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minuteness of his conception, and the unity and harmony, as well as true nature, of Iago's character. It is when Iago's crime was discovered, and he is made to exclaim in the true spirit of the conception
“Demand me nothing-what you know, you know ;
From this time forth I never will speak word.”
To the concealed silent depth of this man's heart, the Poet has now added the sullenness and doggedness arising from detected guilt.
The elements which Shakspeare has brought into active prominence are hypocrisy and cunning. So successfully had lago played his game that Othello, when ordered to Cyprus, left to him the conveyance of his beautiful bride. The Moor knew that a Turkish fleet of more than a hundred sail was on the waters, and were it not that the Poet intended to illustrate the Moor's unbounded confidence in Iago, it would almost seem strange that Othello should trust his Desdemona from his side.
The first point in the development of the plot which Iago's cunning and deep-working villany brought about, was the dismissal of Cassio on the night of their arrival in Cyprus. Iago, in this matter, did not take advantage of any accident. He was moulding and guiding events towards the accomplishment of his purposes. He seems to have induced Othello to issue the proclamation ordering the revels. managed to place Roderigo on the watch, and laid the command on him. "Three else of Cyprus, noble-swelling spirits, that held their honours in a wary distance,” were joined with Roderigo, and Iago had “flustered them with flowing cups.” His whole policy here is one of consummate craft, and Cassio's infirmity is fortunate for the success of his schemes. We do not know whether Iago had a twofold motive in evading the Moor's question as to the origin of the quarrel. His ostensible position is to seem unwilling to say aught that would injure Cassio, and we have sometimes asked ourselves whether he, with his quick perception, saw that it was a necessary preparative to the dismissal (and not the mere rebuke) of Cassio, that the anger of the Moor should be somewhat excited.
Iago brought about the dismissal of Cassio by a masterstroke of craft not surpassed by the cunning and skill with which he awakens the sleeping world within Othello. Here, however, his course was one of greater nicety and delicacy. Seated squat at the ear of Othello, he insinuates his deadly poison into the soul of his victim, and gloats over the gathering agony that swells within. Iago never pities. Unwavering in his purpose, even the lovely Desdemona, so meek, and still, and beautiful, with her young heroic love, excited no admiration or compassion in this man. He breathed his withering breath on her fair glad Iife, now sweetened with the holiest of earthly joys, and he saw it shrivel up without a pang. Ah! gentle lady, little didst thou dream on that stormy Saturday morning, when thy ship first touched “the warlike isle,” that ere the next day's sun had set thy valiant lord should have sworn thy death. But so it is ; for the decree had gone forth, and the Lithûanian fates must rend the thread that unites thee with the stars.
Few things illustrate the peculiar character of lago better than the
striking difference between his jealousy and that which he excited in Othello. He has described his own. It is a gnawing pain that gives him no rest; a settled uneasiness, slowly eating its way into his being. He had never loved, and would have despised himself if he had ; so that jealousy never warped his judgment, or rendered his brain in any degree unsteady. Nevertheless, he is not callous, and he seems to have demanded an explanation of Emilia. She failed to satisfy him ; but he never dreams of wreaking his vengeance on her. His own jealousy suggested the method of his revenge, and he turns at once, with unmoved coolness to a nobler quarry, the Moor.
On the other hand, Othello is terrific, sublime; and all the more terrific from the previous repose and unimpassioned calm of his great nature. Serene it seemed to lie, like some Himmalayan peak, towering into the region of everlasting sunshine ; but not, like it, into the region of everlasting snow. A quiet, lion-like dignity rests upon him, and removes him far above the shocks and storms that would overset and ruin less gifted men. Shakspeare has endowed him with the noblest of natures, moral and intellectual, with a mind purified from every meanness, with a heart a stranger to every unkindness. Gentle by spontaneous impulse, he has yet a self-reliance and power within ; and modesty, which sits ever graceful upon genius, was the native habit of his mind. His being was attuned to the highest harmonies, and there was in it a reach of emotion and passion that no man before Iago had sounded. But when he ran his fingers over the chords of that beautiful nature, it vibrated with life and agony through its entire compass.
Othello's nerves are of the finest sensibility, exquisitely, but, from his intellectual repose, not easily susceptible. Hence, and with what effect a busy life might have, he was well up in years before he loved ; bence, when he did so, he was more the wooed than the wooer ; but, when the skyey influence broke upon his soul, his love for Desdemona was of the loftiest order. It became poetry - it became a religion. Hence, likewise, the terrible grandeur of his jealousy, and the still more terrible grandeur of his awakened wrath.* His jealousy is but as the rocking of the earth before the eruption, before the outbreak of that high-streaming lava-tide of wrath which swept himself and his gentle Desdemona to their doom.
How was Iago then to move this man, whose being seemed so complete and immoveable. His searching instinct bad long noted where the Moor's weakness lay. Othello had seen little of Venetian life, and this circumstance concurs in making that weakness all the more easily assailable? Free, open, over-confiding, Othello was weak from excess of inherent goodness. A little more insight into character would have saved him, and a better knowledge of men would at least have produced hesitation. But he wanted penetration a little, and had never made men his books. His own guilelessness disarmed
* Schlegel mentions, as a point of considerable importance, the African nature of Othello, and abstracts from him some of his noblest qualities. If Shakspeare regarded that point as of great importance, it is strange that it never occurs to Iago, and is not hinted at throughout the tragedy.
him of suspicion, and placed him at the mercy of every clever knare that was disposed to dupe him ; and this Iago knew
« The Moor is of a free and open nature,
and probably Iago felt that he was the best illustration of this that could be produced.
His whole plan of assault is deeply laid, and nearly every phase in his character'is exhibited— fertility of resource, bypocrisy, cunning, and his matchless knowledge of human nature, as well as an audacity which, but for the blinding passion of the Moor, must have exposed him and his entire plot.* He insures success by his crafty approaches. With slow and cautious step he steals upon his victim, and with fiendish satisfaction gluts his appetite on the havoc he is working. A glare of exultation is in his eye when he sees that the wreck of a brave soul has been accomplished—a soul that he has sent downward to ruin and the abyss. His caution and cunning, at this stage of his business, are extreme. Seeking, in the first place, to overcome the confidingness of the Moor, he succeeds by provoking his curiosity. He excites suspicion, and fixes it on Cassiowearing all the while the mask of innocence and honesty. This gained, swift and sudden are the transitions of passion in Othello's mind, from suspicion to jealousy, from jealousy to wrath, from wrath to doubt, to agony, to revenge. His whole being is unfixed. sion sets in upon him from every side. Order and harmony are driven forth for ever, and chaos, wild-weltering, reigns supreme. Stirred * We refer here to the following passage in Act III., Scene 3 :
I lay with Cassio lately,
Cursed fate That gave thee to the Moor.” It was impossible that this could be. This falsehood was uttered, as we gather from internal evidence, on the day. (a Sunday) after the arrival in Cyprus of Othello-Othello and Cassio in their respective ships, and Desdemona and Iago in a third vessel. Othello left Venice on the night of his marriage (Act I., Scene 3), and Cassio accompanied him (Act II., Scene 1). Iago conveyed Desdemona on the following day (Act I., Scenes 1 and 3). They all arrived in Cyprus on the same forenoon. In a conversation with Roderigo on the day of their arrival, Iago says to him, “ Watch you to night. Do you find some occasion to anger Cassio.” That same night Cassio is dismissed from his office. The morning had broken ; and Cassio did not go to bed (Act III., Scene 1); and this was the morning of the day when Iago aroused the Moor's jealousy, and uttered the falsehood quoted. A moment's reflection therefore, on the part of Othello, might have satisfied him of the impossibility of Iago and Cassio sleeping together since his marriage.
But this passage contains another contradiction, which a little coolness on
into anarchy and confused strife-each o'ermastering each-all the elements of his mighty heart burst from Reason's control, and rage with an accumulating fury, like that of the warring of the gods.
The skill with which Sbakspeare has conducted the setting of this character leads us into a new field of bis art, viz., the fine spiritual connexion between the persone of the tragedy. Our business, however, is with Jago alone. We have already referred to the contrast which the Poet has drawn between him and Othello, and to its dramatic necessity. This contrast brings each into fuller individuality, and we are better enabled to see them as living realities, with all the wonderful working of their hearts. But Shakspeare required stronger light to be thrown on the character of Iago than this contrast could yield. He had to connect him with the world at large, and show him in action where he had no cause of anger, and no motive to revenge. With desires rooted fast in this world, and with self attending as the only moral law, it was to add to the breadth of the character, and to illustrate Iago's method of using mankind, where he could do so with safety, that Roderigo has been introduced. The presence of Roderigo arises from a spiritual necessity. He is not essential to the progress of events, and, on the contrary, increases the difficulty of Iago's problem. But be fits in so harmoniously to the character of Iago, that the latter stands out from the canvas of the Poet with a sweep of outline more firmly rounded, with a life and fullness of figure more complete and better defined.
To the knave Iago, Shakspeare brought the dupe Roderigo, a simple and foolish man, one easily chafed and easily allayed. The strong and subtle mind that decoyed him, rubbed him up or down as suited its own purposes; and the little spark of honesty and manliness that was
the part of the Moor might have enabled him to perceive. Seeing that it was impossible that Iago and Cassio could have slept together since the Moor's marriage, it was equally impossible that the disclosure put into the mouth of Cassio could have taken place before it. We view Iago's words from the Moor's point of vision. Before her marriage with Othello, and while it was in Desdemona's power to marry whom she pleased, Cassio could not speak of cursed fate having given her to the Moor. Had she married the Moor against her wishes, Iago's lie would have bad some semblance of truth. Otherwise it had none, and the double opportunity presented to Othello was lost.
Following up this analysis, but with reference to the architecture of the plot, a point of difficulty occurs, which, so far as we know, has not been noticed elsewhere. The 3rd Scene of the Third Act takes place, as we observed, the day after the arrival in Cyprus. Just before the scene closes, Othello
says, “ Within these three days let me hear thee say, that Cassio's not alive." In the next scene Bianca appears for the first time, when she says to Cassio, “What? keep a week away-seven days and nights !" How could this be, unless we are to suppose the lapse of a considerable period of time (a week, at least) between the 3rd and 4th Scenes ? But the development of the plot hardly admits of this, and there are certain objections to this supposition which seem insurmountable. Cassio's reason for his absence does not settle the point. But we leave this matter to the consideration of our readers.
in him, he allowed it to smother. He furnished a new opportunity for the exercise of all lago's faculties, and his death brings before us the unscrupulousness with which they would plan the destruction of any tool that had become useless, and, by its uselessness, dangerous.
With so much accuracy of detail has Shakspeare delineated the character we have attempted to interpret, that its minute finish must be left to the study of the reader. Like everything that emanates from Genius, there is a pervading vitality in it; and we stand in the presence of a great human portraiture, into which Genius has infused its own creative power. The artist never hangs round a creation the semblance of humanity ; the likeness grows from within, outward, into action. Art will not permit any other exclusive impress of individuality than this; and it demands, likewise, as a consequence, and, in a great measure, as the law of the artist's procedure, that the construction of the plot seems to emerge, not from the mind of the Poet, but from the deep quick-life of his creation.
So with Shakspeare in the character before us, and hence the free naturalness of the plot, and its fitness to the Iago he has conceived.