OTHELLO

By

 

Martin Pares


selected from the book
Mortuary Marbles
privately printed by kind permission of the
Francis Bacon Society, Inc.


It is the very core of the moon
She comes more near the earth than she was wont
And makes men mad.-Othello 5/2/109

 

 

The play, of course is the thing, and criticism....well, critics, in Lord Bacon's words, are more like brushers of noblemen's clothes! However, it is perhaps by a process of criticism and interpretation that we may sometimes come closer to an author who writes under a pseudonym. A rigid examination of the text will show clearly that the additions and improvements to the play of Othello in the First Folio of 1623—as compared with the first Quarto of 1622—were composed and interpolated by the author himself.

Broadly speaking the Shakespeare Plays can be divided into two groups; those printed during Will Shaksper's life, and those which first appeared in the Folio of 1623, seven years after his death in 1616. Othello falls into neither group. It was first printed in 1622, six years after William's death, and was re-printed next year in the Folio of 1623, completely revised, with 160 lines deleted, and with trifling verbal alterations throughout. The re-arrangement of the lines required no little skill and reveals the hand of the author in almost every scene.

Stratfordians maintain that all the shortcomings of the quarto text are due to stage "cuts." The word "all" is too sweeping and inhibits further enquiry. Cuts for the stage were probably made, but in this case there is clear evidence of extensive revision. Some of the new lines are the author's substitutions for lines deleted; some restore omissions which lead to an obvious non sequitor ; some are more polished elegancies of speech. Most important of all, some are really fine passages, newly interpolated, which no competent editor or producer would omit.

The Shakespeare quartos are more than mere play-house scripts; their printed form, title-pages and dedications are charming, and they often show where the author wavered between two happy thoughts. The first Folio, however, is the pearl of great price; it gives us the author's final verdict on his work; it gives us 19 new plays never before printed, and it includes superb passages which would have never have been omitted except at the author's express desire. On what other authority could the prologues in Henry V and Troilus and Cressida have been omitted if these had been available? These and other golden passages went quite unrecorded while Will Shakspere lived.

On the title page of the 1622 quarto we are told that Othello had been "diverse times acted at the Globe and the Black Friers, by his Majesties Servants", but unfortunately the dates of these performances are not known. There is a forged entry in a MS. in the Record Office purporting to show that a play called "The Moor of Venis" was played by the King's Players on November 1st, 1604. The entry has been exposed as a modern forgery, but some Stratfordians claim that it must be a more or less exact copy of a "genuine entry which once existed!" The play, however, does seem to owe its first inspiration to about that period.
The story of Othello was taken from the Italian of Cinthio's El Capitano Moro of which there was then no translation. Like Cymbeline it was drawn from an Italian source. A curious proof that the author of Othello had recourse to the original Italian, even when and English translation existed, has been pointed out by Mr. Grant White. Othello, when chiding Desdemona for losing the handkerchief, tells her :

.....there's magic in the web of it.
A syblil that had numbered in the world
The sun to course two hundred compasses
In her prophetic fury sewed the work.

Mr. Grant White draws our attention to a passage in the Orlando Furioso about a tent which Cassandra gave to Hector, from which the expression "prophetic fury" is evidently taken. It was translated by Rose as "prophetic heat", but Othello lifts the identical words "furor prophetico" straight from the Italian. Here then is a strong indication that the author of Othello had read the Orlando Furioso in Italian, and this supports the theory, accepted by many, that the author of Shakespeare had travelled in Italy.

Mr. Grant White gives another instance.When Iago utters the well known lines "Who steals my purse steals trash", etc., he repeats with little variation but with heightened dramatic vigour, a stanza of Berne's Orlando Innamorato, then untranslated, but which he renders thus : —

The man who steals a horn, a horse, a ring,
Or such a trifle, thieves with moderation
And may be justly called a robber-ling;
But he who takes away a reputation,
And pranks in feathers from another's wing,
His deed is robbery, assassination.....

Clearly this is the source of the well known Shakespearean passage....

Good name in man and woman,dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

The subject of this speech—good name and reputation—was anticipated by Francis Bacon in 1594. It is entered in his notebook The Promus in the form of a French proverb

"Bonne renomme' sont plus que ceinture doree" .(Promus 1501)

In the folio text of Othello there is a passage which certainly seems to betray a Baconian origin. In 1615, the year before Shaksper's death, George Sandy's published his Journey, in which he says "The Bosphorus setteth with a strong current into Propontis." In 1616 Bacon, who knew Sandys well, wrote a Latin tract De Fluxu et Refluxu Maris and used the words Pontus and Propontis when describing the weak tidal ebb and flow in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The passage is as follows :—

At mare Mediterraneum, quod est sinuum maximus, et hujus partes Tyrrahenum, Pontus, et Propontis, et similiter mare Balticum, quae omnia reflectunt ad orientem, destituuntur fere,et fluxus habent imbeccillos.

In the Folio text, Othello, in describing his own relentless and implacable nature, is made to compare it to the strong one way current at the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, which overcomes the weak diurnal movement of th Mediterranean tides. And he anglicises the very words "Pontus" and "Propontis", used by Bacon. Here is his speech which is entirely missing from the quarto text......

Never, Iago. Like to the Pontick Sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont,
Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace,
Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love,
Till that a capable and wide revenge
Swallow them up......

This striking analogy owes something to Sandys, but much more to Bacon. Although technically the word "ebb" is wrongly used, the underlying thought must be referred to Bacon's speculations about the conflict of currents with tidal streams. It seems incredible that William Shaksper could have anticipated Bacon's treatise, or have made this distinction between curents and tides.
Some of the lines which make their first appearance in the Folio text of Othello rectify obvious defects in the quarto. The following lines are necessary to the action of the play,or to the syntax, and should never have been omitted :—

1/2/65
Barbantio. If she in chains of magic were not bound

1/3/123
Othello. I do confess the vices of my blood

3/4/193

Bianca......Why, I pray you?
Cassio. Not that I love you not.

4/1/183
Iago. Yours, by this hand; and to see how he prizes the foolish woman your wife! She gave it him, and he hath given it his whore.

4/2/99
Desdemona. Who is thy Lord?
Emila. He that is yours sweet lady.

4/2/187
Roderigo. With nought but truth....

The interpolation in the Folio text of the following passages represents an improvement rather than the supply of an omission in the quarto.

1/2/72
Barbantio. Judge me the world, if 'tis not gross in sense
That thou hast practis'd on her with foul charms,
Abus'd her delicate youth with drugs or minerals
That weaken motion: I'll have't disputed on;
'Tis probable, and palpable to thinking.

1/3/24
First Sen. For that it stands not in such war-like brace,
But altogether lacks the abilities
That Rhodes is dress'd in :if we make thought of this,
We must not think the Turk is so unskillful
To leave that latest which concerns him first,
Neglecting an attempt of ease and gain,
To wake and wage a danger profitless.

1/3/194

Barbantio. Which, but thou has already, with all my heart.

2/1/36
Montano. Even till we make the main and the aerial blue
An indistinct regard.

3/4/8
Clown. To tell you where he lodges is to tell you where I lie.

4/2/72
Othello. .............
Committed! O thou public commoner!
I should make very forges of my cheeks,
That would to cinders burn up modesty,
Did I but speak thy deeds. What committed!

5/1/83
Iago. Lend me a garter. So. O! for a chair,
To bear him easily hence!
Othello.....Being done, there is no pause.

5/2/49
Emilia. O mistress! villainy hath made mocks with love.
My husband say that she was false!
Othello. He, woman; I say, thy husband: dost understand the word"
My friend, thy husband, honest, honest Iago.

5/2/244
Emilia. What did thy song bode, lady?
Hark, canst thou hear me? I will play the swan,
And die in music :
Willow, willow, willow.

Many fine passages in Shakespeare would have been lost to us forever, but for the First Folio. In Othello the following passages, which are also in Shakespeare's later style, are missing entirely from the quarto......

1/1121

Roderigo. If''t be your pleasure and most wise consent
 As partly, I find, it is,that your fair daughter,
At this odd-even and dull-watch o' the night,
Transported with no worse nor bette guard
But with a knave of common hire, a gondolier,
To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor,
If this be known to you, and your allowance,
We then have done you bold and saucy wrongs;
But if you know not this, my manners tell me
We have your wrong rebuke. Do not believe,
That, from the sense of all civility,
I thus would play and trifle with your reverence
Your daughter, if you have not given her leave,
I say again, hath made a gross revolt :
Tying her duty, beauty, wit and fortunes
In an extravagant and wheeling stranger
Of here and every where. Straight satisfy yourself :

3/3/384

Othello. By the world,
I think my wife be honest and think she is not;
I think that thou art just and think thou art not.
I'll have some proof. Her name, that was as fresh
As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black
As mine own face. If there be cords, or knives,
Poison, or fire, or suffocating streams,
I'll not endure it. Would I were satisfied!

3/3/453

Othello. Never, Iago. Like to the Pontick sea,
Whose icy current and compulsive course
Ne’er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on
To the Propontic and the Hellespont,
Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace,
Shall ne’er look back, ne’er ebb to humble love,
Till that a capable and wide revenge
Swallow them up.
Now, by yond marble heaven,

4/1/40
Othello. To confess, and be hanged for his labour. First, to be
hanged, and then to confess: I tremble at it.
Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion without
some instruction. It is not words that shake me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips.
Is it possible?—Confess!—Handkerchief!—O devil!

The ejaculation "Is't possible?", which occurs so many times in Shakespeare, is entered in
Bacon's notebook in his own handwriting. (Promus 274) It occurs five times in Othello.Why would Bacon want such a note if not for some dramatic purpose?

Desdemona. Here I kneel :
Here I kneel:
If e'er my will did trespass 'gainst his love,
Either in discourse of thought or actual deed,
Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense,
Delighted them in any other form;
Or that I do not yet, and ever did.
And ever will--though he do shake me off
To beggarly divorcement--love him dearly,
Comfort forswear me! Unkindness may do much;
And his unkindness may defeat my life,
But never taint my love. I cannot say 'whore:'
It does abhor me now I speak the word;
To do the act that might the addition earn
Not the world's mass of vanity could make me.

And that so charming and so Elizabethan elegancy with which Cassio ends his talk with Emilia...."I am much bound to you"....would any actor cut that? Surely it is the polish of the final revision for the Folio. Then there is the willow song. Nowadays the song might be cut for the stage. But such songs were a feature of the Eizabethan drama, and this, like that of Ophelia in Hamlet, is a kind of swan song. Quite apart from the song itself, the newly interpolated lines which introduce it seem to lend an atmosphere of impending tragedy.

 4/3/31

Desdemona. I have much to do,
But to go hang my head all at one side,
And sing it like poor Barbara. Prithee, dispatch.  
Emilia. Shall I go fetch your night-gown?
DESDEMONA No, unpin me here.
This Lodovico is a proper man.
EMILIA A very handsome man.
DESDEMONA He speaks well.
EMILIA I know a lady in Venice would have walked barefoot
o Palestine for a touch of his nether lip.
DESDEMONA [Singing] The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow:
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow:
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur'd her moans;
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften'd the stones;
Lay by these:--
[Singing]
Sing willow, willow, willow;
Prithee, hie thee; he'll come anon:--
[Singing]
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.
Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve,-
Nay, that's not next.--Hark! who is't that knocks?
EMILIA It's the wind.
DESDEMONA [Singing] I call'd my love false love; but what said he then?
Sing willow, willow, willow:
If I court moe women, you'll couch with moe men!

The homely phrase "Shall I go fetch your night-gown?" and the casual "No, unpin me here", coming just before Desdemona is to be cruelly murdered, would hardly be omitted by any competent producer. They recall another Folio addition, the "Come, unbutton here" of King Lear, not in the quarto of 1608. In the Folio text of Othello there is yet another thoughtful interpolation in Shakespeare's later vein. The passage, which was noticed by Hazlitt, comes just before the last fatal scene, where Emilia and Desdemona converse so charmingly about the general behaviour and attitude of wives towards their husbands.

4/3/89

EMILIA.But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is't frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so. 

 The insertion in the Folio text of such thoughtful and philosophical passages as these, the substitution or addition of occasional lines, and most of all the skill with which all this is managed, are my grounds for believing that the author of Othello was alive in 1623. Granted the opportunity may well have been taken to restore a few omissions or cuts, the whole play was evidently most carefully revised.

**

In the play of Othello certain remaks concerning the dual nature of the "self" have led me to a comparison of Shakespeare's two most notorious villains—Iago and Richard III. There is a difference in quality in the casual remarks made by these two widely different characters on this question. Those of Richard seem to be quite in character, and are many times repeated on the eve of his death. Those of Iago, the vilest of all Shakespearean creations, seem to come directly from the dramatist himself.(The historical character of Richard III has become a debateable question. But the play of Richard III, regarded as a brilliant piece of pro-Tudor hack-writing, bears no comparison with Othello—one of the greatest Shakespearean plays.)

Coleridge, in an entry in H.C. Robinson's diary, is recorded as saying

"Shakespeare delighted in portraying characters in which the intellectual powers are found in a pre-eminent degree while the moral qualities are wanting, at the same time that he taught the superiority of moral greatness."

Bacon, too, was equally concerned with the growing predominance of the intellectual over the moral qualities. The following extract from one of his prayers shows this clearly,

" .... neither that, from the unlocking of the gates of sense and the kindling of a greater natural light, anything of incredulity or Intellectual Night may arise in our minds towards the Divine Mysteries." (from The Students Prayer . Francis Bacon , Spedding, Works Vol. vii)

Richard and Iago are both brilliant villains. Each is endowed with an intellect superior to his fellows; each, without any scruple, dedicates that intellect to evil purposes. But there is a wide difference psychologically between them. Richard, unlike Iago, is not so much interested in evoking evil in others, as in lust for the power of Monarch and Dictator. He is a cruel tyrant, motivated by extreme selfishness and ambition. His conscience, unlike that of Iago, disturbs him at times and, as we shall see, he is especially troubled by the problem of "self and not self."

Iago, on the other hand, has no conscience and is quite unscrupulous. He not only practices evil for its own sake, but evokes it in everyone he meets except Desdemona, in whom there is nothing base enough to respond to him. Even she calls him "slanderer" (2/1/113) and chides him for "praising the worst best" (2/1/185) when everyone else calls him "honest!" Iago's reaction to any form of goodness is annoyance and irritation. His creed is well expressed in the following lines...

Virtue? A fig!'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills* are gardeners.....

*(by "wills" in this sense, Shakespeare means "desires")

Iago's vulgarity and obscene language are the natural products of an obscene mind. But much of the lascivious imagery in his words is cunningly devised to find its mark subconsciously in the mind of Othello. As an instance of how Iago goes to work, the following passage is an excellent example. His victim, Othello, wrought to ungovernable rage by Iago's false suggestion of illicit intercourse between Desdemona, his wife, and Cassio, ends his outburst of indignation in the following passage : —

Othello.I'll endure it. Would I were satisfied! 3/3/391
Iago. And may, but how? How satisfied, my Lord?
Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on
Behold her tupped? 3/3/395

And a few lines later :—

Iago. It is impossible you should see them
Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys. 3/3/408

In the next Act these obscenities seem to have taken root in Othello's mind

Othello.
(after abruptly dismissing Desdemona......)
Cassio shall have my place......
You are welcome, Sir to Cyprus, Goats and Monkeys! 4/2/272

"Diseased Intellectual Activity" is the description given to Iago by Hazlitt : as if in Iago the Divine gift of Active Intelligence was used in dark reverse.

Both these notorious —the witty and fascinating Richard and the repulsive Iago—allude repeatedly to this problem of "self." (
See In the East my pleasure lies, by Beryl Pogson, 1950)
Richard, although a ruthless tyrant, is also very much a hypocrite. His sense of showmanship is superb, but his ostentation in religious observance betrays an element of superstition. He is continually handling sacred things without feelings; so that, in Bacon's words, "he must needs be cauterized in the end." (Of Atheism; Francis Bacon) Richard is also much given to hard swearing (especially by St.Paul!, Richard , oddly enough, is the only Shakespearean character even to mention St. Paul) But his conscience leads him in the end to question the dual nature of his "self" as if blindly groping for something unrecognized. There is a revealing passage in the play of Richard III in which Elizabethan taxes him with the emptiness and vanity of his oaths.......

Richard III 4/4/369

King Richard. I swear....
Q. Elizabeth. ....By nothing for this is no oath
Swear then by something that thou has not wronged
K. Richard. Now by the world......
Q. Elizabeth. ....'Tis full of thy foul wrongs
K. Richard. My father's death....
Q. Elizabeth......Thy life hath that dishounered
K. Richard. Then by myself
Q. Elizabeth. ....
Thy self is Self misused.

Richard, in spite of his vaunted self-assurance, becomes increasingly haunted with this question of "self". Shortly before his death he uses the word "myself" nine times in nine lines, including the phrase "I am I".....

What I Do I fear myself? There's none else by :
Richard loves Richard; that is I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes I am :
Then fly: What from myself? Great reason why;
Lest I revenge. What! myself upon myself?
Alack! I love myself! Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done unto myself
O! no; alas! have done unto myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself.....

And a few lines later:

Richard III, 5/3/184

And if I die, no soul will pity me :
Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself.

Some hours later Richard, the last of the Plantagenets, was slain on Bosworth Field and his corpse was dragged to Leicester by Henry Tudor's men.
Now while Richard's wit is fun and his sparkle enjoyable, Iago's discourse is obscene and vulgar. He is consumed with jealousy, hatred and revenge. "He that studies revenge," wrote Bacon,
"keepeth his own wounds green.
" (Essay Of Revenge, Bacon) But Iago is far worse than an embittered man seeking revenge, he is a willing channel through which evil and foul thoughts propogate themselves in the minds of others. Yet, in a moment of truth (rare to him) Iago can say of Cassio :

5/1/20
He hath a daily beauty in his life
That makes my ugly....

In the very first scene of this play Iago makes himself known to us by the following remarks ....

1/1/42
I follow him to serve my turn upon him
In following him I follow by myself 1/1/58
.....................I am not what I am 1/1/65

The first may simply be an admission that Iago seeks revenge. The second and third lines concern the problem of "self." But (as the late Beryl Pogson has pointed out , In the east my pleasure lies) the third remark ("I am not what I am") could well be interpreted as a deliberate corruption of the divine Word "I am that I am." Later in the play Iago returns to the problem of "self and not self" in reference to Othello:—

4/1/281
He that he isI may not breathe my censure
What he might be
if what he might he is not
I wish to heaven he were...........

This ambiguos allusion by Iago to the dual nature of the "self" in Othello is hardly in character for Iago as we know him. There is even a hint of redemption in these lines. For, when the ordeal is over, Othello sees his former self as if in a glass, and exclaims......

5/2/282
That's he that was Othello. Here I am

Are we to take this as a kind of transfiguration of the "self"? And, if so, it was intended by the author to be accomplished by the vilest and most repulsive of Shakespeare's villains? This is the real Iago question; and it is left unanswered in the play. For when Othello, poses the question :—

5/2/300

Will you, I pray demand that demi-devil
Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body? 

Iago's reply is hardly that of penitent :—

5/2/302

Demand me nothing: what you know you know
From this time forth I never will speak more.

The character of Iago brings with it an impression of something horribly evil, a glimpse of what its author may have looked upon as cosmic evil. Revenge, jealousy, suspicion, dishonesty, a sadistic delight in inflicting pain, or in planting evil thoughts in the minds of others, are all expressed in the character of this "demi-devil." But, as always with Shakespeare, the play of Othello carries with it the necessary quality of redemption, even in the remarks of so foul a charcter as Iago. If may use a colloquialism, no Shakespearean play ends by leaving us with a nasty taste!

"Tragedies and Comedies are of one Alphabet" wrote Francis Bacon in his notebook. (The Promus, 516) To me the tragedy of Othello is the most poignant of all. So close to human tragedy that it hurts. To conclude this essay, therefore, and perhaps to emphasize some of its redeeming features, I would like to quote some words of Othello himself, words which express the soldier and the poet in the Moor of Venice, and perhaps some of their invocative power also :—

1/2/59
Keep up your bright swords for the dew will rest them.
Good signior, you shall more command with years
Than with your weapons.
I have another weapon in this chamber;
It is a sword of Spain, the ice brooks temper
.......................................................................
5/2/251-259
A better never did itself sustain
Upon a soldier's thigh
Soft you, a word or two before I go,
I have done the state some service, and they know't.
5/2/336
No more of that. I pray you in your letters....
Speak of me as I am; Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down ought in malice: Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe

2/1/192
...................If it were to die
'Twere now to be most happy, for I fear
My soul hath her content so absolute
That not another comfort lie to this
Succeeds in unknown fate.

-end-