Page images

thing, and of proving himself an over-match for appearances. He has none of" the milk of human kindness" in his composition. His imagination rejects every thing that has not a strong infusion of the most unpalatable ingredients; his mind digests only poisons. Virtue or goodness or whatever has the least " relish of salvation in it," is, to his depraved appetite, sickly and insipid: and he even resents the good opinion entertained of his own integrity, as if it were an affront cast on the masculine sense and spirit of his character. Thus at the meeting between Othello and Desdemona, he exclaims —" Oh, you are well tuned now: but I'll set down the pegs that make this music, as honest as I am"—his character of bonhommie not sitting at all easily upon him. In the scenes, where he tries to work Othello to his purpose, he is proportionably guarded, insidious, dark, and deliberate. We believe nothing ever came up to the profound dissimulation and dextrous artifice of the well-known dialogue in the third act, where he first enters upon the execution of his design.

"logo. My noble lord.

Othello. What dost thou say, Iago?

logo. Did Michael Cassio, When you woo'd my lady, know of your love J

Othello. He did from first to last. Why dost thou ask?

logo. But for a satisfaction of my thought, No further harm,

Othello. Why of thy thought, Iago?
logo. I did not think he had been acquainted with it,
Othello. O yes, and went between us very oft—
Iago. Indeed!

Othello. Indeed? Ay, indeed. Discern'st thou aught of that? Is he not honest?

Iago. Honest, my lord?
Othello. Honest? Ay, honest.
Iago. My lord, for aught I know.
Othello. What do'st thou think?
Iago. Think, my lord!

Othello. Think, my lord! Alas, thou echo'st me,
As if there was some monster in thy thought
Too hideous to be shown." —

The stops and breaks, the deep workings of treachery under the mask of love and honesty, the anxious watchfulness, the cool earnestness, and if we may so say, the passion of hypocrisy marked in every line, receive their last finishing in that inconceivable burst of pretended indignation at Othello's doubts of his sincerity.

"O grace! O Heaven forgive me!

Are you a man? Have you a soul or sense?

God be wi' you; take mine office. O wretched fool,

That lov'st to make thine honesty a vice!

Oh monstrous world! take note, take note, O world!

To be direct and honest, is not safe.

I thank you for this profit, and from hence

I'll love no friend, since love breeds such offence."

If Iago is detestable enough when he has business on his hands and all his engines at work, he is still worse when he has nothing to do, and we only see into the hollowness of his heart. His indifference when Othello falls into a swoon, is perfectly diabolical.

"Iago. How is it, General? Have you not hurt your head?

Othello. Do'st thou mock me J

Iago. I mock you not, by Heaven," &c.

The part indeed would hardly be tolerated, even as a foil to the virtue and generosity of the other characters in the play, but for its indefatigable industry and inexhaustible resources, which divert the attention of the spectator (as well as his own) from the end he has in view to the means by which it must be accomplished.—Edmund the Bastard in Lear is something of the same character, placed in less prominent circumstances. Zanga is a vulgar caricature of it.


Timon Of Athens always appeared to us to be written with as intense a feeling of his subject as any one play of Shakespear. It is one of the few in which he seems to be in earnest throughout, never to trifle nor go out of his way. He does not relax in his efforts, nor lose sight of the unity of his design. It is the only play of our author in which spleen is the predominant feeling of the mind. It is as much a satire as a play: and contains some of the finest pieces of invective possible to be conceived, both in the snarling, captious answers of the cynic Apemantus, and in the impassioned and more terrible imprecations of Timon. The latter remind the classical reader of the force and swelling impetuosity of the moral declamations in Juvenal, while the former have all the keenness and caustic severity of the old Stoic philosophers. The soul of Diogenes appears to have been seated on the lips of Apemantus. The churlish profession of misanthropy in the cynic is contrasted with the profound feeling of it in Timon, and also with the soldierlike and determined resentment of Alcibiades against his countrymen, who have banished him, though this forms only an incidental episode in the tragedy.

The fable consists of a single event;—of the transition from the highest pomp and profusion of artificial refinement to the most abject state of savage life, and privation of all social intercourse. The change is as rapid as it is complete; nor is the description of the rich and generous Timon, banquett'ing in gilded palaces, pampered by every luxury, prodigal of his hospitality, courted by crowds of flatterers, poets, painters, lords, ladies, who—

"Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance,
Rain sacrificial whisperings in his ear; .
And through him drink the free air"—

more striking than that of the sudden falling off of his friends and fortune, and his naked exposure in a wild forest digging roots from the earth for his sustenance, with a lofty spirit of Self-denial, and bitter scorn of the world, which raise him higher in our esteem than the daz

« PreviousContinue »