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Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
fault was ignorance, which brings its own excuse with it; and the crime of Herod surely deserves a more aggravated distinction. For though in every crime, great as well as small, there is a degree of baseness, yet the furiis agitatus amor, such as contributed to that of Herod, seems to ask a stronger word to characterize it; as there was spirit at least in what he did, though the spirit of a fiend, and the epithet base would better suit with petty lurceny than royal guilt. Besides, the simile appears to me too apposite almost to be used on the occasion, and is little more than bringing the fact into comparison with itself. Each through jealousy had destroyed an innocent wife, circumstances so pa. rallel, as hardly to admit of that variety which we generally find in one allusion, which is meant to illustrate another, and at the same time to appear as more than a superfluous ornament. Of a like kind of imperfection, there is an instance in Virgil, Book XI, where, after Camilla and her attendants have been described as absolute Amazons
“ At medias inter cædes exultat Amazon,
“ Et circum lectæ comites," &c. we find them, nine lines after, compared to the Amazons themselves, to Hippolita or Penthesilca, surrounded by their companions :
“ Quales Threiciæ, cum flumina Thermodontis
“ Penthesilea refert." What is this but bringing a fact into comparison with itself? Neither do I believe the poet intended to make the present simile coincide with all the circumstances of Othello's situation, but merely with the single act of having basely (as he himself terms it) destroyed that on which he ought to have set a greater value. As the pearl may bear a literal as well as a metaphoršeal sense, I would rather choose to take it in the literal one, and receive Mr. Pope's rejected explanation, pre-supposing some story of a Jew alluded to, which might be well understood at that time, though now perhaps forgotten, or at least imperfectly remembered. I have read in some book, as ancient as the time of Shakspeare, the following tale; though, at present, I am unable either to recollect the title of the piece, or the author's name:
“ A Jew, who had been prisoner for many years in distant parts, brought with him at his return to Venice a great number of pearls, which he offered on the 'change among the merchants, and (one alone excepted) disposed of them to his satisfaction. On this pearl, which was the largest ever shown at market, he had fixed an immoderate price, nor could be persuaded to make the least abatement. Many of the magnificoes, as well as traders, offered him considerable sums for it, but he was resolute in his first demand. At last, after repeated and unsuccessful applica
Their medicínal gum:3 Set you down this:
tions to individuals, he assembled the merchants of the city, by proclamation, to meet him on the Rialto, where he once more exposed it to sale on the former terms, but to no purpose. After having expatiated, for the last time, on the singular beauty and value of it, he threw it suddenly into the sea before them all."
Though this anecdote may appear inconsistent with the avarice of a Jew, yet it sufficiently agrees with the spirit so remarkable at all times in the scattered remains of that vindictive nation.
Shakspeare's seeming arersion to the Jews in general, and his constant desire to expose their avarice and baseness as often as he had an opportunity, may serve to strengthen my supposition; and as that nation, in his time, and since, has not been famous for crimes during and conspicuous, but has rather contented itself to thrive by the meaner and more successful arts of baseness, there seems to be a particular propriety in the epithet. When Falstaff is justifying himself in King Henry IV, he adds, “ If what I have said be not true, I am a Jew, an Ebrew Jew," i. e. one of the most suspected characters of the time. The liver of a Jew is an ingredient in the cauldron of Macbeth; and the vigilance for gain, which is described in Shylock, may af. ford us reason to suppose the poet was alluding to a story like that already quoted.
Richer than all his tribe, seems to point out the Jew again in a mercantile light; and may mean, that the pearl was richer than all the gems to be found among a set of men generally trading in them. Neither do I recollect that Othello mentions many things, but what he might fairly have been allowed to have had knowledge of in the course of his peregrinations. Of this kind are the similes of the Euxine sea flowing into the Propotick, and the Arabian trees dropping their gums. The rest of his speeches are more free from mythological and historical allusions, than almost any to be found in Shakspeare, for he is never quite clear from them; though in the design of this character he seems to have mcant it for one who had spent a greater part of his life in the field, than in the cultivation of any other knowledge than what would be of use to him in his military capacity. It should be observed, that most of the flourishes merely ornamental were added after the first edition; and this is not the only proof to be met with, that the poet in his alterations sometimes forgot his original plan.
The metaphorical term of a pearl for a fine woman, may, for aught I know, be very common: but in the instances Dr. Warburton has brought to prove it so, there are found circumstances that immediately show a woman to have been meant. So, in Troilus and Cressida :
“ HER BED IS INDIA, there she lies a pearl.
And say, besides, that in Aleppo once,
In Othello's speech we find no such leading expression; and are therefore at liberty, I think, to take the passage in its literal meaning
Either we are partial to discoveries which we make for ourselves, or the spirit of controversy is contagious; for it usually happens that each possessor of an ancient copy of our author, is led to assert the superiority of all such readings as have not been exhibited in the notes, or received into the text of the last edition. On this account, our present republication (and more especially in the celebrated plays) affords a greater number of these diversities than were ever before obtruded on the publick. A time however may arrive, when a complete body of variations being printed, our readers may luxuriate in an ample feast of thats and whiches; and thenceforward it may be prophecied, that all will unite in a wish that the selection had been made by an edi. tor, rather than submitted to their own labour and sagacity.
To this note should be subjoined (as an apology for many others which may not be thought to bring a conviction with them) that the true sense of a passage has frequently remained undetermined, till repeated experiments have been tried on it; when one commentator, making a proper use of the errors of another, has at last explained it to universal satisfaction. When mistakes have such effects, who would regret having been mistaken, or be sorry to prove the means of directing others, by that affinity which a wrong reading or interpretation sometimes has to the right, though he has not been so lucky as to produce at once authorities which could not be questioned, or decisions to which nothing could be added ? Steevens.
I abide by the old text, “ the base Judian.” Shakspeare seems to allude to Herod in the play of Mariamne :
“ I had but one inestimable jewel
“ And dasht it all to pieces." Farmer. The words quoted by Dr. Warburton from Hamlet do not prove what they are adduced for. The Herod there alluded to, was a character in one of the ancient Mysteries. (See Candlemas-Day, or the Killing of the Children of Israel, a Mystery, in Hawkins's Origin of the English Drama, Vol. I.]
I once thought that the accent here given to Júdean was a strong objection to this reading: and that the word must have been Judéan or Judean, (as a derivative from Judea) which would not suit the metre. But the objection was founded on a mistake; for derivative words of this kind were thus accented in Shakspeare's time. Thus, in The Alerry Wives of Windsor, we have in the old copies, an Epicurian rascal,” which ascer. tains the pronunciation of that word to have been different for. merly from what it is now. The word is thus spelt by North also, in his translation of Plutarch. Again, in Antony and Cleopatra :
“Keep his brains fuming, Epicúrean cooks."
Where a malignant and a turban’d Turk+
[Stabs himself Lod. O bloody period! Gra.
All, that 's spoke, is marr'd. Oth. I kiss'd thee, ere I kill'd thee;-No way but this
[Falling upon Des. Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.5
So, in Hamlet, we have the Némean lion (which is written in the old copy Nemian).
Those who would adopt the original reading, Indian, may urge in its support that the pearl naturally brings a people of the East to Shakspeare's mind; the connexion in his time being considered so strong, that a contemporary author has distinguished the inhabitants of India by an epithet founded on the circumstance of their abounding in pearls :
where the bright sun with his neighbour beams “ Doth early light the pearled Indians.".
Cornelia, a tragedy, by T. Kyd, 1594. On the other hand, the word tribe is strongly in favour of the reading of the text, and I have now no doubt that it is the true
Webster, in his Appius and Virginia, appears to have had this passage in his thoughts :
Had your lordship yesterday
- whose subdu'd eyes, Albeit unused to the melting mood,] So, in our poet's 30th Sonnet:
“ Then can I drown an eye unus'd to flow.” Malone. 3 Their medicinal gum:] Thus the quarto, 1622. This word is also used by our author in The Winter's Tale; and occurs in the works of two of our greatest poets-Milton and Dryden.
Steevens. I have preferred the reading of the folio [medicinable] because the word occurs again in Much Ado about Nothing : any impediment will be medicinable to me." i. e. salutary.
Malone. Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk -] I am told that it is immediate death for a Christian to strike a Turk in Aleppo. Othello is boasting of his own audacity. Steevens.
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.] So, in the Second Part of Marlowe's Tamburlaine, 1590:
“ Yet let me kiss my lord before I dye,
Cas. This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; For he was great of heart. Lod.
O Spartan dog, More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea! Look on the tragick loading of this bed; [To Iago. This is thy work: the object poisons sight ;Let it be hid.-Gratiano, keep the house, And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor, For they succeed to you.-To you, lord governor, Remains the censure of this hellish villain ;)
6 0 Spartan dog,] The dogs of Spartan race were reckoned among those of the most fierce and savage kind. Hanmer. They are again mentioned in A Midsummer Night's Dream:
“ When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear
“ With hounds of Sparta.” Henley. The Spartan dogs in our poet's contemplation, were bloodhounds. See Vol. I, p. 344. Mulone.
To you, lord governor, Remains the censure of this hellish villain ;] Rymer, who had neither vigour of imagination to make a poet, nor strength of judgment to make a critick, as appears from his Edgar, and his Remarks on Shakspeare, had yet just enough to play the buffoon and caviller. His criticism on the Poets of the last Age, with only a mixture of trite remarks, transcribed from the French commentators on Aristotle, are one continued heap of ignorance and insolence. Almost the only remark on Shakspeare, which, I think, deserves an answer, is upon lago's character, which he thus censures: To entertain the audience (says he) with something new and surprising, against common sense anıl nature, he would piles upon us a close, dissembling, false, ungrateful ruscal, instead of an open-hearted, frank, plain-ilealing soldier, a character constantly worn by them for some thousand of years in the world. This hath the appearance of sense, being founded on that rule of Vuture and Aristotle, that each character should have manners convenient to the age, sex, and condition.
Ætatis cujusque notandi sunt tibi mores, &c. says Horace. But how has our critick applied it? According to this rule it is confessed, that a soldier should be brave, generous, and a man of honour. This is to be his dramatick cha
But either one or more of any order may be brought in. If only one, then the character of the order takes its denomina. tion from the manners of that one. Had therefore the only soldier in this play been lag), the rule had been transgressed, and Rymer's censure well founded. For then this eternal villain must have given the character of the soldiery; which had been unjust and unnatural. But if a number of the same order be represented, then the character of the order is taken from the manners of the majority; and this according to nature and com