« AnteriorContinuar »
in hating him. For anybody can hate à man for his faults ; but to hate a man for his virtues, is something original; involves, so to speak, a declaration of moral independence. So, too, in the soliloquy where he speaks of loving Desdemona, he first disclaims any unlawful passion for her, and then adds, parenthetically, “ though, peradventure, I stand accountant for as great a sin;" as much as to say, that whether guilty or not he did not care, and dared the responsibility at all events. So that, to adopt a distinc. tion from Dr. Chalmers, be here seems not so much an atheist as an antitheist in morality. We remember that the late Mr. Booth, in pronouncing these words, cast his eyes upwards, as if looking Heaven in the face with a sort of defiant smile!
That Iago prefers lying to telling the truth, is implied in what we have said. Perhaps, indeed, such a preference is inseparable from his inordinate intellectuality. For it is a great mistake to suppose that a man's love of truth will needs be in proportion to his intellectuality: on the contrary, an excess of this may cause him to prefer lies, as yielding larger scope for activity and display of mind. For they who thrive by the truth naturally attribute their thrift to her power, not to their own; and success, coming to them as a gift, rather humbles than elates them. On the other hand, he who thrives by lying can reckon himself an overmatch for truth; he seems to owe none of his success to nature, but rather to have wrung it out in spite of her. Even so, Iago's characteristic satisfaction seems to stand in a practical reversing of moral distinctions; for example, in causing his falsehood to do the work of truth, or another's truth, the work of falsehood. For, to make virtue pass for virtue, and pitch for pitch, is no triumph at all; but to make the one pass for the other, is a triumph indeed! Iago glories in thus seeming to convict appearances of untruth; in compelling nature, as it were, to own her secret deceptions, and acknowledge him too much for her. Hence his adroit practice to appear as if serving Roderigo, while really using him. Hence his purpose, not merely to deceive the Moor, but to get his thanks for doing so. Therefore it is that he takes such a malicious pleasure in turning Desdemona's conduct wrong side out; for, the more angel she, the greater his triumph in making her seem a devil.
There is, indeed, no touching the bottom of lago's art : sleepless, unrelenting, inexhaustible, with an energy that never flags, and an alertness that nothing can surprise, he outwits every obstacle and turns it into an ally; the harder the material before bim, the more greedily does he seize it, the more adroitly work it, the more effectively make it tell; and absolutely persecutes the Moor with a redundancy of proof. When, for instance, Othello drops the words, “and yet how. nature, erring from itself ;” meaning simply that no woman is altogether exempt from frailty ; Iago with inscrutable sleight-of-hand forthwith steals in upon him, under cover of this remark, a cluster of pregnant insinuations, as but so
many inferences from his suggestion; and so manages to impart his own thoughts to the Moor, by seeming to derive them from him. Othello is thus brought to distrust all his original perceptions, to renounce his own understanding, and accept Iago's instead. And such, in fact, is Iago's aim, the very earnest and pledge of his intellectual mastery. Nor is there any thing that he seems to take with more gust, than the pain he inflicts by making the Moor think himself a fool; that he has been the easy dupe of Desdemona's arts; and that he owes bis deliverance to the keener insight and sagacity of his honest, faithful ancient.
But there is scarce any wickedness conceivable, into which such a lust and pride of intellect and will may not carry a man. Crave ing for action of the most exciting kind, there is a fascination for him in the very danger of crime. Walking the plain, safe, straightforward path of truth and nature, does not excite and occupy bim enough ; he prefers to thread the dark, perilous intricacies of some hellish plot, or to balance himself, as it were, on a rope stretched over an abyss, where danger stimulates and success demonstrates his agility. Even if remorse overtake such a man, its effect is to urge him deeper into crime; as the desperate gamester naturally tries to bury his chagrin at past losses in the increased excitement of a larger stake.
Critics have puzzled themselves a good deal about Iago's motives. The truth is, “natures such as his spin motives out of their own bowels." What is said of one of Wordsworth's characters in The Borderers, holds equally true of our ancient :
“There needs no other motive
He will destroy.” If it be objected to this view, that lago states his motives to Roderigo ; we answer, Iago is a liar, and is trying to dupe Roderigo; and knows he must allege some motives, to make the other trust him. Or, if it be objected that he states them in soliloquy, when there is no one present for him to deceive ; again we answer, Yes there is; the very one he cares most to deceive, namely, himself. And indeed the terms of this statement clearly denote a foregone conclusion, the motives coming in only as an after-thought. The truth is, he cannot quite look his purpose in the face ; it is a little too fiendish for his steady gaze; and he tries to hunt up or conjure up some motives, to keep the peace between it and his conscience. This is what Coleridge justly calls “ the motive-hunting of a motionless malignity;" and well may he add, “ how awful it is !"
Much has been said about Iago's acting from revenge. But be has no cause for revenge, unless to deserve his love be such a cause. For revenge supposes some injury received, real or fancied; and the sensibility whence it springs cannot but make some discrimination as to its objects. So that, if this were his motive, he would respect the innocent while crushing the guilty, there being, else, no revenge in the case. The impossibility, indeed, of accounting for bis conduct on such grounds is the very reason why the character, judged on such grounds, bas been pronounced unnatural. It is true, he tries to suspect, first Othello, and then Cassio, of having wronged him : he even finds or feigns a certain rumour to that effect; yet shows, by his manner of talking about it, that he does not himself believe it, or rather does not care whether it be true or not. And he elsewhere owns that the reasons he alleges are but pretences, after all. Even while using his divinity, he knows it is the “ divinity of hell,” else he would scorn to use it; and boasts of the intention to entrap his victims through their friendship for him, as if his obligations to them were his only provocations against them. For, to bad men, obligations often are provocations. That he ought to honour them, and therefore envies them, is the only wrong they have done him, or that he thinks they have done him; and he means to indemnify himself for their right to his honour, by ruining them through the very gifts and virtues which have caused his envy. Meanwhile, he amuses bis reasoning powers by inventing a sort of ex-post-facto motives for his purpose; the same wicked busy-mindedness, that suggests the crime, prompting him to play with the possible reasons for it.
We have dwelt the longer on Iago, because without a just and thorough insight of him Othello cannot be rightly understood, as the source and quality of his action require to be judged from the influences that are made to work upon him. The Moor bas for the most part been regarded as specially illustrating the workings of jealousy. Whether there be any thing, and, if so, how much, of this passion in him, may indeed be questions having two sides; but we may confidently affirm that he has no special predisposition to jealousy; and that whatsoever of it there may be in him does not grow in such a way, nor from such causes, that it can justly be held as the leading feature of his character, much less as his character itself; though such has been the view more commonly taken of him. On this point, there has been a strange ignoring of the inscrutable practices in which his passion originales. Instead of going behind the scene, and taking its grounds of judgment direct. ly from the subject himself, criticism has trusted overmuch in what is said of him by other persons in the drama, to whom he must perforce seem jealous, because they know and can know nothing of the devilish cunning that has been at work with him. And the common opinion has no doubt been much furthered by the stage; Iago's villainy being represented as so open and barefaced, that the Moor must have been grossly stupid or grossly jealous not to see through him ; whereas, in fact, so subtle is the villain's craft, ,
so close and involved are his designs that Othello deserves but the more respect and honour for being taken in by him.) nesto
Coleridge is very bold and clear in defence of the Moor. “Othel. 10,” says he, “does not kill Desdemona in jealousy, but in a conviction forced upon him by the almost superhuman art of Iago, such a conviction as any inan would and must have entertained, who had believed lago's honesty as Othello did. We, the audience, know that Iago is a villain from the beginning; but, in considering the essence of the Shakespearian Othello, we must perseveringly place ourselves in his situation, and under his circumstances. Then we shall immediately feel the fundamental difference between the solemn agony of the noble Moor, and the wretched fishing jealousy of Leontes.” And in our Introduction to The Winter's Tale is a passage from the same hand, giving such an account of the nature and workings of jealousy as would fully clear the Moor of acting from that passion. So, too, in this play lago describes jealousy as “the monster that doth make the meat it feeds on." And Emilia speaks to the same sense, when Desdemona acquits her husband of jealousy on the ground that she has never given him cause : “But jealous souls will not be answer'd so; they are not ever jealous for the cause, but jealous, for they're jealous.”
If jealousy be indeed such a thing as is here described, it seems clear enough that a passion thus self-generated and self-sustained ought not to be confounded with a state of mind superinduced, like Othello's, by forgery of external proofs, - a forgery wherein himself has no share but as the victim. And we may safely affirm that he has no aptitude for such a passion; it is against the whole grain of his mind and character. Iago evidently knows this; knows the Moor to be incapable of spontaneous distrust; that he must see, before he'll doubt ; that when he doubts, he'll prove; and that when he has proved, he will retain his honour at all events, and retain his love, if it be compatible with honour. Accordingly, lest the Moor should suspect himself of jealousy, Iago pointedly warns bim to beware of it; puts him on his guard against such self-delusions, that so his mind may be more open to the force of evidence, and lest from fear of being jealous he should entrench himself in the opposite extreme, and so be proof against conviction.
The struggle, then, in Othello is not between love and jealousy, but between love and honour; and Iago's machinations are exactly adapted to bring these two latter passions into collision. Indeed it is the Moor's very freedom from a jealous temper, that enables the villain to get the mastery of him. Such a character as his, 80 open, so generous, so confiding, is just the one to be taken in the strong toils of Iago's cunning ; to have escaped them, would have argued him a partaker of the strategy under which he falls. It is both the law and the impulse of a high and delicate honour,
VOL. X. 34
to rely on another's word, unless we have proof 10 the contrary; to presume that things and persons are what they seem : and it is an impeachment of our own veracity to suspect falsehood in one who bears a character for truth. Such is precisely the Moor's condition in respect of Iago; a man whom he has long known, and never caught in a lie; whom he as often trusted, and never seen cause to regret it. So that, in our judgment of the Moor, we onght to proceed as if his wife were really guilty of what she is charged with ; for, were she ever so guilty, he could scarce have stronger proof than he has; and that the evidence owes all its force to the plotting and lying of another, surely makes nothing against him.
Nevertheless, we are far from upholding, that Othello does not at any stage of the proceedings show sigus of jealousy. For the elements of this passion exist in the strongest and healthiest minds, and may be kindled into a transient sway over their motions, or at least so as to put them on the alert; and all we mean to affirm is, that jealousy is not Othello's characteristic, and does not form the actuating principle of his couduct. It is indeed certain that he doubts before he has proof; but then it is also certain that he does not act upon his doubt, till proof bas been given him. As to the rest, it seems to us there can be no dispute about the thing, but only about the term ; some understanding by jealousy one thing, some another. We presume that no one would have spoken of the Moor as acting from jealousy, in case his wife had really been guilty: his course would then have been regarded simply as the result of conviction upon evidence; which is to our mind nearly decisive of the question.
Accordingly, in the killing of Desdemona we have the proper inarks of a judicial as distinguished from a revengeful act. The Moor goes about her death calmly and religiously, as a duty from which he would gladly escape by his own death, if he could ; and we feel that his heart is wrung with inexpressible anguish, though his hand is firm. It is a part of his heroism, that as he prefers her to himself, so he prefers honour to her; and he manifestly contemplates her death as a sacrifice due to the institution which he fully believes, and has reason to believe, she has mocked and profaned. So that we cordially subscribe to the words of Ulrici respecting him : “ Jealousy and revenge seize his mind but transiently ; they spring up and pass away with the first burst of passion; being indeed but the momentary phases under which love and honour, the ruling principles of his soul, evince the deep wounds they are suffering."
The general custom of the stage has been, to represent Othello as a full-blooded Negro ; and criticism has been a good deal exercised of late on the question whether Shakespeare really meant him for such. The only expression in the play that would fairly infer him to be a Negro, is Roderigo's “thick-lips." But Rod