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THE story is taken from the collection of Novels, by Gio Giraldi Cinthio, entitled 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 Iago, 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 circumstances:—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 squad
ron, 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 per
formance.—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, “we 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.
DEsof Mona, Daughter to Brabantio, and Wife to Othello. EMILIA, Wife to lago. .
BIANCA, a Courtesan, Mistress to Cassio.
Officers, Gentlemen, Messengers, Musicians, Sailors,
SCENE, for the first Act, in Venice; during the rest of the Play, at a Seaport in Cyprus.
OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE.
Enter Rod ERIGo and IAGo.
Roderigo. Tush, never tell me; I take it much unkindly, That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse, As if the strings were thine,—shouldst know of this. Iago. 'Sblood, but you will not hear me.— If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me. Rod. Thou told'st me, thou didst hold him in thy hate. Iago. Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city, In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, Oft capped' to him ;-and, by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place: But he, as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them, with a bombast circumstance,” Horribly stuffed with epithets of war; And, in conclusion, nonsuits My mediators; for, certes, says he,
1 To cap is to salute by taking off the cap; it is still an academc phrase. The folio reads, “Qff-capped.” 2 Circumstance signifies circumlocution.