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It is at this point that the second of the great problems of the play emerges. The proper understanding of the relations of Othello and Desdemona is equally important with the question of the relations of lago and Othello.
The exposition of these two elements of the play is set forth by the dramatist with his usual clearness, and at considerable length, but has nevertheless escaped the notice of the critics, or has been discounted as a factor in the interpretation.
But it is high time to learn that whatever Shakespeare put deliberately into his dramas is to be considered in the interpretation.
The meeting of the two search parties, each seeking Othello for a different reason, brings the relations of Othello and Desdemona into prominence.
When the two parties meet, Brabantio is in a very quarrelsome mood. The cool words of Othello prevent a clash between the two: The sudden danger from the Turks at Cyprus has made great dispatch necessary, and the Duke has ordered Othello before him "even on the instant.
The Moor now finds that his old friend, the Signior Brabantio, formerly his admirer, has unexpectedly become his accuser before the Senate. For the first time, possibly, Othello becomes aware of the fact that he is not accepted on terms of full and exact equality in all particulars with the Venetians.
He thinks it utterly unnatural for Desdemona to accept him willingly and knowingly. So preposterous does it appear to him that he must suppose Othello has charmed her with drugs and magic. He cries out in his desperation: It seems likely that this was also the opinion of the dramatist, for there is abundant evidence that it was always so regarded on the Elizabethan stage.
Only the development of the drama will show how far Shakespeare sympathizes with this opinion. A cruel romance essay deeds upon the part of Othello have now brought him into active collision with other persons, and the two are related to each other. Because of his obligations to Cassio in the matter of his love-making with Desdemona he has appointed him to an important position over lago, thus making an enemy of his faithful officer.
He has also stolen away Desdemona from her father, and secretly married her, making an enemy of Brabantio, who had been one of his greatest admirers among the Senate. In both cases there is evidence of his callousness and dullness of mind.
Up to this point Othello had been able to carry successfully his exalted responsibility in his adopted state, but in these matters he makes a complete break-down. Not even his superior military training could save him. He could perform well the duties of military life, but now it begins to be evident that he is not fitted for the higher and more exacting arts of peace, and especially of love, in a civilized state.
When Othello leaves "the tented fields" for the streets and homes of a refined city he utterly goes to pieces, and whatever sense of honor he may have had speedily gives place to a dangerous caprice. An unsuspected weakness, or deficiency, in his character is thus laid bare, upon which the whole tragedy will later be seen to turn.
This deficiency, it is now important to notice, the play implies is due to his racial character, and comes from the fact that he is a Moor. The half- civilized Othello is but ill adapted for life in civilized and cultured Venice.
Some critics endeavor to make out that nothing whatever of the happenings of the play are in any way connected with the fact that Othello is a Moor.
They allege he is nothing but a man, though he happens to be a black man. His color, they say, is an entirely indifferent matter in the play, and can be all but ignored in the interpretation.
On this assumption, however, the many references to his color and race throughout the play cannot well be explained. This view takes for granted that the dramatist heaps up idle words having no significance, and refuses to believe that there was a meaning in all he wrote.
It is not necessary to hold, as Professor Bradley would have us believe, that the dramatist must be credited with clear doctrines of Kulturgeschichte if we are to maintain that he made the problem of Othello at least in part a problem of race. Feelings of racial differences did not have to wait for the Germans of later times to write histories of culture.
And the play makes Othello quite as conscious as any one else of his diversity of race, though it is to other causes that he assigns his want of grace and culture. In the course of his apology, his "round unvarnished tale" becomes eloquent with a barbaric sincerity and splendor that almost enlists the sympathy of the Senate.
He further says he is ready to abide by the decision of Desdemona, and advises the senate to call her to speak for herself.
But there are many differences, and these must be given consideration. Shakespeare undoubtedly approves such choice when it means a larger and fuller life.
Juliet disobeyed a tyrannical and hateful father to find a larger life and a true spiritual union with Romeo.
In the same spirit Imogen refused the coarse and villainous Cloten, to join hands and hearts with the virtuous Posthumus. The lovely Jewess, Jessica, ran away from the miserly Shylock to marry the Christian, Lorenzo, and at the same time accepted the religion of her husband.
In all these cases the maidens found their true life with the men of their own choice, and the dramatist gives his verdict in making their love happy and successful, and in bringing out of their marriage a larger good to all.
There are in these and other instances, however, many differences from the case of Othello and Desdemona. It is not so much the wilful disrespect to her father that is the fault of Desdemona, though some critics make a great deal of this, but the fact that in marrying Othello she showed a wilful disregard of her own highest interests.
It can scarcely be maintained that the marriage of Othello and Desdemona was a complete spiritual union, for there were too many diverse elements that at the time seemed incompatible and in the end proved entirely irreconcilable.Read new romance book reviews, posts from your favorite authors, samples, exciting digital first publications and e-book specials.
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