Booth on Cassio
When Mixpanel’s lit club did Shakespeare’s Othello, I was reading it out of A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, which is full of footnotes collected from other annotated editions — incidentally including some commentary by Coleridge.
For my money the most consistently amusing and enlightening commentary in the book comes from the great Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth (1833–1893).
Act II, scene 2:
CASSIO. Let’s have no more of this; let’s to our affairs.—Forgive us our sins!—Gentlemen, let’s look to our business. Do not think, gentlemen, I am drunk: This is my ancient, this is my right hand, and this is my left. I am not drunk now. I can stand well enough, and I speak well enough.
The traditional “business,” said to be Charles Kemble’s, cannot be improved upon. Cassio drops his handkerchief, and in his effort to recover it, falls on his knees; to account for this position to his companions, he attempts to pray. His clothes being awry, his sword has slipped to his right side, and this confuses him for a moment as to which is his right or his left hand. Whatever you do here, do it delicately and with great seriousness, and show a readiness to fight any one who thinks you’re drunk. The more dignified your manner, the more absurd and yet correct your performance will be.