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by his want of stubbornness to resist an insidious invitation. Roderigo's suspicious credulity, and impatient submission to the cheats which he sees practised upon him, and which by persuasion he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful desires to a false friend; and the virtue of Emilia is such as we often find, worn loosely, but not cast off, easy to commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at atrocious villanies.
The scenes from the beginning to the end are busy, varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting the progression of the story; and the narrative in the end, though it tells but what is known already, yet is necessary to produce the death of Othello.
Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding incidents been occasionally related, there had been little wanting to a drama of the most exact and scrupulous regularity. JOHNSON.
To Dr. Johnson's admirable and nicely discriminative character of Othello, it may seem unnecessary to make any addition; yet I cannot forbear to conclude our commentaries on this transcendent poet with the fine eulogy which the judicious and learned Lowth has pronounced on him, with a particular reference to this tragedy, perhaps the most perfect of all his works:
"In his viris [tragediæ Græcæ scilicet scriptoribus] accessio quædam Philosophiæ erat Poetica facultas: neque sane quisquam adhuc Poesin ad fastigium suum ac culmen evexit, nisi qui prius in intima Philosophia artis suæ fundamenta jecerit.
Quod si quis objiciat, nonnullos in hoc ipso poeseos genere excelluisse, qui nunquam habiti sunt Philosophi, ac ne literis quidem præter cæteros imbuti; sciat is, me rem ipsam quærere, non de vulgari opinione, aut de verbo laborare: qui autem tantum ingenio consecutus est, ut naturas hominum, vimque omnem humanitatis, causasque eas, quibus aut incitatur mentis impetus aut retunditur, penitus perspectas habeat, ejusque omnes motus oratione non modo explicet, ed effingat, planeque oculis subjiciat; sed excitet, regat, commoveat, moderetur; eum, etsi disciplinarum instrumento minus adjutum, eximie tamen esse Philosophum arbitrari. Quo in genere affectum Zelotypiæ, ejusque causas, adjuncta, progressiones, effectus, in una SHAKSPEARI nostri fabula, copiosius, subtilius, accuratius etiam veriusque pertractari existimo, quam ab omnibus omnium Philosophorum scholis in simili argumento est unquam disputatum." [Prælectio prima. edit. 1763, p. 8.]
If by "the most perfect" is meant the most regular of the foregoing plays, I subscribe to Mr. Malone's opinion; but if his words were designed to convey a more exalted praise, without a moment's hesitation I should transfer it to Macbeth.
It is true, that the domestick tragedy of Othello affords room for a various and forcible display of character. The less familiar
groundwork of Macbeth (as Dr. Johnson has observed) excludes the influence of peculiar dispositions. That exclusion, however, is recompenced by a loftier strain of poetry, and by events of higher rank; by supernatural agency, by the solemnities of incantation, by shades of guilt and horror deepening in their progress, and by visions of futurity solicited in aid of hope, but eventually the ministers of despair.
Were it necessary to weigh the pathetick effusions of these dramas against each other, it is generally allowed that the sorrows of Desdemona would be more than counterbalanced by those of Macduff.
Yet if our author's rival pieces (the distinct property of their subjects considered) are written with equal force, it must still be admitted that the latter has more of originality. A novel of considerable length (perhaps amplified and embellished by the English translator of it) supplied a regular and circumstantial outline for Othello; while a few slight hints collected from separate narratives of Holinshed, were expanded into the sublime and awful tragedy of Macbeth.
Should readers, who are alike conversant with the appropriate excellencies of poetry and painting, pronounce on the reciprocal merits of these great productions, I must suppose they would describe them as of different pedigrees. They would add, that one was of the school of Raphael, the other from that of Michael Angelo; and that if the steady Sophocles and Virgil should have decided in favour of Othello, the remonstrances of the daring Eschylus and Homer would have claimed the laurel for Macbeth,
To the sentiments of Dr. Lowth respecting the tragedy of Othello, a general eulogium on the dramatick works of Shakspeare, imputed by a judicious and amiable critick to Milton, may be not improperly subjoined:
"There is good reason to suppose (says my late friend the Rev. Thomas Warton, in a note on L'Allegro), that Milton threw many additions and corrections into the Theatrum Poetarum, a book published by his nephew Edward Philips, in 1675. It contains criticisms far above the taste of that period. Among these is the following judgment on Shakspeare, which was not then, I believe, the general opinion."-" In tragedy, never any expressed a more lofty and tragick height, never any represented nature more purely to the life; and where the polishments of art are most wanting, as probably his learning was not extraordinary, he pleases with a certain wild and native elegance." P. 194.
What greater praise can any poet have received, than that of the author of Paradise Lost? STEEVENS.
Of the cannibals that each other eat, "The Anthropophagi; and men whose heads "Do grow beneath their shoulders."
These lines have been considered by Pope, and others, as the interpolation of the players, or at least vulgar trash, which Shakspeare admitted mere.y to humour the lower part of his audience. But the case was probably the very reverse, and the poet rather meant to recommend his play to the more curious and refined among his auditors, by alluding here to some of the most extraordinary passages in Sir Walter Raleigh's celebrated voyage to Guiana, performed in 1595: in which nothing excited more universal attention, than the accounts which he brought from the new world of the cannibals, Amazons, and especially of the nation,
"Do grow beneath their shoulders."
Hear his own solemn relation: "Next unto the Arvi" [a river, which he says falls into the Orenoque or Oronoko] are two rivers, Atoica and Caora; and on that branch, which is called Caora, are a nation of people, whose heads appear not above their shoulders; which though it may be thought a meere fable, yet for mine own part I am resolved it is true, because every childe in the province of Arromaia and Canuri affirme the same: they are called Ewaipanoma; they are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouthes in the middle of their breasts, and that a long traine of haire groweth backward betweene their shoulders," &c.
[See Sir Walter Raleigh's Narrative of the Discoverie of Guiana, printed in Hackluyt's Voyages, vol. iii. Lond. 1600, folio, p. 652, 653, 665, 677, &c.]
As for the Anthropophagi, or canibals, "that each other eat," the same celebrated voyager tells us: At "one of the outlets of Orenoque, we left on the right hand of us, a nation of inhumaine canibals," [p. 659.] And in the second Voyage to Guiana, in 1596, published also by Sir Walter, one of the nations, called Ipaios, are thus described: "They are but few, but very cruel to their enemies; for they bind, and eat them alive peecemeale. -These Indians, because they eate them whom they kill, use no poyson." [Ibid. p. 688. See also p. 507, 516, 682, &c.]
These extraordinary reports were universally credited, and therefore Othello assumes here no other character but what was very common among the celebrated commanders of his timethat of an adventurer and voyager into the East or West-Indies. As for Sir Walter Raleigh's strange discoveries, a short extract of the more wonderful passages was published in several languages, accompanied with a map of Guiana, by Iodocus Hondius, a Dutch geographer, and adorned with copper-plates, representing
these Amazons, canibals, and headless people, &c. in different points of view. The drawing below is copied from the frontispiece to one of these pamphlets, intitled, "Brevis et admiranda Descriptio Regni Guianæ, &c...... Quod nuper admodum annis nimirum, 1564, 1595, et 1596, per.... Dn. Gualtherum Raleigh Equitem Anglum detectum est...... Ex quibus Iodocus Hondius tabulam geographicam adornavit, addita explicatione Belgico Sermone scripta: Nunc vero in Latinum Sermonem translata," &c. Noriberga, 1599. 4to. P.