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Shakespeare's Characters: Iachimo and Pisanio (Cymbeline)

From The Works of William Shakespeare. Vol. 18. Ed. Evangeline Maria O'Connor. J.D. Morris and Co. (1901), Public Domain

The part of Iachimo illustrates, though not on a very large scale, Shakespeare's peculiar science and learned dealing in the moral constitution of man. At our first meeting with Iachimo, he is in just that stage of moral sickness, that he must be worse before he can be better; and in his sharp practice on the wager his disease reaches the extreme point which, even because it is extreme, starts a process of moral revolution within him; setting him to a hard diet of remorse and repentance, and conducting him through these to renovation and health. So that his treachery is one of those large overdoses of crime which sometimes have the effect of purging off men's criminality. Such is the cunning leechcraft of nature: out of men's vices she hatches scorpions to lash and sting them into virtue.

Those who think poetry dwells more in the palace than the cottage, and that Shakespeare is apt to postpone the rights of untitled manhood in favour of conventional aristocracy, may be sent to school to Pisanio; who is, socially, the humblest person in the drama, yet his being is "all compact" of essential heroism. His action shows not one self-regarding thought or purpose; he alone seems to live and breathe purely for others. And what shrewdness, what forecast, what fertility of beneficence there is in him! His character is lifted into the highest region of poetry by his oblivion of self; and even those whom he serves derive much of their poetry from his self-forgetting, incorruptible loyalty to them.
Hudson: The Works of Shakespeare.


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