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“ Alas, lago,
Iago. I pray you be content: 'tis but his humour.
Desdemona. If 'twere no other !!!-
The scene which follows with Æmilia and the song of the Willow, are equally beautiful, and shew the author's extreme power of varying the expression of passion, in all its moods and in all circumstances.
Æmilia. Would you had never seen him.
Desdemona. So would not I : my love doth so approve him,
Not the unjust suspicions of Othello, not Iago's treachery, place Desdemona in a more amiable or interesting light than the casual conversation (half earnest, half jest) between her and Æmilia, on the common behaviour of women to their husbands. This dialogue takes place just before the last fatal
If Othello bad overheard it, it would have
prevented the whole catastrophe; but then it would have spoiled the play.
The character of Iago is one of the supererogations of Shakspeare's genius. Some persons, more nice than wise, have thought this whole character unnatural, because his villany is without a sufficient motive. Shakspeare, who was as good a philosopher as he was a poet, thought otherwise. He knew that the love of power, which is another name for the love of mischief, is natural to man. He would know this as well or better than if it had been de monstrated to him by a logical diagram, merely from seeing children paddle in the dirt or kill flies for sport. Iago in fact belongs to a class of characters, common to Shakspeare, and at the same time peculiar to him ; whose heads are as acute and active as their hearts are hard and callous. Iago is to be sure an extreme instance of the kind; that is to say, of diseased intellectual activity, with an almost perfect indifference to moral good or evil, or rather with a decided preference of the latter, because it falls more readily in with his favourite propensity, gives greater zest to his thoughts and scope to his actions. He is quite or nearly as indifferent to his own fatè as to that of others; be runs all risks for a triling and doubtful advantage; and is himself the dupe and victim of his ruling passion--an insatiable craving after action of the most difficult and dangerous kind. “ Our ancient” is a philosopher, who fancies that a lie that kills has more point in it than an alliteration or an antithesis; who thinks a fatal experiment on the peace of a family a better thing than watching the
palpitations in the heart of a flea in a microscope; who plots the ruin of his friends as an exercise for his ingenuity, and stabs men in the dark to prevent ennui. His gayety, such as it is, arises from the success of his treachery ; bis ease from the torture he has inflicted on others. He is an amateur of tragedy in real life ; and instead of employing his invention on imaginary characters, or long forgotten incidents, he takes the bolder and more desperate course of getting up his plot at home, casts the principal parts among bis nearest friends and connexions, and rehearses it in downright earnest, with steady nerves and unabated resolution. We will just give an illustration or two.
One of his most characteristick speeches is that immediately after the marriage of Othello.
Roderigo. What a full fortune does the thick lips owe,
Iago. Call up her father :
In the next passage, his imagination runs riot in the mischief he is plotting, and breaks out into the wildness and impetuosity of real enthusi
Roderigo. Here is her father's house : I'll call aloud.
One of his most favourite topicks, on which he is rich indeed, and in descanting on which his spleen serves him for a Muse, is the disproportionate match between Desdemona and the Moor. This is a clue to the character of the lady which he is by no means ready to part with. It is brought forward in the first scene, and he recurs to it, when in answer to his insinuations against Desdemona, Roderigo says,
"I cannot believe that in her--she's full of most blest conditions.
Iago. Bless'd fig's end. The wine she drinks is made of grapes. If she had been blest, she would never have married the Moor.”
And again with still more spirit and fatal effect afterwards, when he turns this very suggestion arising in Othello's own breast to her prejudice.
“Othello. And yet, how nature erring from itself
Iago. Aye, there's the point ;-as to be bold with you,
This is probing to the quick. Iago here turns the character of poor Desdemona, as it were, inside out. It is certain that nothing but the genius of Shakspeare could have preserved the entire interest and delicacy of the part, and have even drawn an additional elegance and dignity from the peculiar circumstances in which she is placed.—The habitual licentiousness of lago's conversation is not to be traced to the pleasure he takes in gross or lascivious images, but to bis desire of finding out the worst side of every thing, and of proving himself an overmatch for appearances. He has none of “the milk
of human kindness" in his composition. His imagination rejects every thing that has not a strong infusion of the most unpalatable ingredients; his mind digests only poisons. Virtue, or goodness, or whatever has the least “relish of salvation in it," is, to his depraved appetite, sickly and insipid : and he even resents the good opinion entertained of his own integrity, as if it were an affront cast on the masculine sense and spirit of his character. Thus at the meeting between Othello and Desdemona, he 'exclaims—“Oh, you are well tuned now: but I'll set down the pegs that make this musick, as honest as I am”-his character of bonhommie not sitting at all easily upon him. In the scenes, where he tries to work Othello to his purpose, he is proportionably guarded, insidious, dark, and deliberate. We believe nothing ever came up to the profound dissimulation and dextrous artifice of the well known dialogue in the third act, where he first enters upon the execution of his design.
“ Tago. My noble lord.
Iago. Did Michael Cassio,
Othello. He did, from first to last.
Iago. But for a satisfaction of my thought,
Othello. Why of thy thought, lago?