Page images
PDF
EPUB

ing those who follow it, by a course whose very deviousness is in part its charm, to a knowledge of the beauty and the richness of the country through which they pass, and of the moral and physical forces which are at work in it. More particular consideration of the relations which the play and the novel bear to each other would be quite superfluous here; for they are sufficiently manifest to strike the attention of every reader who would appreciate them. But it is interesting to note the great change made in the catastrophe, and also the fact that the spontaneous and fiendish malignity of Iago's character, about which there has been so much discussion, is clearly exhibited in the original story. Giraldi Cinthio's novels were translated into French, and published at Paris, in 1583; * but no English translation of this tale of the Moorish Captain, either from the French version or the original, is known to have been made before the close of the eighteenth century. Possibly one was made and has been lost; and it is not improbable that a play was founded upon the story of the Moor of Venice, by some one of the dramatists who preceded Shakespeare. But it is equally possible, to say the least, that he became acquainted with the tale in the original or in the French translation. Dunlop (History of Fiction, Vol. II. Chap. 8) errs in saying that the Moor in Giraldi Cinthio's story is “named Othello.” He has no name there, and is called simply “the Moor.” All the other personages, except Desdemona, have only like designations; and it seems more than probable that Shakespeare took the names of the Moor and his ensign from a lost story which John Reynolds embodied in his singular work, God's Revenge against Adultery. The eighth story in this work professes to be an Italian one, and in it “Othello” is the name of a German soldier, and “Iago’’ also occurs. Steevens pointed this out, and also that both names are found in the History of the famous Enordanus, Prince of Denmark. 4to., 1605. The year in which the latter work was published has been conjectured to be that in which this play was written; but the date of its composition is uncertain. It was not published until 1622, six years after its author's death; and it is not mentioned by its full title, or attributed to him by any title, in any

* “Les cent excellent nouvelles de J–B. Giraldi mises en françois par Gabr. Chappuys. Paris, l’Angelier.”

earlier printed or authentic manuscript record of the time that has yet been discovered, except its entry for publication upon the Stationers' Register in October, 1621. Its style is that of Shakespeare's full maturity and indicates a period later than the date of Hamlet as that of its production. Of internal evidence upon the question there is but a single point — the unmistakable allusion, in Act III. Sc. 4, to the creation of the order of Baronets, in 1611.* Efforts have been made to show that this passage does not necessarily refer to the introduction of the bloody hand into the armorial bearings of those who received the new title; but in face of the record itself they do not appear to be worthy of particular mention. It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that this passage was written after the creation of the first baronets. If it were a part of the play as originally written, of course we must place Othello among the very latest of its author’s works; and although it is possible that the play was written before the creation, and that the allusion was introduced immediately afterwards, it is not probable. For it will be found that the speech in question is the culminating point of several, which, by gradually accumulating allusion, lead directly up to it; and from it Desdemona at once breaks away with, “I cannot speak of this.” But upon the authority of two manuscript records, the composition of Othello has been referred to 1604 and 1602. The latter date is assigned to it by Mr. Collier, on the authority of the following passage, in a professed memorandum of entertainments presented to Queen Elizabeth, at the residence of Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, (afterwards Lord Ellesmere,) at Harefield, in August, 1602.

“6 Aug 1602 Rewardes ; to the vaulters players & dauncers to e o o Of this xli to Burbidges players for Othello

This document, which will be found reprinted in full at p. 342 of The Egerton Papers, edited by Mr. Collier, and published by the Camden Society, is one of those, his discovery of which at Bridgewater House, Mr. Collier announced in 1835, and all of which, with one exception, have been pronounced forgeries by various competent authorities. But should this account prove genuine, the performance of a play called Othello, by “Burbidges players,” in 1602, cannot, for reasons to be presently given, be accepted as conclusive evidence that Shakespeare's tragedy was then written. As to the genuineness of the other record above referred to, there can be no doubt. It is found in the official Accounts of the Revels at Court, extracts from which have been edited by Mr. Peter Cunningham, and published by the Shakespeare Society, and is in the following words: —

* “A liberal hand : the hearts of old gave hands; But our new heraldry is hands, not hearts.”

By the Kings Hallamas day being

Mao plaiers the first of Novembar
A play in the Banketinge
IHouse att Whithall
called the Moor of
Venise

The year is 1604; and this record makes it certain that on the first of November in that year a play called The Moor of Venice was played before King James, by his own “Servants,” of which company Shakespeare was then a member. The probability seems strong, then, that the play in question was Shakespeare's. Othello. But is it certain Not quite, in my opinion. It may have been a play founded upon Giraldi Cinthio's story, and called The Moor of Venice, which was written by another playwright, and which, it being the property of his company, Shakespeare afterwards entirely re-wrote, taking the names of Othello and Iago from the History of the Prince of Denmark, published in 1605, as above mentioned. This supposition is so much in accordance with Shakespeare's practice, and the heraldic aliusion before mentioned is entitled to such weight in the decision of this question, that, although there seems no sufficient ground for a fixed opinion upon the subject, I am inclined to place the date of the composition of this tragedy rather after 1611 than before that year. There is yet another fact which leads towards this conclusion, and which may be more conveniently considered in connection with our notice of the editions and the text. The first edition of Othello is the latest quarto impression of any of Shakespeare's plays that appeared before the publication of the folio of 1623. Troilus and Cressida, and Pericles, Prince of Tyre, were published in 1609; and after a lapse of thirteen years without the appearance of one of Shakespeare's dramas from the press, this tragedy was published, although there were then nineteen of no inferior rank among his works which were known to the public only upon the stage. Why this long interval passed thus unimproved by the dealers in dramatic literature, and why this play was chosen from among so many, to be published only a year before the appearance of the collected edition, (ne intentions in regard to which could hardly have been unknown to the trade, or even to the public,) can only be a matter of very vague conjecture. We know that it was high in general favor ; but I am inclined to the opinion that in addition to this claim upon a publisher's notice, it had also that of being one of its author's very latest productions. It certainly seems strange that after thirteen years had passed without the publication of one of Shakespeare's plays, during the first half of which period he produced works which were as well adapted for the press as any that had previously been issued, a publisher should go back at least eighteen years for one, which was the case if the “Moor of Venise” performed before King James, in 1604, was Shakespeare's Othello, in the only form in which it is known to us. The text of the edition of 1622 is tolerably well printed for a dramatic publication of its period. But its pages are still plentifully sprinkled with printers’ and transcribers’ errors, of which it has more, according to my observation, than the folio copy of the same play. It also differs from the folio in the omission of many important passages, some of which are absolutely essential to the continuity of the dialogue ; and the variation of the two texts, as regards phrases and single words, is unusually noticeable. It is very rarely indeed, however, that the readings of the folio in the last respect are not better — and they are often much better — than those of the quarto. But the folio is not without its share of those typographical errors and omissions which are so common in the printed plays of the Elizabethan period; and although the errors are of inferior importance and the omissions trifling in comparison with those of the quarto copy, still the latter affords invaluable aid in the formation of the text, to the approximate perfection of which conjecture has frequently to be called in. That the reader may see the grounds of this opinion, and compare the texts himself, the readings of the quarto are given, and its variations noticed, more frequently in the Notes on this play than in those on most of the others of which there are quarto copies; unless, as in the case of Richard the Third, or Romeo and Juliet, or King Lear, the earlier edition exhibits a text which was subjected to revision before the issue of the later. There is a quarto edition of Othello which was published in 1630, and which differs in some cases from the folio, in others from the preceding quarto, but (if I may trust the collations of Steevens, Capell, and Mr. Collier,) only with the extremest rarity, and upon the most insignificant points, from both. After a careful consideration of its readings, I have come to the conclusion that it is only a reprint of the quarto of 1622 corrected by the text of the folio, having some typographical errors peculiar to itself, and a very few unimportant corrections and sophistications, such as crept into almost every dramatic reprint of the period. I therefore regard it as of no authority, and make no mention of its readings. In at least two passages the text of this tragedy appears to be hopelessly corrupted. The period of the action of Othello, says Reed, “may be ascertained from the follow- & . ing circumstances : — ills (aualier, 62 S eñafore d Solymus the Second _o formed his design against Cyprus in 1569, and took it in 1571. This was the only attempt the Turks ever made upon that island after it came into the hands of the Venetians, (which was in the year 1473.) Wherefore the time must fall in with some part of that interval. We learn from the play that there was a junction of the Turkish fleet at Rhodes, in order for the invasion of Cyprus; that it first came sailing towards

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »