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him for his prowess.' They are married, and live together in the utmost concord at Venice. At Disdemona's ardent entreaty she is allowed to accompany the expedition to Cyprus. Two of the Moor's officers, an ensign (alfiero) and a lieutenant (capo di squadra) are on terms of intimate friendship with him. The ensign makes love to Disdemona, and, failing to make her even comprehend his proposals, imagines that she is pre-engaged to the lieutenant. His 'love' changes to hate; he accuses her of adultery with the lieutenant. Accident plays into his hands. The lieutenant having been degraded for a casual breach of discipline, Disdemona appeals to the Moor to restore him, and the ensign drops the first poisonous insinuation into his ear. The stolen handkerchief completes his work; but he fails to win his wife's concurrence in the plot, and himself abstracts it from Disdemona's person while she is dandling his child. They arrange her death and the lieutenant's; the ensign's attempt to assassinate him fails, but he beats her to death in her husband's presence with a stocking of sand, and then together they draw down the ceiling and give out to the alarmed neighbours who rush in that she has been killed by a beam. Then the ensign. accuses the Moor of her death, the Moor is tortured, banished, and finally killed by Disdemona's relations, while the ensign, escaping unscathed, continues his old practices, and is finally put to death by torture for another and wholly unconnected crime.

The novel, it will be seen, foreshadowed almost every incident in the play. But the tragic theme, of which Shakespeare made it so wonderfully expressive an instrument, is scarcely hinted. Its hero is the ensign, its subject his various machinations; Disdemona and the Moor have a secondary interest, as his victim and his dupe. The Moor's character is the least

defined of all; but it was here that for Shakespeare the tragic problem lay; the situation of a simple, heroic nature, wrought by a worldly confidant to rupture his closest ties, had evident affinities with that of Brutus, and the resemblance grew under Shakespeare's hands. Like Brutus, Othello is too magnanimous, too self-confident, and too devoid of penetrating subtlety of brain, to grapple successfully with a difficult situation. Both are, by the confession of friend and foe, men of noble nature, who do their butchery like 'sacrificers' and not like butchers.1 But Othello's nobleness is touched to immeasurably more tragic issues. Brutus' illusions are disastrous enough, but no horrible awakening follows his dream. He trusts Cassius when he ought to doubt him, and rejects his lead when he ought to follow it; but the result is for him only an heroic and honourable death entirely untouched by remorse. Othello's passionate, generous nature lavishes its confidences more ardently, and withdraws them more peremptorily, but a malignant fate lies in watch to bring his blunders home to him. He 'loves' Cassio, and never doubts honest Iago; his imagination is not alert to read either a 'soul of goodness in things evil,' or of evil in things seemingly good, but seizes ardently upon the outer semblance of the man and glorifies to a god or degrades to a demon, fortifying himself against every gleam of returning reason and insight by a fatuous energy of will. Hence even the trickery of Iago, gross and clumsy as it is, and poorly as it would figure in a drama of intrigue, completely succeeds. Othello's love, in its complexity, its intensity, and its blindness, has the very quality of tragic passion.

The love of Romeo and Juliet is not tragic; its intoxication ceases only with their breath, and it so 1 Julius Cæsar, ii. 1. 166.




completely possesses and occupies their simple souls, that they present no point of vantage for disintegrating forces. But Othello's passion is an unstable compound of emotions that attach themselves to Desdemona's apparent attributes, to the beauty his eyes rest on, and the purity he has no reason to doubt,— but have no access to her uncomprehended soul; and chaos descends upon him when Iago's horrible craft severs the Desdemona of his senses from the Desdemona of his dreams. Nowhere is the chaos more perplexed than in the moment when, on the verge of the last desperate act, he stands slowly getting down behind successive illusions to the burning core of the pang that is impelling his vengeful hand. Had it pleased heaven to try him with affliction, shames, poverty, captivity, he would have found patience; but to be a mark for scorn! And yet he could bear scorn too,-well, very well :—

But there, where I have garner'd up my heart,
Where either I must live, or bear no life;
The fountain from the which my current runs,
Or else dries up; to be discarded thence !

The character of Othello first became tragic in Shakespeare's hands. Cinthio's Disdemona is a commonplace heroine enough, but the portrait furnished Shakespeare with one significant hint. She is fascinated by the Moor's 'valour,'1 she 'loves him for the dangers he had passed.' Her love, like his, is a love of the imagination, a perilous ecstasy of the idealising brain without secure root in the heart. It was needful for her tragic fate that her love should not be the engrossing and imperious passion of a Juliet; it had to leave her free for kindly interest in an unfortunate friend, and for innocent provoking coquetry on his behalf. She had to have enough of

1 Tratta non da appetito donnesco, ma dalla virtù del Moro.'

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 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 significance. 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

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