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By the subsequent extract from “The Egerton Papers,” printed by the Camden Society, (p. 343) it appears that “ Othello” was acted for the entertainment of Queen Elizabeth, at the residence of Lord Ellesmere (then Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal) at Harefield, in the beginning of August, 1602 :6 August 1602. Rewards to the Vaulters, players, and dauncers.
Of this xli to Burbidge's players for Othello, lxiiii xviiii xd." The part of the memorandum which relates to “ Othello" is interlined, as if added afterwards; but thus we find decisively, that this tragedy was in being in the summer of 1602; and the probability is, that it was selected for performance because it was a new play, having been brought out at the Globe theatre in the spring of that year.
The incidents, with some variation, are to be found in Cinthio's Hecatommithi, where the novel is the seventh of the third Decad, and it bears the following explanatory title in the Monte Regale edition of 1565 :“Un Capitano Moro piglia per mogliera una cittadina Venetiana : un suo Alfieri l'accusa di adulterio al marito; cerca che l'Alfieri uccida colui ch'egli credea l'adultero : il Capitano uccide la moglie, è accusato dallo Alfieri, non confessa il Moro, ma essendosi chiari inditii è bandito; et lo scelerato Alfieri, credendo nuocere ad altri, procaccia à se la morte miseramente.” This novel was early translated into French, and in all probability into English, but no such version has descended to us. Our great dramatist may indeed have read the story in the original language ; and it is highly probable that he was sufficiently acquainted with Italian for the purpose.
Hence he took only the name of Desdemona. We have seen, by the quotation from " The Egerton Papers," that the company by which “ Othello” was performed at Harefield was called “ Burbidge's players ;” and there can be no doubt that he was the leading actor of the company, and thereby in the account gave his name to the association, though properly denominated the Lord Chamberlain's Servants. Richard Burhage was the original actor of the part of Othello, as we learn from an elegy upon his death, among the late Mr. Heber's manuscripts. To the same fact we may quote the concluding stanza of a ballad, on the incidents of “Othello," written after the death of Burbage, which has also come down to us in manuscript :
“ Dick Burbage, that most famous man,
That actor without peer,
And kept it many a year.
That such an actor had :
For one I should be glad.” The writer spuke at random, when he asserted that Burbage began his career with Othello, for we have evidence to show that he was an actor of high celebrity, many years before Shakespeare's “Othello” was written, and we have no proof that there was any older play upon the same subject.
There are two quarto editions of “ Othello," one bearing date in 1622, the year before the first folio of “Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies" appeared, and the other printed in 1630. An exact copy of the title-page of the quarto of 1622, will be found in the usual place, and that published in 1630 differs only in the imprint, which is " by A. M. for Richard Hawkins," &c. We have had frequent occasion in our notes to refer to this impression, which has, indeed, been mentioned by the commentators, but nothing like sufficient attention has been paid to it. Malone summarily dismissed it as “an edition of no authority,” but it is very clear that he had never sufficiently examined it. It was unquestionably printed from a manuscript different from that used for the quarto of 1622, or for the folio of 1623 ; and it presents a number of various readings, some of which singularly illustrate the original text of “Othello.” Of this fact it may be fit here to supply some proof. In Act iii. sc.
.3, a passage occurs in the folio of 1623, which is not contained in the quarto of 1622, and which runs thus imperfectly in the folio:
“ Like to the Pontick sea,
To the Propontick and the Hellespont,” &c. It will not be disputed that “Ne'er keeps retiring ebb" must be wrong, the compositor of the folio having caught "keeps" from the later portion of the same line. In Pope's edition, "feels” was substituted for keeps, and the word has since usually continued in the text, with Malone's note, “the correction was made by Mr. Pope." The truth is, that Pope was right in his conjecture as to the misprinted word, for in the quarto of 1630, which Malone could not have consulted, but which he nevertheless pronounced "of no authority,” the passage stands thus :
“ Like to the Pontick sea, Whose icy current, and compulsive course Ne'er feels retiring ebb,” &c.
If Malone had looked at the quarto of 1630, he would have seen that Pope had been anticipated in his proposed emendation about a hundred years; and that in the manuscript from which the quarto of 1630 was printed, the true word was “ feels,” and not keeps, as it was misprinted in the folio of 1623. We will take an instance, only six lines earlier in the same scene, to show the value of the quarto of 1630, in supporting the quarto of 1622, and in correcting the folio of 1623. Othello exclaims, as we find the words in the folio,
“ Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell,” a line which has been generally thus printed, adopting the text of the quarto of 1622:
“ Arise, black vengeance, from thy hollow cell ;” and these are exactly the words in the quarto of 1630, although it can be established that it was printed, not from the quarto of 1622, nor from the folio of 1623, but from a manuscript which in many places differed materially from both, and in some few supplied a text inferior to both. It is not necessary to pursue this point farther, especially as our brief notes abundantly establish that the quarto of 1630, instead of being “ of no authority," is of great value, with reference to the true reading of some important passages.
Walkley, the publisher of the quarto of 1622, thus entered that edition on the Stationers' Registers, shortly previous to its appearance:
“ 6 Oct. 1621.
Sir George Buck and of the Wardens: The Tragedie of
Othello, the Moore of Venice.” It is perhaps not too much to presume, that this impression, though dated 1622, had come out at the close of 1621; and that it preceded the folio of 1623 is very obvious from the fact, that “ Othello" was not included in their list by Blunt and Jaggard, the publishers of the folio of 1623, because they were aware that it had already been printed, and that it had been entered as the property of another bookseller. The quarto of 1622 was preceded by the following address.
6. The Stationer to the Reader. “To set forth a book without an epistle were like to the old English proverb, 'A blue coat without a badge;' and the author being dead, I thought good to take that piece of work upon me. To commend it I will not, for that which is good, I hope, every man will commend without entreaty ; and I am the bolder, because the author's name is sufficient to vent his work. Thus leaving every one the liberty of judgment, I have ventured to print this play, and leave it to the general censure. Yours, Thomas WALKLEY.”
The publishers of the folio of 1623, perhaps, purchased Walkley's interest in “Othello."
Duke of Venice.
DESDEMONA, Daughter to Brabantio, and Wife to Othello.
Officers, Gentlemen, Messengers, Musicians, Sailors,
SCENE, for the first Act, in Venice; during the rest of the
Play, at a Sea-Port in Cyprus.
Rod. Tush ! never tell me', I take it much unkindly, That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse, As if the strings were thine, should'st 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
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
| Tush ! never tell me,] The folio, 1623, omits the interjection, “Tush,” as
“ 'Sblood” three lines lower down. If the Master of the Revels expunged the latter, he did not erase the former; and as both were probably written by Shakespeare, we cannot make up our minds to leave out any word, however trifing, that may have come from his pen. ? OFT capp'd to him;] So the quartos : the folio, “Of capp'd to him.” VOL. VII.