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uniform propriety, one of the most difficult characters genius ever attempted, he should at last fall off, and put a trifling conceit in the mouth of the dying man: Otu. I kiss'd thee e'er I kill'd thee-no way but this,
Killing myself to die upon a kiss. It might also be objected to the contrivance of the plot, that Iago had not sufficient motives for the perpetration of so many horrid crimes; and this the sagacity of Shakspeare has foreseen, and with much address obviated. In the course of our observations, we have already noticed that he does not suppose Iago, in his first setting out, resolutely to plan the destruction of Desdemona and Cassio. The objects he had in view were to get possession of the wealth of Roderigo, and to be preferred in the place of Cassio ; but seeing matters beginning to be embroiled around him, the firm and undaunted Iago will not stop short, whatever should be the consequence. By thus viewing his conduct, it will appear natural and probable. He wishes (as human nature ever must) to view himself even for a moment in the light of an honest
And what's he then that says I play the villain, &c.
Act. 2. Sc. iv.
But the principal fault which we observe in this performance, is a want of consistency in supporting the upright and disinterested character Emilia. We can easily suppose, in the first place, that she might procure Desdemona's napkin for her husband without seeming to concur with him, or even suspect his schemes; but when afterwards, in the tenth scene of the third act, she sees the improper use to which the napkin is applied, and the great distress which the loss of it occasioned to Desdemona, without so much as wishing to explain the misunderstanding, she is no more the open and virtuous Emilia, but a coadjutor with her dark and unfeeling husband. This is a remarkable violation of every appearance
probability, when we contrast it with her noble and spirited conduct afterwards. We are surprised to find a slip of so much magnitude from the clear and piercing judgment of Shakspeare, especially when we consider that it would have been very easily remedied by removing her during this interview.
i If we consider Shakspeare, as I am persuaded we must do, not intending to represent Emilia as by any means a perfectly correct character, this seeming inconsistency will immediately vanish. Of this opinion is Schlegel, who says: “ to give still greater effect to the angelic purity of Desdemona, Shakspeare has, in Emilia, associated with her a companion of doubtful virtue. From the sinful levity of this woman, it is also conceivable that she should not confess the abstraction of the handkerchief, when Othello violently demands it back : this would, otherwise, be the circumstance in the whole piece the most difficult to justify.”—Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol. ii. p. 192.
* Anderson's Bee, vol. i. p. 176 ad p. 181,
CRITICISM ON THE CHARACTER AND TRAGEDY
Criticism, like every thing else, is subject to the prejudices of our education or of our country. National prejudice, indeed, is, of all deviations from justice, the most common and the most allowable; it is a near, though perhaps an illegitimate, relation of that patriotism which has been ranked among the first virtues of characters the most eminent and illustrious. To authors, however, of a rank so elevated as to aspire to universal fame, the partiality of their countrymen has been sometimes prejudicial; in proportion as they have unreasonably applauded, the critics of other countries, from a very common sort of feeling, have unreasonably censured ; and there are few great writers, whom prejudice on either side may not, from a partial view of their works, find some ground for estimating at a rate much above or much below the standard of justice.
No author, perhaps, ever existed, of whom opinion has been so various as Shakspeare. Endowed with all the sublimity, and subject to all the irregularities of genius, his advocates have room for unbounded praise, and their opponents for frequent blame. His departure from all the common rules which criticism, somewhat arbitrarily perhaps, has imposed, leaves no legal code by which the decision can be regulated; and in the feelings of different readers, the same passage may appear simple or mean, natural or preposterous, may excite admiration, or create disgust.
But it is not, I apprehend, from particular passages or incidents that Shakspeare is to be judged. Though his admirers frequently contend for beauty in the most distorted of the former, and probability in the most unaccountable of the latter; yet it must be owned that in both there are often gross defects which criticism cannot justify, though the situation of the poet, and the time in which he wrote, may easily excuse. But we are to look for the superiority of Shakspeare in the astonishing and almost supernatural powers of his invention, his absolute command over the passions, and his wonderful knowledge of nature. Of the structure of his stories, or the probability of his incidents, he is frequently careless,-these he took at random from the legendary tale, or the extravagant romance; but his intimate acquaintance with the human mind seldom or never forsakes him; and amidst the most fantastic and improbable situations, the persons of his drama speak in the language of the heart, and in the style of their characters.
Of all the characters of Shakspeare, that of Hamlet has been generally thought the most difficult to be reduced to any fixed or settled principle. With the strongest purposes of revenge, he is irresolute and inactive; amidst the gloom of the deepest melancholy, he is gay and jocular; and while he is described as a passionate lover, he seems indifferent about the object of his affections. It may
be worth while to inquire whether any leading idea can be found, upon which these apparent contradictions may be reconciled, and a character so pleasing in the closet, and so much applauded on the stage, rendered as unambiguous in the general as it is striking in detail. I will venture to lay before my readers some observations on this subject, though with the diffidence due to a question of which the public has doubted, and much abler critics have already written.
The basis of Hamlet's character seems to be an extreme sensibility of mind, apt to be strongly impressed by its situation, and overpowered by the feelings which that situation excites. Naturally of the most virtuous and most amiable dispositions, the circumstances in which he was placed unhinged those principles of action, which, in another situation, would have delighted mankind, and made himself happy. That kind of distress which he suffered was, beyond all others, calculated to produce this effect. His misfortunes were not the misfortunes of accident, which, though they may overwhelm at first, the mind will soon call up reflections to alleviate, and hopes to cheer: they were such as reflection only serves