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wives, that they look well to their linen. Thirdly, this may be a lesson to husbands, that before their jealousy be tragical, the proofs may be mathematical.”
Our author then proceeds happily to satirize Othello's colour. He observes, that “ Shakespear was accountable both to the eyes and to the ears.” On this point we think his objection is not without reason. We agree with an excellent modern critic in the opinion, that though a reader may sink Othello's colour in his mind, a spectator can scarcely avoid losing the mind in the colour. But Mr. Rymer proceeds thus to characterize Othello's noble account to the Senate of his whole course of love.
« This was the charm, this was the philtre, the love-powder that took the daughter of this noble Venetian. This was sufficient to make the Blackamoor white, and reconcile all, though there had been a cloven foot into the bargain. A meaner woman might as soon be taken by Aqua Tetrachymagogon.”
The idea of Othello's elevation to the rank of a general, stings Mr. Rymer almost to madness. He regards the poet's offence as a kind of misprision of treason.
“ The character of the state (of Venice) is to employ strangers in their wars; but shall a poet thence fancy that they will set a Negro to be their general; or trust a Moor to defend them against the Turk ? With us, a Blackamoor might rise to be a trumpeter, but Shakespear would not have him less than a lieutenant-general.-With us, a Moor might marry some little drab or small-coal wench ; Shakespear would provide him the daughter and heir of some great lord, or privy counsellor ; and all the town should reckon it a very suitable match : yet the English are not bred up with that hatred and aversion to the Moor's as the Venetians, who suffer by a perpetual hostility from them,
« Littera littoribus contraria.” Our author is as severe on Othello's character, as on his exaltation and colour.
“Othello is made a Venetian general. We see nothing done by bim, nor related concerning him, that comports with the condition of a general, or, indeed, of a man, unless the killing himself to avoid a death the law was about to inflict upon him. When bis jealousy had wrought him up to a resolution of his taking revenge for the supposed injury, he sets Iago to the fighting part to kill Cassio, and chuses himself to murder the silly woman his wife, that was like to make no resistance."
Mr. Rymer next undertakes to resent the affront put on the army by the making Iago a soldier.
“But what is most intolerable is lago. He is no Blackamoor soldier, so we may be sure he should be like other soldiers of our acquaintance.; yet never in tragedy, nor in comedy, nor in nature, was a soldier with his character ;--take it in the author's own words :
some eternal villain, Some busie and insinuating rogue,
Some cogging, couzening slave, to get some office. “ Horace describes a soldier otherwise,- Impiger, iracundus, inExorabilis, acer.'
Shakespear knew his character of Iago was inconsistent. In this very play he pronounces,
“ If thou deliver more or less than truth,
Thou art no soldier. “ This he knew, but to entertain the audience with something new and surprising against common sense and nature, he would pass upon us a close, dissembling, false, insinuating rascal, instead of an open hearted, frank, plain dealing soldier, a character constantly worn
Against “ the gentle lady married to the Moor,” Mr. Rymer cherishes a most exemplary hatred. He seems to labour for terms strong enough to express the antipathy and scorn he bears her. The following are some of the daintiest:
“ There is nothing in the noble Desdemona, that is not below any country kitchen-maid with us."-" No woman bred out of a pig-stye could talk so meanly."
Yet is Mr. Rymer no less enraged at her death than at her life.
" Here (he exclaims in an agony of passion) a noble Venetian lady is to be murdered by our poet, in sober sadness, purely for being a fool. No Pagan poet but would have found some machine for her deliverance. Pegasus would have strained hard to have brought old Perseus on bis back, time enough to rescue this Andromeda from so foul a monster. Has our Christian poetry no generosity, no bowels ? Ha, ha, Sir Launcelot! Ha, Sir George! Will no ghost leave the shades for us in extremity, to save a distressed damsel ?"
On the “ expression,” that is, we presume, the poetry of the work, Mr. Rymer does not think it necessary to dwell; though he admits that “ the verses rumbling in our ears, are of good use to help off the action.” On those of Shakespear he passes this summary judgment:-" In the neighing of an horse, or in the growling of a mastiff, there is a meaning, there is as lively expression, and may I say more humanity, than many times in the tragical flights of Shakespear.” Having settled this trivial point, he invites the reader “ to step among the scenes, to observe the conduct in this tragedy.”
In examining the first scene of Othello, our critic weightily reprehends the sudden and startling manner in which Iago and Roderigo inform Brabantio of his daughter's elopement with the Moor. He regards their abruptness as an unpardonable violation of decorum, and by way of contrast to its rudeness, informs us, that
“ In former days there wont to be kept at the courts of princes somebody in a fool's coat, that in pure simplicity might let slip something, which made way for the ill news, and blunted the shock, which otherwise might have come too violent on the party.”
Mr. Rymer shews the council of Venice no quarter. He thus daringly scrutinizes their proceedings.
“ By their conduct and manner of talk, a body must strain hard to fancy the scene at Venice, and not rather at some of our Cinque ports, where the baily and his fishermen are knocking their heads together on account of some whale ; or some terrible broil on the coast. But to shew them true Venetians, the maritime affairs stick not on their hand; the public may sink or swim. They will sit up all night to hear a Doctors' Commons matrimonial cause; and have the merits of the cause laid open to 'em, that they may decide it before they stir. What can be pleaded to keep awake their attention so wonderfully.”
Here the critic enters into a fitting abuse of Othello's defence to the senate; expresses his disgust at the “eloquence which kept them up all night,” and his amaze at their apathy, notwithstanding the strangeness of the marriage. He complains, that
“ Instead of starting at the prodigy, every one is familiar with Desdemona, as if he were her own natural father ; they rejoice in her good fortune, and wish their own daughters as hopefully married. Should the Poet (he continues) have provided such a husband for an only daughter of any peer in England, the Blackamoor must have changed his skin to look our House of Lords in the face.”
Our critic next complains, that, in the second Act, the poet shews the action, (he “ knows not how many leagues off”) in the Island of Cyprus, without “ our Bayes," (as he pleasantly denominates Shakespear) having made any provision of transport ships for the audience. The first scene in Cyprus is then “ cut up in a way, which might make the most skilful of modern reviewers turn pale with envy. After noticing the preliminary dialogue, Mr. Rymer observes, “ now follows a long rabble of Jack Pudden farce between Iago and Desdemona, that runs on with all the little plays, jingle, and trash below the patience of any country kitchen maid with her sweet-heart. The Venetian Donna is hard put to it for pastime; and this is all when they are newly got on shore from a dismal tempest, and when every moment she might expect to hear her Lord (as she calls him) that she runs so mad after, is arrived or lost.” Our author, therefore, accuses Shakespeare of “ unhallowing the theatre, profaning the name of tragedy, and, instead of representing men and manners, turning all morality, good sense, and humanity, into mockery and derision.”
Mr. were in the
lago dience withos
Mr. Rymer contends that Desdemona's solicitations for Cassio, were in themselves more than enough to rouse Othello's jealousy. “ Iago can now, (he observes) only actum agere, and vex the audience with a nauseous repetition." This remark introduces the following criticism on the celebrated scene in the third act, between Othello and Iago, which is curious, not only as an instance of perverted reasoning, but as it shews, that in the performance, some great histrionic power must have been formerly exerted, not unlike the sublime energy of which, we, in witnessing this tragedy, have been spectators.
" Whence comes it then, that this is the top scene; the scene that raises Othello above all other tragedies at our theatres ? It is purely from the action; from the mops and the mows, the grimace, the grins, and gesticulation. Such scenes as this have made all the world run after Harlequin and Scaramoucio.
“ The several degrees of action, were amongst the ancients distinguished by the cothurnas, the soccus, and the planipes. Had this scene been represented at Old Rome, Othello and Iago must have quitted their buskins; they must have played barefoot : for the spectators would not have been content without seeing their podometry; and the jealousy work out at the very toes of them. Words, be they Spanish or Polish, or any inarticulate sound, have the same effect, they can only serve to distinguish, and, as it were, beat time to the action. But here we see a known language does woefully encumber and clog the operation : as either forced, or heavy, or trifling, or incoherent, or improper, or most improbable. When no words interpose to spoil the conceit, every one interprets, as he likes best ; so in that memorable dispute between Panurge and our English Philosopher in Rabelais, performed without a word speaking, the Theologians, Physicians, and Surgeons, made one inference; the Lawyers, Civilians, and Canonists, drew another conclusion more to their mind.”
Mr. Rymer thus objects to the superlative villainy of Iago, on his advising Desdemona's murder.
“ Iago had some pretence to be discontent with Othello and Cassio, and what passed hitherto was the operation of revenge. Desdemona had never done him any barm ; always kind to him, and to his wife ; was bis countrywoman, a dame of quality. For him to abet her murder, shews nothing of a soldier, nothing of a man, nothing of nature in it. The Ordinary of Newgate never had the like monster to pass under his examination. Can it be any diversion to see a rogue beyond what the Devil ever finished ? or would it be any instruction to an audience ? Iago could desire no better than to set Cassio and Othello, his two enemies, by the ears together, so that he might have been revenged on them both at once; and chusing for his own share the murder of Desdemona, he had the opportunity to play booty, and save the poor harmless wretch. But the poet must do every thing by contraries; to surprise the audience still with something horrible and prodigious, beyond any human imagination. At this rate, he must outdo the Devil, to be a poet in the rank with Shakespear."
Mr. Rymer is decorously enraged to think that the tragedy should turn on a handkerchief. “Why," he asks in virtuous indignation, “ was not this called the tragedy of the handkerchief? what can be more absurd than (as Quintilian expresses it) in parvibus litibus has tragedias movere? We have heard of Fortunatus his purse, and of the invisible cloak long ago worn thread-beare, and stowed up in the wardrobe of obsolete romances; one might think that were a fitter place for this handkerchief than that it, at this time of day, be worn on the stage, to raise every-where all this clutter and turmoil.” And again, “ the handkerchief is so remote a trifle, no booby on this side Mauritania could make any consequence from it.”
Our author suggests a felicitous alteration of the catastrophe of Othello. He proposes that the handkerchief, when lost, should have been folded in the bridal couch; and when Othello was stifling Desdemona,
“ The fairy napkin might bave started up to disarm bis fury, and stop his ungracious mouth. Then might she (in a trance for fear) have lain as dead. Then might he (believing her dead) touched with remorse, have honestly cut his own throat, by the good leave, and with the applause of all the spectators; who might thereupon bave gone home with a quiet mind, admiring the beauty of providence, fairly and truly represented on the theatre.'
The following is the summing up and catastrophe of this marvellous criticism :
• What can remain with the audience to carry home with them from this sort of poetry, for their use and edification? How can it work, unless (instead of settling the mind and purging our passions) to delude our senses, disorder our thoughts, addle our brain, pervert our affections, hair our imaginations, corrupt our appetite-and fill our head with vanity, confusion, tintamarre, and jingle-jangle, beyond what all the parish clerks of London, with their Old Testament farces and interludes, in Richard the Second's time, could ever pretend to? Our only hopes, for the good of their souls, can be that these people go to the play-house as they do to church-to sit still, look on one another, make no reflection, nor mind the play more than they would a sermon.”
“ There is in this play some burlesk, some humour, and ramble of comical wit, some shew, and some mimicry to divert the spectators; but the tragical part is clearly none other than a bloody farce, without salt or savour."
Our author's criticism on Julius Cæsar is very scanty, compared with that on Othello, but it is not less decisive. Indeed, his classical zeal here sharpens his critical rage; and he is incensed against Shakespear, not only as offending the dignity of the tragic muse, but the memory of the noblest Romans. “ He might," exclaims the indignant critic, “ be