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She, in spite of nature,
And the devilish malignity of Iago, whose coarse mind cannot conceive an affection founded purely in sentiment, derives from her love itself a strong argument against her.
Aye, there's the point, as to be bold with you,
Notwithstanding this disparity of age, character, country, complexion, we, who are admitted into the secret, see her love rise naturally and necessarily out of the leading propensities of her nature.
At the period of the story a spirit of wild adventure had seized all Europe. The discovery of both Indies was yet recent; over the shores of the western hemisphere still fable and mystery hung, with all their dim enchantm visionary terrors, and golden promises; perilous
* Act iii. scene 3.
expeditions and distant voyages were every day undertaken from hope of plunder, or mere love of enterprise ; and from these the adventurers returned with tales of " Antres vast and desarts wild -of cannibals that did each other eat-of Anthropophagi, and men whose heads did grow bea neath their shoulders.” With just such stories did Raleigh and Clifford, and their followers return from the New World : and thus by their splendid or fearful exaggerations, which the imperfect knowledge of those times could not refute, was the passion for the romantic and marvellous
ourished at home, particularly among the women. A cavalier of those days had no nearer, no surer way to his mistress's heart, than by entertaining her with these wondrous narratives. What was a general feature of his time, Shakspeare seized and adapted to his purpose with the most exquisite felicity of effect. Desdemona, leaving her household cares in haste, to hang breathless on Othello's tales, was doubtless a picture from the life; and her inexperience and her quick imagination lend it an added propriety : then her com
passionate disposition is interested by all the disastrous chances, hair-breadth 'scapes, and moving accidents by flood and field, of which he has to tell; and her exceeding gentleness and timidity, and her domestic turn of mind, render her more easily captivated by the military renown, the valour, and lofty bearing of the noble Moor
And to his honours and his valiant parts
Does she her soul and fortunes consecrate.
The confession and the excuse for her love is
well placed in the mouth of Desdemona, while the history of the rise of that love, and of his course of wooing, is, with the most graceful propriety, as far as she is concerned, spoken by Othello, and in her absence. The last two lines summing up the whole
She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
comprise whole volumes of sentiment and metaphysics.
Desdemona displays at times a transient energy, arising from the power of affection, but gentleness gives the prevailing tone to the character gentleness in its excess-gentleness verging on passiveness-gentleness, which not only cannot resent, but cannot resist.
Then of so gentle a condition!
Aye! too gentle..
Nay, that's certain.
Here the exceeding softness of Desdemona's temper is turned against her by Iago, so that it suddenly strikes Othello in a new point of view, as the inability to resist temptation ; but to us who perceive the character as a whole, this extreme gentleness of nature is yet delineated with such. exceeding refinement, that the effect never approaches to feebleness. It is true that once her extreme timidity leads her in a moment of confusion and terror to prevaricate about the fatal handkerchief. This handkerchief, in the original story of Cinthio, is merely one of those embroi
dered hankerchiefs which were as fashionable in Shakspeare's time as in our own; but the minute description of it as “ lavorato alla morisco sottilissimamente, "* suggested to the poetical fancy of Shakspeare one of the most exquisite and characteristic passages in the whole play. Othello makes poor Desdemona believe that the handkerchief was
There's magic in the web of it.
Indeed ! is't true ?
Most veritable, therefore look to't well.
Then would to heaven that I had never seen it !
• Which being interpreted into modern English, means, I believe, nothing more than that the pattern was what we now call arabesque.