburn hair, inclining to yellow. We at the same time give her credit for purity and delicacy of sentiment; but it so happens that purity and grossness sometimes

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Yet the reverse does not hold; so uncertain and undefinable a thing is moral character! It is no wonder that Iago had some contempt for it, "who knew all qualities of human dealings with a learned spirit." There is considerable gaiety and ease in his dialogue with Æmilia and Desdemona on their landing. It is then holiday time with him; but yet the general satire is biting, and his idea of human character is finely expressed in what he says to Desdemona. when she asks him how he would praise her—

"Oh, gentle lady, do not put me to it,
For I am nothing if not critical."

The habitual licentiousness of Iago'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 everything, and of proving himself an over-match for appearances. He has none of "the milk of human kindness" in his composition. His imagination rejects everything that has not a strong infusion of the most unpalatable ingredients; his moral constitution 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 music, as honest

as I am "—his character of bonhommie not sitting at all easily upon him. In the scenes with Othello, where he has to put his passion for theoretical evil into practice, with great risk to himself, and with dreadful consequences to others, he is proportionably guarded, insidious, dark, and deliberate. Nothing ever came up to the profound dissimulation and dexterous 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 her.

Othello. 0 yes, and went between us very oft—

Iago. Indeed?

Othello. Indeed! ay, indeed. Discern'st thou aught in that? Is he not honest?

Iago. Honest, my lord?

Othello. Ay, honest?

Iago. My lord, for aught I know.

Othello. What dost thou think?

Iago. Think, my lord?

Othello. Think, my lord? By heaven thou echo'st me, As if there was some monster in thy thought

Too hideous to be shown."—

The stops and breaks, the deep internal 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 inimitably characteristic 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 liv'st to make thine honesty a vice!

O monstrous world! Take note, take note, O 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 Iago 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, but quite in character.

"Iago. How is it, General? Have you not hurt your head? Othello. Dost 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 difficult circumstances. Zanga is a vulgar caricature of it.


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 or 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 cynic 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 caustic severity of the old Stoic Philosophers. The soul of Diogenes appears to have been seated on the lips of Apemantus. The churlish profession of misanthropy in the cynic is contrasted with the profound feeling of it in Timon, and also with the soldier-like and determined resentment of Alcibiades against his countrymen, who have banished him, though this forms only ah incidental episode in the tragedy.

The fable consists of a single event;—of the transition from the highest pomp and profusion of artificial refinement to the most abject state of savage life, and privation of all social intercourse. The change is as rapid as it is complete; nor is the description of the rich and generous Timon, banquetting in gilded palaces, pampered by every luxury, prodigal of his hospitality, courted by crowds of flatterers, poets, painters, lords, ladies, who—

"Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance,
Rain sacrificial whisperings in his ear;

And through him drink the free air"—

more striking than that of the sudden falling off of his friends and fortune, and his naked exposure in a wild forest digging roots from the earth for his sustenance, with a lofty spirit of selfdenial, and bitter scorn cf the world, which raise him higher in our esteem than the dazzling gloss of prosperity could do. He grudges himself the means of life, and is only busy in preparing his grave. How forcibly is the difference between what he was, and what he is described in Apemantus's taunting questions, when he comes to reproach him with the change in his way of life!

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That the bleak air, thy boisterous chamberlain,

Will put thy shirt on warm? will these mossed trees
That have out-liv'd the eagle, page thy heels,

And skip where thou point'st out? will the cold brook,
Candied with ice, caudle thy morning taste

To cure thy o'er-night's surfeit ? Call the creatures,
Whose naked natures live in all the spight

Of wreakful heav'n, whose bare unhoused trunks,
To the conflicting elements expos'd,

Answer mere nature, bid them flatter thee."

The manners are everywhere preserved with distinct truth. The poet and painter are very skilfully played off against one another, both affecting great attention to the other, and each taken up with his own vanity, and the superiority of his own art. Shakspeare has put into the mouth of the former a very lively description of the genius of poetry and of his own in particular.

"A thing slipt idly from me.

Our poesy is as a gum, which issues

From whence 'tis nourish'd. The fire i' the flint

Shows not till it be struck: our gentle flame

Provokes itself—and like the current flies

Each bound it chafes."

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