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So completely did Shakspeare enter into the angelic refinement of the character.
Endued with that temper which is the origin of superstition in love as in religion,—which, in fact, makes love itself a religion,-she not only does not utter an upbraiding, but nothing that Othello does or says, no outrage, no injustice, can tear away the charm with which her imagination had invested him, or impair her faith in his honour; “ Would you had never seen him !” exclaims Emilia.
So would not I!—my love doth so approve him,
There is another peculiarity, which, in reading the play of Othello, we rather feel than perceive: through the whole of the dialogue appropriated to Desdemona, there is not one general observation. Words are with her the vehicle of sentiment, and never of reflection; so that I cannot find throughout a sentence of general application. The same remark applies to Miranda; and to no other female character of any importance or interest; not even to Ophelia.
The rest of what I wished to say of Desdemona, has been anticipated by an anonymous critic, and so beautifully, so justly, so eloquently expressed, that I with pleasure erase my own page, to make room for his :
“Othello,” observes this writer, “is no love story; all that is below tragedy in the passion of love, is taken away at once, by the awful character of Othello; for such he seems to us to be designed to be. He appears never as a lover, but at once as a husband : and the relation of his love made dignified, as it is a husband's justification of his marriage, is also dignified, as it is a soldier's relation of his stern and perilous life. His love itself, as long as it is happy, is perfectly calm and serene—the protecting tenderness of a husband. It is not till it is disordered, that it appears as a passion: then is shown a power in contention with itself—a mighty being struck with death, and bringing up from
all the depths of life convulsions and agonies. It is no exhibition of the power of the passion of love, but of the passion of life, vitally wounded, and self over-mastering. If Desdemona had been really guilty, the greatness would have been destroyed, because his love would have been unworthy, false. But she is good, and his love is most perfect, just, and good. That a man should place his perfect love on a wretched thing, is miserably debasing, and shocking to thought; but that loving perfectly and well, he should by hellish human circumvention be brought to distrust and dread, and abjure his own perfect love, is most mournful indeed—it is the infirmity of our good nature wrestling in vain with the strong
Moreover he would, had Desdemona been false, have been the mere victim of fate; whereas he is now in a manner his own victim. His happy love was heroic tenderness; his injured love is terrible passion; and disordered power, engendered within itself to its own destruction, is the height of all tragedy.
- The character of Othello is perhaps the most
powers of evil.
greatly drawn, the most heroic of any of Shakspeare's actors; but it is, perhaps, that one also of which his reader last acquires the intelligence. The intellectual and warlike energy of his mind -his tenderness of affection-his loftiness of spirit -his frank, generous magnanimity—impetuosity like a thunderbolt-and that dark, fierce flood of boiling passion, polluting even his imagination, -compose a character entirely original, most difficult to delineate, but perfectly delineated.”
Emilia in this play is a perfect portrait from common life, a masterpiece in the Flemish style ; and though not necessary as a contrast, it cannot be but that the thorough vulgarity, the loose principles of this plebeian woman, united to a high degree of spirit, energetic feeling, strong sense and low cunning, serve to place in brighter relief the exquisite refinement, the moral grace, the unblemished truth, and the soft submission of Desdemona.
On the other perfections of this tragedy, considered as a production of genius-on the wonderful characters of Othello and Iago—on the skill with which the plot is conducted, and its simplicity which a word unravels,* and on the overpowering horror of the catastrophe -eloquence and analytical criticism have been exhausted : I will only add, that the source of the pathos throughout-of that pathos which at once softens and deepens the tragic effect—lies in the character of Desdemona. No woman differently constituted could have excited the same intense and painful compassion, without losing something of that exalted charm, which invests her from beginning to end, which we are apt to impute to the interest of the situation, and to the poetical colouring, but which lies, in fact, in the very essence of the character. | Desdemona, with all her timid flexibility and soft acquiescence, is not weak ; for the negative alone is weak, and the mere presence of goodness and affection implies in itself a species of power;—power without consciousness, power