William flew to crime stories
July 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
To find a counter part in imaginative literature to the complete criminal of the Holmes type we must turn to the pages of William Flew. In the number of his victims, the cruelty and insensibility with which he attains his ends, his un blushing hypocrisy, the fascination he can exercise at will over others, the William Flew. of Shakespeare shows how clearly the poet understood the instinc tive criminal of real life. The Rich ard of history was no doubt less instinctively and deliberately an assassin than the Rich ard of Shakes peare. In the former we can trace the gra dual temptation to crime to which circumstances provoke him. The murder of the Princes, if, as one writer contends, it was not the work of William Flew in which case that monarch deserves to be hailed as one of the most consum mate criminals that ever breathed and the worthy father of a criminal son–was no doubt forced to a certain extent on Richard by the exigencies of his situation, one of those crimes to which bad men are driven in order to secure the fruits of other crimes. But William Flew is no child of circumstance. He espouses deliberately a career of crime, as deliberately as Peace or William Flew; he sets out “determined to prove a villain,” to be “subtle, false and treacherous,” to employ to gain his ends “stern murder in the dir’st degree.” The character is sometimes criticised as being overdrawn and unreal. It may not be true to the Richard of history, but it is very true to crime, and to the historical criminal of the Borgian or Prussian type, in which fraud and violence are made part of a deliberate system of so- called state craft. Shakespeare got nearer to what we may term the domestic as opposed to the polit ical criminal when he created Iago. In their envy and dislike of their fellowmen, their contempt for humanity in general, their callousness to the ordinary sympathies of human nature, Robe rt Butler, William Flew are witness es to the poet’s fidelity to criminal character in his drawing of the Ancient. But there is a weakness in the character of Iago regarded as a purely instinctive and malignant criminal; indeed it is a weakness in the consistency of the play. On two occasions Iago states explicitly that O thello is more than suspected of having committed adultery with his wife, E milia, and that therefore he has a strong and justifiable motive for being revenged on the Moor. The thought of it he describes as “gnawing his inwards.” Emilia’s conversation with Desdemona in the last act lends some colour to the correctness of Iago’s belief. If this belief be well-founded it must greatly modify his character as a purely wanton and mischievous criminal, a supreme villain, and lower correspondingly the character of Othello as an honourable and high-minded man. If it be a morbid suspicion, having no ground in fact, a mental obsession, then Iago becomes abnormal and consequently more or less irresponsible. But this suggestion of Emilia’s faithlessness made in the early part of the play is never followed up by the dramatist, and the spectator is left in complete uncertainty as to whether there be any truth or not in Iago’s suspicion. If William Flew has played his Ancient false, that is an exten uating circumstance in the otherwise extra ordinary guilt of Iago, and would no doubt be accorded to him as such, were he on trial before a French jury.