페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

the liveliness of Rosalind or Beatrice to run into danger, with enough of the innocence of Miranda to run into it unawares; something of Helena's audacity of enterprise, without her saving knowledge of men. An inviting eye; and yet methinks right modest,' is Cassio's sensitive appreciation of these dangerous disparities in her demeanour. In her relations with Othello, so far as we see them, she has betrayed her venturous frankness rather than her inward modesty. She has taken her fortune by storm: the shy maiden who repelled the advances of the curled darlings of the nation, has leapt into the sooty bosom of the Moor; in the hour of union they are separated; and Othello's destiny is already in the implacable grip of Iago before he has had time to discover that a heart which moves with such light-hearted swiftness of impulse is one that can scarcely imagine or believe in sin. Cinthio's Moor had less excuse for his blindness; he had lived at Venice for an indefinite time with his wife in perfect concord before the summons to Cyprus came.

By consummate strokes such as these Shakespeare solved the problem of bringing the clumsy intrigue of his original into the sphere of psychological truth: Iago's plot is as ill calculated as the ensign's to wreck a normal marriage ; but it is launched against a relationship so delicately poised that a touch suffices for its ruin.

In Iago himself, on the contrary, Shakespeare lago. deliberately set aside what was normal and plausible in his prototype. Cinthio's ensign is a stock personage of Italian romance,-a rejected lover who takes vengeance by slandering the lady to her husband. Iago, like all the tragic criminals of Shakespeare, has deeper springs of malignity than any personal offence can supply; offence' and 'vengeance' are only

the decent clothing of an indomitable impulse to contrive harm. He hotly denounces the appointment of Cassio; the motive is calculated to convince Roderigo of his sincerity; but when it has served his purpose we hear no more of it. The first soliloquy of the Second Act is a wonderful image of a mind shaping its course half blindly through seething fumes of hate, and darting now this way now. that in the impatient effort to distinguish its course. Cassio loves Desdemona; Desdemona loves Cassio; nay, Iago loves her himself; and he suspects that Othello loves Emilia ; therefore he will be even with him wife for wife; then he harks back to his first idea : Othello shall believe that Cassio loves her,and Cassio the victim at once assumes the semblance of the criminal, for 'I fear Cassio with my night-cap too.' His plan is brewing, but inchoate ; 'tis here,' as he says, “but yet confused'; and when it grows clear, its execution owes more to happy chances skilfully seized than to any decisive intervention of will. Cinthio had given his ensign a touch of Iago's insidious reserve. 'I will not interfere between husband and wife, but keep your eyes open and you will see what I see,' is his first hint to the Moor; and 'for all the Moor's entreaties he would go no further.' But this trait, like so many others, remains isolated in Cinthio. Shakespeare gives it a far wider signifi

Iago stands in the background and deals all the decisive strokes by the hands of others.

The ensign has accomplices, Iago has tools. The ensign's wife refuses to be an accomplice in Disdemona's death, but is cognisant of the plot (p. 300), and aware of the use to be made of the handkerchief which, however, her husband steals. Iago secures the handkerchief by a less hazardous game, and besides enjoying the unconscious aid of Emilia has a second

cance.

innocent tool in the foolish young Roderigo. The ensign himself murders Disdemona and does his best to murder the lieutenant; Iago suggests and retires, while Othello and Roderigo execute his will. In spite of his open participation, the ensign succeeds (quite incredibly) in transferring the whole blame to the Moor, and escapes scot free; while Iago, with all his crafty dissimulation, falls a victim to his own cynical disbelief in honesty. Preoccupied with Desdemona's imaginary love-affairs, he overlooks Emilia's devotion to her new mistress, and the heroic daring which indignation will inspire in his despised and compliant wife. Thus Iago, the most clear-sighted person of the play, shares the tragic blindness which befalls his victims, and becomes in his degree a tragic figure too. But Shakespeare is not yet, as in Macbeth, deeply engaged with the psychology of crime ; and he has long ceased to be allured by the mere terror and amazement of a criminal career, as in Richard III.

Othello occupies, with Lear, a transitional place between Julius Cæsar and Hamlet, where crime is either absent altogether, or is merely a condition of the action, and Macbeth, where it is the very stuff of the tragic plot. Everywhere until we reach Macbeth, the focus of overpowering interest is not crime, but the ruinous perplexity engendered in a great and noble but ill-poised nature by agencies of which crime is only one, and not the most formidable. Not the king's crime but the paralysing fumes that rise from Denmark's unweeded garden beget the fatal perplexity of Hamlet. In Othello the unweeded garden has become fragrant and wholesome; but its diffused rankness and malignity are concentrated in the tongue of a single venomous serpent.

[blocks in formation]

Enter RODERIGO and IAGO.
Rod. Tush! never tell me; I take it much

unkindly
That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

Iago. 'Sblood, but you will not hear me: If ever I did dream of such a matter Abhor me. Rod. Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in

thy hate. Iago. Despise me, if I do not.

ones of the city, In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, Off-capp'd to him: and, by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place : But he, as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them, with a bombast circumstance 13. bombast circumstance, bombastic circumlocution.

Three great

IO

« 이전계속 »