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Had been remov'd, if unoffending still,
The method of Shakspeare, when taken in connexion with that transparency of character which Goëthe has pointed out as a peculiarity belonging to his creations, more than to those of any other man, might render the function of interpreter unnecessary, were it not that the art of the Poet is as profound as his characters are vividly conceived and embodied. Shakspeare has supplied his own elements of criticism ; and in the analysis that he himself has furnished of those forms which his genius has summoned from the deep, the groundwork of their existence is laid bare before us, while to the individuality exhibited in the dramatic action of the character he has added the individuality and life arising from dramatic description. All fields of life lay open to this man's
vision—the eternal mysteries of our being, before which all nations have bowed, and which no coming generation shall ever solve, as well as the surface fooleries of society, and the littlenesses of man. He had an eye for them all. He possessed in a degree unsurpassed that faculty of separation which no true artist lacks, but which, rather, if it do not embrace the whole of creative genius, is the intellectual weapon by which the world beyond and within is subjected to the artist's control. No shade of character, no idiosyncrasy escaped him or was ever forgotten. It was fully seen—seen in all its bearings—and stood marked and distinct, separated from every kindred trait. Thorough insight is the essential condition of all representation ; and hence, to the clearness of his vision, and to this power of separation, we are to trace the transparency of character which the German poet has noticed, and much of that individuality which all the creations of Shakspeare so transcendently possess.
Vast is the Wonderland which this enchanter's genius has revealed. The mighty Homer has only painted for us colossal Greeks, for his was a Hellenic culture, and the beautiful mythology of Greece was the basis and permeating influence of his whole thought and life. Brave, heroic men-men of strong arm and dauntless courage, were the type and ideal of the human character in that young morning of Europe's civilization. Towards such a humanity did the aspirations of the minstrel's genius point, the same in character (but with the loftiness and nobleness which the finer Grecian conception in general, and the idealization of the poet in particular, superadded) as were those which, centuries afterwards, animated the rude warriors of the North, the worshippers of Odin and of Thor. Such was the direction and aim of the highest European culture in the days of Homer, while yet the birth-land of Shakspeare groaned beneath impenetrable forests and malarious swamps—while the flint-flake, or stone circle, or oak canoe were the greatest products of its inhabitants' inventiveness, and long before the ambergatherers of the Baltic had met Phænician traders in the English seas. But Shakspeare's genius, seeking a universal culture, rose beyond all modes and limitation. Nothing seems to have passed into his mind in particular, because everything has been received alike. His subtle
spirit penetrated to that mystic source from which all history originates -to the great deep heart of humanity itself, wherein are united, in one vast spiritual brotherhood, Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, bond and free.
Shakspeare's consummate mastery over every shade of character has enabled him to body forth with full, firm outline the utmost poles of human nature, and one of these is the subject of our present sketch. Much of the vitality of Iago's character is derived from the contrast between it and the imperishable portraiture of Othello. This antithesis arises from no love of contrast on the part of the Poet, but from deep dramatic necessities, which an artist of Shakspeare's stamp could not avoid. Shakspeare could not have drawn the character of Iago or Othello otherwise than he has done, without altering the whole architecture of the plot. Had Iago been more “honest” and the Moor less so; had the Poet woven, however slightly, into the character of the former some of the humanities of life, and abstracted from Othello some of his unsuspecting nobleness and divine dignity, the tragic march of the action had been stayed or diverted. For, while in the multitude of his resources no man has more freedom than the true artist, so, almost paradoxically, no man is more limited by necessity than he. The deeper that genius penetrates into the spirit of life, the more independent of genius its creations become; they spin themselves from the master's hand unerringly onwards to their doom.
lago is the source of all the action in the tragedy—the hidden fountain from which events arise, form themselves, and flow onwards to completion and consummation. Of vast intellectual power and ready resource, he is able to cope with all the difficulties of his position ; slightest accidents become, in his hands, the củe which leads to the direst results; he moulds all with whom he comes in contact into the likeness of his own desire ; even the future becomes almost plastic in his hands, and the divinities that preside over this world seem to minister to bis will. Matters are just in readiness for him when the tragedy opens. The train has been laid-events are in progress-the plot is so far prepared and on its way. His nature has received that impulse which it preserves throughout the tragedy ; it has reached the second great stage of its development. But we have not, as with Hamlet, an opportunity of judging of lago's character before this point in his history had been passed—a point which in both opened up new features in their characters, armed them alike with new purpose, and gave to their spiritual effort an outlet and a course.
In Iago, however, we find no revulsion-no change of a radical nature. What he was previous to the appointment of Cassio, he remained afterwards. But this appointment wounded him to the quick, and aroused feelings within him hitherto latent, till, like a spirit of evil, with diabolical nerve, he insinuates himself onward to his revenge.
Hazlett's analysis of this character is, we think, scarcely accurate; in some points, certainly, it is not complete. So far as it goes, it describes Iago as he was previous to the injuries he believed that he had sustained at the Moor's hands. But this is not the Iago of the tragedy ; nor can we trace Iago's conduct with him to a “meddling perversity of disposition and love of immediate excitement,” not even in the first, and far less in the second, stage of his nature's develop. ment. Shakspeare, in laying the elements of his nature, had his eye fixed on the work that Iago was to perform. He required a man of more solidity than belongs to perversity, and one with a sterner purpose than love of immediate excitement affords.
Accordingly, he has conceived a humanized devil; and the question before us is, what mental groundwork did Shakspeare lay, by which the possibilities of wickedness in a man should, in Iago, become dread and terrible actualities ? Bulwer Lytton (who has reproduced with considerable modification the general character of Iago, in the person of Randal Leslie, whom he dismisses with the disgrace in which Shakspeare allows lago to survive), observes to the effect, that to discover wherein lies a man's weakness, is to find out the surest key that will unlock his nature. We think Iago's weakness lay in the coldness of his heart and in his unmitigated selfishness. Incapable of any of the higher emotions that make life bright, and radiant, and glad, and utterly destitute of those sweet humanities that raise and purify every heart, where nobleness, in some degree, still dwells as in a temple, this man Iago would be restrained neither by delicacy of sentiment nor by a high morality, from conceiving any scheme, however black, and prosecuting it to its ultimate issue. He had no passion as an inherent part of his constitution, and his blood never reeled through his cold, subtle brain. He was a man with a theory of his own. He looked upon the world and human nature, and saw little beautiful there ; the Graces and the Virtues had no shrine in the soul's temple, and Deformity and Vice nigh ministered alone at the altar of the human heart. The only divinity he worshipped was self. Duty, which for its own sake he loved not, was of consequence only as a means of selfish gratification; and whatever valour he had exhibited in the earlier Cyprus wars, he had taken care should be performed under the yes of 'Othello himself. He scented preferment afar off. A most disloyal knave from his earliest years—double-faced as Janus ; throwing shews of service on his lord, yet keeping his heart attending on himselfhis hypocrisy grew out of his selfishness, and he succeeded in worming himself into Othello's confidence and love. All smiles and service in his presence ; jealous, as it seemed, and with a simplicity so aptly assumed, that it would have required a nature less reliant than the Moor's to penetrate the veil behind which he had concealed his features. To this Shakspeare has added a spice of egotism, dimly perceptible in the character, and without which it would scarcely have been complete. And the whole nature is placed under the command of a strong and resolute will, which gives the conception vigour and force; and, with the intellectual resources the Poet has conferred upon him, fits him for the work that Shakspeare required at his hands.
But the election of Cassio aroused a new feeling in his nature-that of disappointment. Shakspeare's object was to bring Iago into secret conflict with the Moor; and Othello, therefore, unconsciously stung him in the tenderest part. Nothing could have rankled more deeply and keenly in his being than the election of Cassio. Iago's whole game had hitherto been selfish-his schemes began and terminated in himself. He was not bound to the Moor and his country by love and
loyalty ; his whole policy was crooked, and his own interests were ever in his thoughts. For these he had planned and wrought ; for these he would dupe his General and the Senate ; for these he had masked himself behind such a show of honesty, that none had caught a glimpse of the Proteus which the mask concealed. All this increased the sting of his disappointment, and he-naturally prone to hold consultation with his own heart-nursed it into hatred and revenge. Shakspeare has taken care to fortify the unity and truth of the conception by another circumstance which excited the jealousy of lago. Rumour had fixed suspicion upon the Moor. The mere suspicion was enough for his Ancient, so that Othello stood answerable at lago's bar for two crimes. But it is not passion that predominates. His powers are intensified and concentrated, his nature becomes clearer, and a new impulse and activity are communicated to his whole spiritual force.
Iago's hatred and desire for revenge do not, as we have said, become a passion. His keen, penetrative intellect never loses the power of calculation, and, if opportunities do not present themselves, he has resources within him to create them.
His cunning and selfishness would have prevented any display of passion, but Shakspeare has furnished a deeper reason than these in the
radical nature of the conception. Iago was incapable of passion. He wanted the finer sensitiveness and idealising power that lie at the bottom of a passionate nature, and bestow on it a certain richness of feeling, which, under culture and direction, may lead its possessor to the highest emotional life which mankind can enjoy. Coincident with this deficiency and with the magnitude of the intellectual power, Shakspeare has conferred on Iago a silence of character which his cunning could not want. A muchrevolving man, with a deep, silent nature, whose thoughts were buried far down in his inmost heart. Yet his silence is not moody. It has no gloominess in it, impelling him to avoid his fellows. He is not given to solitude, for this would contradict his assumed character ; and the swiftness of his faculty rendered concoction and elaboration unnecessary, while his instinctive versatility fitted him for the execution of every purpose. He seems to have possessed a mind capable of a double action, a deep, underworking, innerworking force, powerful in one direction within, but producing a reverse motion on its visible surface. The latter only the world noted. The world did not suspect that Iago had thoughts within him and schemes, lying far beyond the reach of the keenest perceptions. His whole plan of life was concealed. He hid the very silence of his character from mankind; only to Roderigo does he tell it, that he might secure Roderigo's faith in his ability to promote the poor dupe's wishes-a point of some importance to Iago, so long as Roderigo's purse was full. But while he does so, the Poet has illustrated this feature in his character by making Iago, in enumerating his grounds of hatred of the Moor, omit one of them-a tender point indeed for Iago to mention to any man. To all others caution and hypocrisy sat warders at his tongue, and no word passed these trusty sentinels unexamined.
Shakspeare has made use of this characteristic to produce one of the finest touches of genius in the whole tragedy, exhibiting at once the