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ON the 6th of October, 1621, Thomas Walkley entered at Stationers' Hall ‘The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice.’ In 1622 Walkley published the edition for which he had thus claimed the copyright. It is, as was usual with the separate plays, a small quarto. It is by no means certain to our minds that Walkley's edition was published before the folio. The usual date of that edition is 1623; but there is a copy in existence bearing the date of 1622. We have, however, no doubt that the copy of “Othello' in the folio was printed from a manuscript copy, without reference to the quarto. The folio edition is regularly divided into acts and scenes; the quarto edition has not a single indication of any subdivision in the acts, and omits the division between Acts II. and III. The folio edition contains 163 lines which are not found in the quarto, and these some of the most striking in the play: the number of lines found in the quarto which are not in the folio do not amount to ten. The quarto, then, has not the merit of being the fuller copy. Believing the folio to be the more genuine copy, our text, for the most part, follows that authority. There is a quarto edition of 1630, which differs, in some readings, from both of the previous editions. When Shakspere first became acquainted with the ‘Moor of Venice' of Giraldi Cinthio (whether in the original Italian, or the French translation, or in one of the little story-books that familiarised the people with the romance and the poetry of the south), he saw in that novel the scaffolding of “Othello.' There was formerly in Venice a valiant Moor, says the story. It came to pass that a virtuous lady of wonderful beauty, named Desdemona, became enamoured of his great qualities and noble virtues. The Moor loved her in return, and they were married, in spite of the opposition of the lady's friends. It happened too (says the story), that the
senate of Venice appointed the Moor to the command of Cyprus, and that his lady determined to accompany him thither. Amongst the officers who attended upon the General was an ensign, of the most agreeable person, but of the most depraved nature. The wife of this man was the friend of Desdemona, and they spent much of their time together. The wicked ensign became violently enamoured of Desdemona; but she, whose thoughts were wholly engrossed by the Moor, was utterly regardless of the ensign's attentions. His love then became terrible hate, and he resolved to accuse Desdemona to her husband of infidelity, and to connect with the accusation a captain of Cyprus. That officer, having struck a sentinel, was discharged from his command by the Moor; and Desdemona, interested in his favour, endeavoured to re-instate him in her husband's good opinion. The Moor said one day to the ensign, that his wife was so importunate for the restoration of the officer, that he must take him back. “If you would open your eyes, you would see plainer,” said the ensign. The romance-writer continues to display the perfidious intrigues of the ensign against Desdemona. He steals a handkerchief which the Moor had given her, employing the agency of his own child. He contrives with the Moor to murder the captain of Cyprus, after he has made the credulous husband listen to a conversation to which he gives a false colour and direction; and, finally, the Moor and the guilty officer destroy Desdemona together, under circumstances of great brutality. The crime is, however, concealed, and the Moor is finally betrayed by his acomplice. Mr. Dunlop, in his ‘History of Fiction,' has pointed out the material differences between the novel and the tragedy. He adds, “In all these important variations Shakspere has improved on his original. In a few other particulars he has deviated from
it with less judgment; in most respects he has adhered with close imitation. The characters of Iago, Desdemona, and Cassio, are taken from Cinthio with scarcely a shade of difference. The obscure hints and various artifices of the villain to raise suspicion in the Moor are the same in the novel and the drama.” M. Guizot, with the eye of real criticism, has seen somewhat further than Mr. Dunlop : “There was wanting in the narrative of Cinthio the poetical genius which furnished the actors—which created the individuals — which imposed upon each a figure and a character—which made us see their actions, and listen to their words—which presented their thoughts and penetrated their sentiments:–that vivifying power which summons events to arise, to progress, to expand, to be completed :—that creative breath which, breathing over the past, calls it again into being, and fills it with a present and imperishable life:-this was the power which Shakspere alone possessed, and by which, out of a forgotten novel, he has made “Othello.” The republic of Venice became the virtual sovereign of Cyprus, in 1471; when the
state assumed the guardianship of the son of Catharine Cornaro, who had married the illegitimate son of John III., of Lusignan, and, being left a widow, wanted the protection of the state to maintain the power which her husband had usurped. The island was then first garrisoned by Venetian troops. Catharine, in 1489, abdicated the sovereignty in favour of the republic. Cyprus was retained by the Venetians till 1570, when it was invaded by a powerful Turkish force, and was finally subjected to the dominion of Selim II., in 1571. From that period it has formed a part of the Turkish empire. Leikosia, the inland capital of the island, was taken by storm; and Famagusta, the principal sea-port, capitulated after a long and gallant defence. It is evident, therefore, that we must refer the action of Othello to a period before the subjugation of Cyprus by the Turks. The locality of the scenes after the first Act must be placed at Famagusta, which was strongly fortified,—a fact which Shakspere must have known, when in the second Scene of the third Act, he says,
“I will be walking on the works."
GRATLANo, brother to Brabantio.
MonTANo, Othello's predecessor in the
government of Cyprus. Appears, Act II. sc. 1; sc. 3. Act V. sc. 2.
Clown, servant to Othello.
- - Appears, Act III. sc. 1; sc. 4. LoDovico, kinsman to Brabantio. -
Appears, Act IV. sc. 1; sc. 3. Act V. sc. 1; sc. 2. Herald.
OTHELLO, the Moor. Appears, Act II. sc. 2.
BIANCA, a courtezan.
SCENE,-For THE FIRST Act, IN VENICE; DURING THE REST of THE PLAY, AT A SEA-Port IN CYPRUs.
SCENE I.—Venice. A Street,
Enter RodeRIGo and IAgo.
RoD. Never tell me, I take it much unkindly a
IAGo. But you'll not hear me. If ever I did dream
* The differences of the readings of the folio of 1623, which we adopt, with few exceptions, as
our text, and those of the quarto of 1622, are so numerous, that it would be out of our power, without crowding our pages beyond all reasonable limits, to indicate every slight variation. The more important we shall of course point out; and the reader may rely that we have followed the folio in all minute deviations from the common text. The line to which this note belongs is an example of one, out of many, of these slight changes. It is ordinarily written,
“Tush, never tell me, I take it much unkindly.” The folio omits tush. Was this accidental? We think not. The reading—
“Never tell me, I take it much unkindly,"— is somewhat more in Roderigo's vein.