Page images
PDF
EPUB

That there he dropp'd it, for a special purpose,
Which wrought to his desire.
Oth.

O fool! fool! fool!
Cas. There is, besides, in Roderigo's letter,
How he upbraids Iago, that he made him
Brave me upon the watch; whereon it came
That I was cast: And even but now he spake,
After long seeming dead-lago hurt him,
Iago set him on.

Lod. You must forsake this room, and go with us;
Your power and your command is taken off,
And Cassio rules in Cyprus. For this slave,.--
If there be any cunning cruelty,
That can torment him much, and hold him long,
It shall be his: You shall close prisoner rest,
Till that the nature of your fault be known
To the Venetian state :--Come, bring him away.

Oth. Soft you; a word or two, before you go. I have done the state some service, and they know it; No more of that:- I pray you, in your letters, When you shall these unlucky deeds relate, Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak Of one,

that lov'd not wisely, but too well; Of one, not easily jealous, but, being wrought, Perplex'd in the extreme; of one, whose hand, Like the base Júdean, threw a pearl away, Richer than all his tribe;' of one, whose subdu'd eyes,

9

1

confess'd it even now. The folio--confess'd it, but even now. The word it was manifestly caught by the compositor's eye glancing on the subsequent line. Malone.

Speak of me as I am ;] The first quarto reads --Speak of them as they are. The present reading, which is the reading of the folio, has more force. Jolinson.

of one, whose hand,
Like the base Júdean, threw a pearl away,

Richer than all his tribe ;] I have restored Judian, from the elder quarto, as the genuine and more eligible reading. Mr. Pope thinks this was occasioned probably by the word tribe just afier: I have many reasons to oppose this opinion. In the first place, the most ignora'it Indian, I believe, is so far the reverse of the dung-hill-cock in the fable, as to know the estimation of a pearl beyond that of a barley-corn. So that, in that respect, the thought itself would not be just. Then, if our author had de

Oo

Albeit unused to the melting mood,

signed to reflect on the ignorance of the Indian without any für. ther reproach, he would have called him rude, and not base. Again, I am persuaded, as my friend Mr. Warburton long ago observed, the phrase is not here literal, but metaphorical; and, by his pearl, our author very properly means a fine woman. But Mr. Pope objects farther to the reading Judian, because, to make sense of this, we must pre-suppose some particular story of a Jew alluded to: which is much less obvious: but has Shak. speare never done this, but in this single instance ? I am satisfied, in his Judian, he is alluding to Herod; who, in a fit of blind jealousy, threw away such a jewel of a wife as Mariamne was to him. What can be more parallel in circumstance, than the conduct of Kerod and Othello? Nor was the story so little obvious as Mr. Pope seems to imagine : for, in the year 1613, the Lady Elizabeth Carew published a tragedy called MARIAM, the Fair Queen of JEWRY. I shall only add, that our author might write Judian or Judean, (if that should be alledged as any objection) instead of Judean, with the same licence and change of accent, as, in his Antony and Cleopatra, he shortens the se. cond syllable of Euphrates in pronunciation : which was a liberty likewise taken by Spenser, of whom our author was a studious imitator. Theobald.

Like the base Júdean.) Thus the folio. The first quarto, 1622, reads-Indian. Mr. Theobald therefore is not accurate in the preceding note, in his account of the old copies. Malone.

The elder quarto reads Judian, and this is certainly right. And by the Judian is meant Herod, whose usage to Mariamne is so apposite to the speaker's case, that a more proper instance could not be thought of. Besides, he was the subject of a tragedy at that time, as appears from the words in Hamlet, where an ill player is described

to out-herod Herod.” The metaphorical term of a pearl for a fine woman, is so com. mon as scarce to need examples. In Troilus and Cressida, a lover says of his mistress

• There she lies a PEARL.”And again :

“Why she is a pearl, whose price” &c. Warburton. I cannot join with the learned criticks in conceiving this passage to refer either to the ignorance of the natives of India, in respect of pearls, or the well-known story of Herod and Mari.

The poet might just as fairly be supposed to have alluded to that of Jepthah and his daughter.

Othello, in detestation of what he had done, seems to compare himself to another person who had thrown away a thing of value, with some circumstances of the meanest villainy, which the epi. thet base seems to imply in its general sense, though it is some. times used only for low or mean. The Indian could not properly he termed base in the former and most common sense, whose

[ocr errors]

amne.

Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees

fault was ignorance, which brings its own excuse with it; and the crime of Herod surely deserves a more aggravated distinction. For though in every crime, great as well as small, there is a degree of baseness, yet the furiis agitatus amor, such as contributed to that of Herod, seems to ask a stronger word to characterize it; as there was spirit at least in what he did, though the spirit of a fiend, and the epithet base would better suit with petty lurceny than royal guilt. Besides, the simile appears to me too apposite almost to be used on the occasion, and is little more than bringing the fact into comparison with itself. Each through jealousy had destroyed an innocent wife, circumstances so pa. rallel, as hardly to admit of that variety which we generally find in one allusion, which is meant to illustrate another, and at the same time to appear as more than a superfluous ornament. Of a like kind of imperfection, there is an instance in Virgil, Book XI, where, after Camilla and her attendants have been described as absolute Amazons

" At medias inter cædes exultat Amazon,
“ Unum exerta latuis pugnæ pharetata Camilla.-

“ Et circum lectæ comites,” &c. we find them, nine lines after, compared to the Amazons them. selves, to Hippolita or Penthesilca, surrounded by their companions:

“ Quales Threiciæ, cum fiumina Thermodontis
“ Pulsant, et pictis bellantur Amazones armis:
“ Seu circum Hippolyten, seu cum se martia curru

" Penthesilea refert.” What is this but bringing a fact into comparison with itself? Neither do I believe the poet intended to make the present simile coincide with all the circumstances of Othello's situation, but merely with the single act of having basely (as he himself terms it) destroyed that on which he ought to have set a greater value. As the pearl may bear a literal as well as a metaphorical sense, I would rather choose to take it in the literal one, and receive Mr. Pope's rejected explanation, pre-supposing some story of a Jew alluded to, which might be well understood at that time, though now perhaps forgotten, or at least imperfectly remem. bered. I have read in some book, as ancient as the time of Shakspeare, the following tale; though, at present, I am unable either to recollect the title of the piece, or the author's name:

A Jew, who had been prisoner for many years in distant parts, brought with him at his return to Venice a great number of pearls, which he offered on the 'change among the merchants, and (one alone excepted) disposed of them to his satisfaction. On this pearl, which was the largest ever shown at market, he had fixed an immoderate price, nor could be persuaded to make the least abatement. Many of the magnificoes, as well as traders, offered him considerable sums for it, but he was resolute in his first demand. At last, after repeated and unsuccessful applica

Their medicínal gum:3 Set you down this:

tions to individuals, he assembled the merchants of the city, by proclamation, to meet him on the Rialto, where he once more exposed it to sale on the former terms, but to no purpose. After having expatiated, for the last time, on the singular beauty and value of it, he threw it suddenly into the sea before them all."

Though this anecdote may appear inconsistent with the avarice of a Jew, yet it sufficiently agrees with the spirit so remarkable at all times in the scattered remains of that vindictive nation.

Shakspeare's seeming arersion to the Jews in general, and his constant desire to expose their avarice and baseness as often as he had an opportunity, may serve to strengthen my supposition; and as that nation, in his time, and since, has not been famous for crimes during and conspicuous, but has rather contented itself to thrive by the meaner and more successful arts of baseness, there seems to be a particular propriety in the epithet. When Falstaff is justifying himself in King Henry IV, he adds, “ If what I have said be not true, I am a Jew, an Ebrew Jew," i. e. one of the most suspected characters of the time. The liver of a Jew is an ingredient in the cauldron of Macbeth; and the vigilance for gain, which is described in Shylock, may af. ford us reason to suppose the poet was alluding to a story like that already quoted.

Richer than all his tribe, seems to point out the Jew again in a mercantile light; and may mean, that the pearl was richer than all the gems to be found among a set of men generally trading in them. Neither do I recollect that Othello mentions many things, but what he might fairly have been allowed to have had knowledge of in the course of his peregrinations. Of this kind are the similes of the Euxine sea flowing into the Propotick, and the Arabian trees dropping their gums. The rest of his speeches are more free from mythological and historical allusions, than almost any to be found in Shakspeare, for he is never quite clear from them; though in the design of this character he seems to have mcant it for one who had spent a greater part of his life in the field, than in the cultivation of any other knowledge than what would be of use to him in his military capacity. It should be observed, that most of the flourishes merely ornamental were added after the first edition; and this is not the only proof to be met with, that the poet in his alterations sometimes forgot his original plan.

The metaphorical term of a pearl for a fine woman, may, for aught I know, be very common: but in the instances Dr. Warburton has brought to prove it so, there are found circumstances that immediately show a woman to have been meant. So, in Troilus and Cressida :

“ HER BED IS INDIA, there she lies a pearl.
“Why she is a pearl whose price hath launch'd” &c.

And say, besides—that in Aleppo once,

In Othello's speech we find no such leading expression; and are therefore at liberty, I think, to take the passage in its literal meaning

Either we are partial to discoveries which we make for our. selves, or the spirit of controversy is contagious; for it usually happens that each possessor of an ancient copy of our author, is led to assert the superiority of all such readings as have not been exhibited in the notes, or received into the text of the last edition. On this account, our present republication (and more especially in the celebrated plays) affords a greater number of these diversities than were ever before obtruded on the publick. A time however may arrive, when a complete body of variations being printed, our readers may luxuriate in an ample feast of thats and whiches; and thenceforward it may be prophecied, that all will unite in a wish that the selection had been made by an editor, rather than submitted to their own labour and sagacity.

To this note should be subjoined (as an apology for many others which may not be thought to bring a conviction with them) that the true sense of a passage has frequently remained undetermined, till repeated experiments have been tried on it; when one commentator, making a proper use of the errors of another, has at last explained it to universal satisfaction. When mistakes have such effects, who would regret having been mistaken, or be sorry to prove the means of directing others, by that affinity which a wrong reading or interpretation sometimes has to the right, though he has not been so lucky as to produce at once authorities which could not be questioned, or decisions to which nothing couid be added ? Steevens.

I abide by the old text, “the base Judian.” Shakspeare seems to allude to Herod in the play of Mariamne :

“ I had but one inestimable jewel
66 Yet I in suddaine choler cast it downe,

“ And dasht it all to pieces." Farmer. The words quoted by Dr. Warburton from Hamlet do not prove what they are adduced for. The Herod there alluded to, was a character in one of the ancient Mysteries. (See Candlemas-Day, or the Killing of the Children of Israel, a Mystery, in Hawkins's Origin of the English Drama, Vol. I.]

I once thought that the accent here given to Júdean was a strong objection to this reading: and that the word must have been Judéan or Judean, (as a derivative from Judea) which would not suit the metre. But the objection was founded on a mistake; for derivative words of this kind were thus accented in Shakspeare's time. Thus, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, we have in the old copies, “ an Epicurian rascal,” which ascer. tains the pronunciation of that word to have been different formerly from what it is now. The word is thus spelt by North also, in his translation of Plutarch. Again, in Antony and Cleopatra :

Keep his brains fuming, Epicúrean cooks."

« PreviousContinue »