Page images

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 circumftance,' Horribly stuff'd with epithets of war;

And, in conclufion, nonfuits

My mediators; for, certes," fays he,
I have already chofe my officer.
And what was he?

Forfooth, a great arithmetician,'
One Michael Caffio, a Florentine,

intimate knowledge of the quarto copies has convinced me that they ought not without very ftrong reafon to be departed from.

MALONE. Το cap is to falute by taking off the cap. It is ftill an academic phrafe. M. MASON.

sa bombaft circumftance,] Circumftance fignifies circumlocution. So, in Greene's Tu Quoque:

"You put us to a needlefs labour, fir,

"To run and wind about for circumftance,

"When the plain word, I thank you, would have ferv'd.” Again, in Malinger's Picture:

"And therefore, without circumftance, to the point,
"Inftruct me what I am."

Again, in Knolles's Hiftory of the Turks, p. 576: “ ———— wherefore I will not ufe many words to perfuade you to continue in your fidelity and loyalty; neither long circumstance to encourage you to play the men." REED.

6 ―certes,] i. e. certainly, in truth. Obfolete. So, Spenfer, in The Faery Queen, Book IV. c. ix:

"Certes her loffe ought me to forrow moft."

[ocr errors]

STEEVENS. Forforth, a great arithmetician,] So, in Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio fays: one that fights by the book of arithmetick." STEEVENS. Jago, however, means to reprefent Caffio, not as a perfon whofe arithmetick was 66 one, two, and the third in your bofom," but as a man merely converfant with civil matters, and who knew no more of a fquadron than the number of men it contained. So afterwards he calls him this counter-cafter. MALONE.


a Florentine,] It appears from many paffages of this play (rightly understood) that Caffio was a Florentine, and lago a Venetian. HANMER.

A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife; 9

9 A fellow almoft damn'd in a fair wife;] Sir Thomas Hanmer fuppofed that the text must be corrupt, because it appears from a following part of the play that Caffio was an unmarried man. Mr. Steevens has clearly explained the words in the fubfequent note: I have therefore no doubt that the text is right; and have not thought it neceffary to infert Mr. Tyrwhitt's note, in which he propofed to read-" a fellow almost damn'd in a fair life." Shakfpeare, he conceived, might allude to the judgement denounced in the gospel against thofe of whom all men speak well. MALONE.

Mr. Tyrwhitt's conjecture is ingenious, but cannot be right; for the malicious Iago would never have given Caffio the highest commendation that words can convey, at the very time that he wishes to depreciate him to Roderigo: though afterwards, in speaking to himself, [Act V. sc. i.] he gives him his juft character. M. MASON.

That Caffio was married is not fufficiently implied in the words, a fellow almoft damn'd in a fair wife, fince they may mean, according to Iago's licentious manner of expreffing himself, no more than a man very near being married. This feems to have been the case in respect of Caffio.-Act IV. fc. i, Iago fpeaking to him of Bianca, fays,-Why, the cry goes, that you shall marry her. Caffio acknowledges that fuch a report had been raised, and adds, This is the monkey's own giving out: she is perfuaded I will marry her, out of her own love and felf-flattery, not out of my promife. Iago then, having heard this report before, very naturally circulates it in his prefent converfation with Roderigo. If Shakspeare, however, defigned Bianca for a courtezan of Cyprus, (where Caffio had not yet been, and had therefore never feen her,) Iago cannot be supposed to allude to the report concerning his marriage with her, and confequently this part of my argument muft fall to the ground.

Had Shakspeare, confiftently with Iago's character, meant to make him fay that Caffio was actually damn'd in being married to a bandfome woman, he would have made him fay it outright, and not have interpofed the palliative almoft. Whereas what he fays at prefent amounts to no more than that (however near his marriage) he is not yet completely damn'd, because he is not abfolutely married. The fucceeding parts of Iago's conversation sufficiently evince, that the poet thought no mode of conception or expreffion too brutal for the character. STEEVENS.

There is no ground whatsoever for fuppofing that Shakspeare defigned Bianca for a courtezan of Cyprus. Caffio, who was a Florentine, and Othello's lieutenant, failed from Venice in a ship

That never fet a squadron in the field,

belonging to Verona, at the fame time with the Moor; and what difficulty is there in fuppofing that Bianca, who, Caffio himfelf informs us," haunted him every where," took her paffage in the fame vessel with him; or followed him afterwards? Othello, we may fuppofe, with fome of the Venetian troops, failed in another veffel; and Defdemona and Iago embarked in a third.

Iago, after he has been at Cyprus but one day, speaks of Bianca, (Act IV. fc. i.) as one whom he had long known: he muft therefore (if the poet be there correct) have known her at Venice: "Now will I queftion Caffio of Bianca,


"A hufwife, that, by felling her defires,

[ocr errors]

Buys herself bread and clothes: it is a creature,
"That dotes on Caffio;-as 'tis the ftrumpet's plague,
"To beguile many, and be beguil'd by one."

MALONE. Ingenious as Mr. Tyrwhitt's conjecture may appear, it but ill ac cords with the context. Iago is enumerating the difqualifications of Caffio for his new appointment; but furely his being well spoken of by all men could not be one of them. It is evident from what follows that a report had prevailed at Venice of Caffio's being foon to be married to the most fair Bianca." Now as fhe was in Shak fpeare's language "a customer," it was with a view to fuch a connexion that Iago called the new lieutenant a fellow almost dams'd. may be gathered from various circumftances that an intercourfe between Caffio and Bianca had existed before they left Venice; for Bianca is not only well known to lago at Cyprus, but the upbraids Caffio (Act III. fc. iv.) with having been abfent a week from her, when he had not been two days on the island. Hence, and from what Caffio himself relates, (Act IV. fc. i.) I was the other day talking on the SEA-BANK WITH CERTAIN VENETIANS, and THITHER comes the bauble; by this hand, she falls thus about my neck;-it may be prefumed the had fecretly followed him to Cyprus: a conclufion not only neceffary to explain the paffage in queftion, but to preferve the confiftency of the fable at large. The fea-bank on which Caffio was converfing with certain Venetians, was at Venice; for he had never till the day before been at Cyprus: he specifies thofe with whom he converfed as Venetians, because he was himself a Florentine; and he mentions the behaviour of Bianca in their prefence, as tending to corroborate the report fhe had fpread that he was foon to marry her. HENLEY.

I think, as I have already mentioned, that Bianca was a Venetian courtezan: but the fea-bank of which Caffio fpeaks, may have been the fhore of Cyprus. In feveral other inftances befide this,

Nor the divifion of a battle knows

our poet appears not to have recollected that the perfons of his play had only been one day at Cyprus. I am aware, however, that this circumftance may be urged with equal force against the concluding part of my own preceding note; and the term fea-bank certainly adds fupport to what Mr. Henley has fuggefted, being the very term ufed by Lewkenor, in his account of the Lito maggior of Venice. See p. 396, n. 4. MALONE.

Thus far our commentaries on this obfcure paffage are arranged as they ftand in the very fuccinct edition of Mr. Malone. Yet I cannot prevail on myself, in further imitation of him, to fupprefs the note of my late friend Mr. Tyrwhitt, a note that feems to be treated with civilities that degrade its value, and with a neglect that few of its author's opinions have deferved. My inability to offer fuch a defence of his prefent one, as he himself could undoubtedly have fupplied, is no reason why it should be prevented from exerting its own proper influence on the reader. STEEVENS.

The poet has ufed the fame mode of expreffion in The Merchant of Venice, A&t I. fc. i:

"O my Antonio, I do know of those

"Who therefore only are reputed wife,

"For faying nothing; who, I'm very fure,

"If they should fpeak, would almoft damn thofe ears,

"Which, hearing them, would call their brothers fools,"

And there the allufion is evident to the gofpel-judgement against thofe, who call their brothers fools. I am therefore inclined to believe, that the true reading here is:

A fellow almoft damn'd in a fair life;

and that Shakspeare alludes to the judgement denounced in the gofpel against those of whom all men fpeak well.

The character of Caffio is certainly fuch, as would be very likely to draw upon him all the peril of this denunciation, literally underftood. Well-bred, eafy, fociable, good-natured; with abilities enough to make him agreeable and useful, but not fufficient to excite the envy of his equals, or to alarm the jealoufy of his fuperiors. It may be obferved too, that Shakspeare has thought it proper to make Iago, in feveral other palages, bear his teftimony to the amiable qualities of his rival. ` In Act V. fc. i. he speaks thus of him:


if Caffio do remain,

"He hath a daily beauty in his life,

"That makes me ugly."

I will only add, that, however hard or farfetch'd this allufion (whether Shakspeare's or only mine) may feem to be, arch.

More than a spinfter; unless the bookish theorick,* Wherein the toged confuls' can propose

bishop Sheldon had exactly the fame conceit, when he made that fingular compliment, as the writer calls it, [Biograph. Britan. Art. TEMPLE,] to a nephew of fir William Temple, that "he had the curfe of the gospel, because all men spoke well of him." TYRWHITT.

That Mr. Tyrwhitt has given us Shakspeare's genuine word and meaning I have not the leaft doubt. Bianca is evidently a courtezan of Cyprus, and Caffio, of courfe, not yet acquainted with her. But even admitting that the might have followed him thither, and got comfortably fettled in a "houfe," ftill, I think, the improbability of his having any intention to marry her is too grofs for confideration. What! the gallant Caffio, the friend and favourite of his general, to marry a "cuftomer," a " fitchew," a "hufwife who by felling her defires buys herself bread and clothes!"* Iago, indeed, pretends that the had given out fuch a report, but it is merely with a view to make Caffio laugh the louder. There can be no reafon for his practifing any fimilar impofition upon Roderigo. RITSON. So, in The Proceedings


theorick,] Theorick, for theory. against Garnet on the Powder-Plot: " the theoricke of truft, as the lay difciples confpiracie." STEEVENS.

as much deceived in were in the practicke of

This was the common language of Shakspeare's time. See Vol. VI. p. 324, n. 8. MALONE.

Wherein the toged confuls-] Confuls, for counsellors.


Sir T. Hanmer reads, council. Mr. Theobald would have us read, counsellors. Venice was originally governed by confuls: and confuls feems to have been commonly used for counsellors, as afterwards in this play. In Albion's Triumph, a mafque, 1631, the Emperor Albanact is faid to be" attended by fourteen confuls." Again, the habits of the confuls were after the fame manner." Geoffery of Monmouth, and Matthew Paris after him, call both dukes and earls, confuls. STEEVENS.


The rulers of the ftate, or civil governours. The word is ufed by Marlowe, in the fame fenfe, in Tamburlaine, a tragedy, 1590: Both we will raigne as confuls of the earth."



By toged perhaps is meant peaceable, in oppofition to the warlike qualifications of which he had been feaking. He might have formed the word in allufion to the Latin adage,-Cedant arma toga. STEEVENS.

« PreviousContinue »