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OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE.
HE story of Othello is taken from the collection of Novels,
by Gio Giraldi Cinthio, entitled Hecatommithi, being the seventh novel of the third decade. No English trans
lation of so early a date as the age of Shakespeare has hitherto been discovered: but the work was translated into French by Gabriel Chappuys, Paris, 1584. The version is not a faithful one; and Dr. Farmer suspects that through this medium the novel came into English.
The name of Othello may have been suggested by some tale which has escaped our researches, as it occurs in Reynolds's God's Revenge against Adultery, standing in one of his arguments as follows:-“ She marries Othello, an old German soldier." This history (the eighth) is professed to be an Italian one; and here also the name of Iago occurs. It is likewise found in The History of the famous Euordanus, Prince of Denmark; with the strange Adventures of Iago, Prince of Saxonie, 4to. 1605. It may indeed be urged, that these names were adopted from the tragedy before us: but every reader who is conversant with the peculiar style and method in which the work of honest John Reynolds is composed, will acquit him of the slightest familiarity with the scenes of Shakespeare.-STEEVENS.
The time of this play may be ascertained from the following circumstances :-Selymus the Second formed his design against Cyprus in 1569, and took it in 1571. This was the only attempt the Turks ever made upon that island after it came into the hands of the Venetians (which was in 1473), wherefore the time must fall in with some part of that interval. We learn from the play, that there was a junction of the Turkish fleet at Rhodes, in order for the invasion of Cyprus; that it first came sailing towards Cyprus; then went to Rhodes, there met another squadron, and then resumed its way to Cyprus. These are real historical facts, which happened when Mustapha, Selymus's general, attacked Cyprus, in May, 1570; which is therefore the true period of this performance.-See Knolles's History of the Turks, p. 838, 846, 867.-REED.
The first edition of this play, of which we have any certain knowledge, was printed by N. O. for Thomas Walkley, to whom it was entered on the Stationers' Books, October 6, 1621. The most material variations of this copy from the first folio are pointed out in the notes. The minute differences are so numerous, that to have specified them all would only have fatigued the reader. Walkley's Preface will follow these Preliminary Remarks.
Malone first placed the date of the composition of this play in 1611, upon the ground of the allusion, supposed by Warburton, to the creation of the order of baronets. [See Act iii. Sc. 4, note 4.] On the same ground Chalmers attributed it to 1614; and Dr. Drake assigned the middle period of 1612. But this allusion being controverted, Malone subsequently affixed to it the date of 1604, because, as he asserts, “we know it was acted in that year." He has not stated the evidence for this decisive fact; and Boswell was unable to discover it among his papers ; but gives full credit to it, on the ground that “Mr. Malone never expressed himself at random.” The allusion to Pliny, translated by Philemon Holland, in 1601, in the simile of the Pontick Sea; and the supposed imitation of a passage in Cornwallis's Essays, of the same date, referred to in the note cited above, seem to have influenced Malone in settling the date of this play. In the “Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court,” edited by Mr. Cunningham for the Shakespeare Society, there is an entry for the year beginning November 1, 1604, and ending October 31, 1605, by which it appears that the King's Players performed the play of The Moor of Venice, at the Banquetting house at Whitehall on the 1st of November (being All Hallows Day) 1604, which confirms Malone's conjecture.
Mr. Collier found among the Egerton papers an account of disbursements made by Sir Arthur Mainwaring during the Queen's visit to the Lord Keeper at Harefield, in 1602, in which the following appears :-“6 August, 1602. Rewardes to the vaulters players and dauncers. of this xli [to Burbidge's players for Othello] lxiiijli. xviij'. xd. Rewarde to Mr. Lillyes man which brought the lotterye boxe to Harefield, per Mr. Andr. Leigh x'.” But, as Mr. Collier tells us that “The part of the memorandum which relates to Othello is interlined, as if added afterwards ;' and as there seems to be good reason to suspect that the Shakespearian papers in that collection are modern forgeries, this interlineation, being in the same category, avails us nothing. What is more certain is, that Othello was played before King James at court, in 1613; which circumstance is gathered from the MSS. of Vertue the Engraver.
“ If,” says Schlegel, “Romeo and Juliet shines with the colours of the dawn of morning, but a dawn whose purple clouds already announce the thunder of a sultry day, Othello is, on the other hand, a strongly shaded picture; we might call it a tragical Rembrandt.”