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copy of the play, as curtailed and otherwise modified for performance. It omits about 150 lines, but retains many oaths and expletives, showing that it dates from the early years of the reign. The Folio text, printed in the following year, is more complete, and, save for the omission of the original expletives, more decisively Shakespearean in detail ; it is substantially followed by modern editors. A Second Quarto, published by Walkley in 1630, reproduced the first with slight variations derived from an unknown MS. source closely related to the text of the Folio but not identical with it. Thus Othello's outburst, ‘By heaven, he echoes me!' is given in this form in Q (here clearly right); Ff have ‘Alas, thou echos't me’; Q2 'Why dost thou ecchoe

me?' Date of Com- Direct evidence of the date of Othello is wholly position.

wanting. A matter-of-fact criticism discovered an allusion to the armorial bearings of the new order of baronets, instituted in 1611, in the line

Our new heraldry is hands, not hearts; and the line doubtless acquired a new zest for the audiences of that year. But the context is fully satisfied by a general meaning, and the date 1611 is altogether rebutted by the internal evidence of metre, style, and conception. These concur in assigning the play to a date between 1600 and 1605. The language is still the plastic speech of Hamlet; less variously inwrought indeed, for the most part, with intellect and imagery, but as exquisitely proportioned to its simpler needs, and becoming easily magnificent when occasion calls, as in Othello's wonderful 'farewell.' But the pregnant and difficult brevity of Macbeth is still remote. The year 1604 is generally accepted as a probable date. The firct recorded performance took place on November 1 of that year, before the court at Whitehall.1 The second recorded performance occurred six years later, when Duke Frederick of Wurtemberg, according to his secretary's journal (April 30), witnessed l'histoire du More de Venise' at the Globe, ‘lieu ordinaire où l'on joue les Comedies.' Three years later it was one of the six Shakespearean dramas chosen for the wedding festivities of the Princess Elizabeth. In later times Othello has had the chief share in bringing Shakespeare home to the artistic sense of the Latin peoples. The logical rigour with which a single situation is worked out step by step, appealed to the mind of France; and the performance of Alfred de Vigny's translation, notwithstanding the disaster provoked by the ‘mouchoir' scenes, opened a new epoch in the history of the French stage. In Germany, on the other hand, its very severity and simplicity, its want of symbolic significance and obvious relation to 'ideas,'-of all, in fact, that made Hamlet a revelation to the Germanic world, told against Othello. The German interpretation of Shakespeare's mind has owed little, on the whole, to this most wonderful example of his concentrated, transparent, and harmonious art. The earlier German appreciation of Othello is of little moment, and it is not with Lessing nor with Schlegel, but with Coleridge, that the higher criticism of the play begins.

The plot of Othello was founded upon the twenty- Source. seventh of the hundred novels in Cinthio's Hecatommithi (Decad. iii. Nov. 7), which tells how a Moorish captain weds a citizen of Venice.' The Moor, who is unnamed, has dazzled the republic by splendid services. Disdemona, allured among the rest, loves

1 This performance is attested documents then existent, which by Malone on the authority of have since disappeared.

him 'for his prowess.' They are married, and live together in the utmost concord at Venice. At Disdemona's ardent entreaty she is allowed to accompany the expedition to Cyprus. Two of the Moor's officers, an ensign (alfiero) and a lieutenant (capo di squadra) are on terms of intimate friendship with him. The ensign makes love to Disdemona, and, failing to make her even comprehend his proposals, imagines that she is pre-engaged to the lieutenant. His 'love' changes to hate; he accuses her of adultery with the lieutenant. Accident plays into his hands. The lieutenant having been degraded for a casual breach of discipline, Disdemona appeals to the Moor to restore him, and the ensign drops the first poisonous insinuation into his ear. The stolen handkerchief completes his work; but he fails to win his wife's concurrence in the plot, and himself abstracts it from Disdemona's person while she is dandling his child. They arrange her death and the lieutenant's; the ensign's attempt to assassinate him fails, but he beats her to death in her husband's presence with a stocking of sand, and then together they draw down the ceiling and give out to the alarmed neighbours who rush in that she has been killed by a beam. Then the ensign accuses the Moor of her death, the Moor is tortured, banished, and finally killed by Disdemona's relations, while the ensign, escaping unscathed, continues his old practices, and is finally put to death by torture for another and wholly unconnected crime.

The novel, it will be seen, foreshadowed almost every incident in the play. But the tragic theme, of which Shakespeare made it so wonderfully expressive an instrument, is scarcely hinted. Its hero is the ensign, its subject his various machinations; Disdemona

and the Moor have a secondary interest, as his victim Othello. and his dupe. The Moor's character is the least

1

defined of all; but it was here that for Shakespeare the tragic problem lay; the situation of a simple, heroic nature, wrought by a worldly confidant to rupture his closest ties, had evident affinities with that of Brutus, and the resemblance grew under Shakespeare's hands. Like Brutus, Othello is too magnanimous, too self-confident, and too devoid of penetrating subtlety of brain, to grapple successfully with a difficult situation. Both are, by the confession of friend and foe, men of noble nature, who do their butchery like 'sacrificers' and not like butchers. But Othello's nobleness is touched to immeasurably more tragic issues. Brutus' illusions are disastrous enough, but no horrible awakening follows his dream. He trusts Cassius when he ought to doubt him, and rejects his lead when he ought to follow it; but the result is for him only an heroic and honourable death entirely untouched by remorse. Othello's passionate, generous nature lavishes its confidences more ardently, and withdraws them more peremptorily, but a malignant fate lies in watch to bring his blunders home to him. He ‘loves' Cassio, and never doubts honest. Iago; his imagination is not alert to read either a 'soul of goodness in things evil,' or of evil in things seemingly good, but seizes ardently upon the outer semblance of the man and glorifies to a god or degrades to a demon, fortifying himself against every gleam of returning reason and insight by a fatuous energy of will. Hence even the trickery of Iago, gross and clumsy as it is, and poorly as it would figure in a drama of intrigue, completely succeeds. Othello's love, in its complexity, its intensity, and its blindness, has the very quality of tragic passion.

The love of Romeo and Juliet is not tragic; its intoxication ceases only with their breath, and it so

1 Julius Cæsar, ii. 1. 166. VOL. VIII

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completely possesses and occupies their simple souls,
that they present no point of vantage for disintegrating
forces. But Othello's passion is an unstable com-
pound of emotions that attach themselves to Des-
demona's apparent attributes,—to the beauty his eyes
rest on, and the purity he has no reason to doubt,-
but have no access to her uncomprehended soul;
and chaos descends upon him when Iago's horrible
craft severs the Desdemona of his senses from the
Desdemona of his dreams. Nowhere is the chaos
more perplexed than in the moment when, on the
verge of the last desperate act, he stands slowly get-
ting down behind successive illusions to the burning
core of the pang that is impelling his vengeful hand.
Had it pleased heaven to try him with affliction,
shames, poverty, captivity, he would have
patience; but to be a mark for scorn! And yet he
could bear scorn too,—well, very well

But there, where I have garner'd up my heart,
Where either I must live, or bear no life;
The fountain from the which my current runs,

Or else dries up; to be discarded thence !
The character of Othello first became tragic in
Shakespeare's hands. Cinthio's Disdemona is
commonplace heroine enough, but the portrait
furnished Shakespeare with one significant hint. She
is fascinated by the Moor's 'valour,'1 she 'loves him
for the dangers he had passed.' Her love, like his,
is a love of the imagination, a perilous ecstasy of the
idealising brain without secure root in the heart. It
was needful for her tragic fate that her love should
not be the engrossing and imperious passion of a
Juliet; it had to leave her free for kindly interest in
an unfortunate friend, and for innocent provoking
coquetry on his behalf. She had to have enough of
1 • Tratta non da appetito donnesco, ma dalla virtù del Moro.'

Desdemona.

a

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