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If the dramas of Shakspeare were to be characterized, each by the particular excellence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are so numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diversified with merriment and solemnitywith merriment that includes judicious and instructive observations, and solemnity not strained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man. New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness; and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that, in the first act, chills the blood with horror, to the fop, in the last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is, perhaps, not wholly secure against objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression; but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause ; for he does nothing which
; he might not have done with the reputation of sanity. He plays the madman most when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the king, he makes no attempt to punish him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing.
The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily be formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with the bowl.
The Poet is accused of having shown little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification which would arise from the destruction of a usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.
OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE.
The story is taken from the collection of Novels, by Gio Giraldi Cinthio, eiititled Hecatommithi, being the seventh novel of the third decad. No English translation of so early a date as the age of Shakspeare has hitherto been discovered; but the work was translated into French, by Gabriel Chappuys, Paris, 1584. The version is not a faithful one; and Dr. Farmer suspects that through this medium the novel came into English
The name of Othello may have been suggested by some tale which has escaped our researches, as it occurs in Reynolds's God's Revenge against Adultery, standing in one of his arguments as follows:-“She marries Othello, an old German soldier.” This history (the eighth) is professed to be an Italian one; and here, also, the name of Iago occurs. It is likewise found in The History of the famous Euordanus, Prince of Denmark; with the strange Adventures of lago, Prince of Saxonie, 4to. 1605. It may, indeed, be urged, that these names were adopted from the tragedy before us; but every reader who is conversant with the peculiar style and method in which the work of honest John Reynolds is composed, will acquit him of the slightest familiarity with the scenes of Shakspeare.--Steevens.
The time of this play may be ascertained from the following circunstances:-Selymus the Second 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 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 Cyprus ; then went to Rhodes, there met another squadron, and then resumed its way to Cyprus. These are real historical facts, which happened when Mustapha, Selymus's general, attacked Cyprus, in May, 1570; which is, therefore, the true period of this performance. See Knolles's History of the Turks, p. 838, 846, 867.-Reed.
The first edition of this play, of which we have any certain knowledge,
was printed by N. O., for Thomas Walkly, to whom it was entered on the Stationers' books, October 6, 1621. The most material variations of this copy from the first folio are pointed out in the notes. The minute differences are so numerous, that to have specified them would only have fatigued the reader. Walkly's Preface will follow these Preliminary Remarks.
Malone first placed the date of the composition of this play in 1611, upon the ground of the allusion, supposed by Warburton, to the creation of the new order of baronets, by King James I. in that year. On the same ground, Mr. Chalmers attributed it to 1614; and Dr. Drake assigned the middle period of 1612. But, this allusion being controverted, Malone subsequently affixed to it the date of 1604, because, as he asserts, know it was acted in that year.” He has not stated the evidence for this decisive fact; and Mr. Boswell was unable to discover it among his papers, but gives full credit to it, on the ground that “Mr. Malone never expressed himself at random.” The allusion to Pliny, translated by Philemon Holland, in 1601, in the simile of the Pontic sea; and the supposed imitation of a passage in Cornwallis's Essays, of the same date, seem to have influenced Mr. Malone in settling the date of this play. What is more certain, is, that it was played before king James at court, in 1613; which circumstance is gathered from the MSS. of Vertue, the engraver.
“If (says Schlegel) Romeo and Juliet shines with the colors of the dawn of morning, but a dawn whose purple clouds already announce the thunder of a sultry day, Othello is, on the other hand, a strongly-shaded picture; we might call it a tragical Rembrandt.”
Should these parallels between pictorial representation and dramatic poetry be admitted,- for I have my doubts of their propriety,—this is a far more judicious ascription than that of Steevens, who, in a concluding note to this play, would compare it to a picture from the school of Raphael. Poetry is certainly the pabulum of art; and this drama, as every other of our immortal Bard, offers a series of pictures to the imagina tion, of such varied hues, that artists of every school might from hence be furnished with subjects. What Schlegel means to say, appears to be, that it abounds in strongly-contrasted scenes, but that gloom predominates.
In strong contrast of character, in delineation of the workings of passion in the human breast, in manifestations of profound knowledge of the inmost recesses of the heart, this drama exceeds all that has ever issued from mortal pen. It is indeed true, that “no eloquence is capable of painting the overwhelming catastrophe in Othello,—the pressure of feelings which measure out in a moment the abysses of eternity."
WALKLY'S PREFACE TO OTHELLO,
ED. 1622, 4to.
THE STATIONER TO THE READER.
To set forth a booke without an Epistle, were like to the old English proverbe, “ A blew coat without a badge;" and the author being dead, I thought good to take that piece of worke upon me: To commend it, I will not ; for that which is good, I hope every man will commend without intreaty: and I am the bolder, because the Author's name is sufficient to vent his worke. Thus leaving every one to the liberty of judgment, I have ventured to print this play, and leave it the generall censure. Yours,
Duke of Venice.
Desdemona, Daughter to Brabantio, and Wife to Othello.
Officers, Gentlemen, Messengers, Musicians, Sailors,
SCENE, for the first Act, in Venice; during the rest of the
Play, at a Seaport in Cyprus.