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'• \ •t; ' J I J· : . 1·.,' . ' \ I '·' ·' I ' ( . I . . ' ~ .: . "'\ I ' \ \' !' I ;, MOTIVATION AND CHARACTER PORTRAYAL IN OTf-IELLO WILLIAM 0. R,AYMOND WHATEVER may have been theli~itations ' of pre-nineteenth-century· criticism of Shakespeare as a poet and dramatist, it has paid fine tribute to the excellence of ·his plays as "a just ·and lively image of human nature:,'' and' to the reality of the characters depicted in them. At the same time, ,its estimate, judiciously, st~pped short of Romantic extravagance . ·A by-product of the fervency.of Romantic eulogy was the habit of discussing the characte;s of Shakespeare. as ·though they were existent beings whose:psychology must conform in every particular to the actualities · of life. It would, ho.wever; be unjust to the ~esthetic discernment· of Coleridge to maintain that re'ality in dramatic representation was regarded· by him as a photographic copy of Ii,fe. · Yet the philosophically minded Coleridge·in his idolatry of Shakespeare tended to pl.ace the men and women of his dramas in a psychological straitjacket of a still more arbitrary nature. As "ideal realities" created by the inspirati.on of a un~que poetic genius, they were elevated almost to the' height of divine prototypes~ Shakespeare was endowed with an omniscience comparable to that of the guiding providence of history. Character d~awing· .and motivation in his dramas approached the absoluteness of the· :fiat of·Deity. Action and thought were controlled by an inexorable logic which · postulated a flawless consistency and an unbroken sequence of cause and effect. Since Shakespeare in the essentials of his art was infallible, the men , and yvomen of his plays were in a principle of necessity more -~igorous in some respects than that exhibited in life itself. · One of the achievements of modern criticism has been to discredit thi~ fetish. Historical and aesthetic considerations have contributed to its overthrow. In the ,first place, interpretation ·of the charac.ters of Shakespeare ,s plays has been influenced .by the study of the .Elizabethan theatre and the realization 'of the intr_insic connection between the dramat,ist and his milieu, his stage and his audience. The divorce between Shakespeare · and' his theatre- which Lamb would have contemplated with pleasure is recognized as an abstraction. We can no longer·sink the writer of plays in the poet or the Coleridge-minded philosopher. The truth that Shake- . speare!s art was bo'th mould~d and conditioned by the Elizabethan stage is an axio~ " of present-day criticism. ' .. - ' Linked with this .historical study of the theatre ·is an aesthetic approach to the plays of Shakes.peare based on the nature of the drama as an art fo~m. The difference between life itself and' art as .,a reconstruction of life .is a central motif in this type of literary criticism. The freedom of the dramatist to draw the images. of life ((not laboriously but luckily," .in .the spirit of a painter rathe·r than a photographer, is stressed. The intuitive, emotional, imaginative elements of the drama are, it is held; more im- ' 80 ' I ' I .. ' I ' I I ' . I . ,,.., 1 ·MOTIVATION AND CHf}.RACTER IN OTHELLO ' ( I • 81 I po~tant than its· intellectual concepts. Above all, it is maintained that "the play's the thing," and its power to enthral ~ts auditors and convince· themof its reality in the sphere 'of art ·is the test of ~ts veracity. . The valuable fruitage of these two branches. of. modern criticism,· the historical and aestheti~, is s~lf-evident. Yet, since the pendulull,l is apt to _ swing from the one extreme to the other, it' may be questioned whet.her'· ·violent reaction from the canons of Romantic criticism has not distorted · our perspective of Shakespeare's plays in certain important particulars.. ' Few would be so ·conservative as to hold that.flawless consistency and impeccable motivation exist in these dramas, but are the inconsistencies of cha~acter delineation and the breaks in adequate motivation s~ drastic as many twentieth-century critics consider them to be? Is. justice being·rendered 'to the intellectual grip as well as to the ·emotional thrust of' Shakespeare's genius? Have not some of our modern...


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