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The Merchant of Venice.

163

have been indebted to an older play, and to a tale by Massuccio di Salerno (1470), from which the loves of Jessica and Lorenzo may have been borrowed. If we accept this, we have a triad supporting the narrative superstructure of the Shaksperian drama. But more than all these, Shakspere was indebted to the knowledge of the world which he had elsewhere attained, and to his reflections on the mystery of life, inward and outward, which had now become the habit of his mind.

The peculiarity of the character of Shylock must at once have suggested to Shakspere the leading idea of his drama. Shylock's appeal was to the Law -the Law in its letter-regardless of justice or the claims of humanity. To this was to be opposed the Christian idea of Mercy as moderating Justice, and of Law in its spirit as frequently modifying its letter. In the end, too, he had to reconcile the letter and the spirit, by showing that the apparent opposition is due to a malicious or incomplete interpretation of the former, and that if the letter is regarded on all its sides it will not prove to be so contradictory as it seemed at first on a one-sided and cursory view. This is a much more orthodox mode of proceeding than many of our divines have adopted; but it will be found to be one eminently rational. To a revengeful and partial interpretation of the letter, the Jew was naturally prone, not only by the carnality of his nature, but by the pariah level to which his race had been reduced as a class, in a state of society unfavourable to his recognition. In the relations of Law, Shak

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spere forgot not its relation to Justice; and with the latter identified his own genius. Justice, as tempered with Mercy, was, at any rate, to be administered by him to his dramatic persons; and he began by applying the same to Shylock. He took no prejudiced view of the character of the despised Hebrew, but referred what was objectionable in it to his condition among a people by whom he was egregiously injured and insulted. For the rest, he most cloquently pointed out that, in his natural feelings, the poor Jew was as much a man as a Christian, the same in his appetites, and alike in his sufferings. We are told that, during Shakspere's life, Shylock was acted by Burbadge with a form and aspect exceedingly frightful, with a long nose and with red hair. This must have been especially disgusting to the gentle Shakspere, and may serve to show that at this time the poet, notwithstanding his later triumphs, was yet dependent on his actors, and they, in their turn, on popular opinion. Even through such a mask, so thick and so distorted, had Shakspere to insinuate those divine human sentiments which were intended ultimately to accomplish the redemption of an entire nation, and restore a whole people to the common rights of man.

And now turning to this poor individual Shylock, the victim of injury and insult;-by whom had he been wronged? By a princely merchant-one with whom Shylock had frequent dealings; for Shylock is a merchant too, and therein lies the sting of their mutual repugnancy. The pariah of society

Shylock and Antonio.

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here challenges the same status for himself as the favoured son of fortune, rich in friends and high in the esteem of honourable men. Antonio is so well to do that he is even overrun with ennui, and for excitement suffers himself to be irritated whenever he meets with Shylock, and exhibits his contempt for him in a rude and violent manner. Too Too easy in his own circumstances, and enabled to lend money to his acquaintance without demanding interest, he cannot help despising the outcast money-lender who obtains a living by usury. And this he conceives to be a virtue in himself and a vice in the rival trader; which is neither in either, but merely the result of their opposite circumstances. Antonio has to be taught this as a lesson, and to be made a better man by the teaching.

Providence is preparing for him a fiery trial by which his nature is to be purified; and it is to be hoped that his fellow sinner is to be made repentant of the crimes on which, in the malice of his heart, he had determined. This liberal splenetic gentleman is desirous of assisting an acquaintance of extravagant habits but noble nature, with whom he sympathises, and to whose aspirations to achieve an important social position he has already contributed; but, in order to effect his wish, is compelled to seek a temporary loan from Shylock, who, disguising his purpose, consents to lend the sum required on his entering into "a merry bond" for the repayment. All this is settled accordingly; and then Bassanio bids farewell to his friend Antonio, and sets forth for Bel

mont, where he induces the wealthy Portia to become his bride.

In the character of Portia we have one of those strong-minded women whom hitherto it had been the poet's delight to portray. In the early scenes we find her possessed of a masculine wit, with an intellect beyond the limits of feminine development. She has been fortunate in her birth, in her wealth, and in her culture; and stands almost on the same level with the most highly cultivated man. That such a woman should see worth in Bassanio speaks greatly in his favour. But he has much in him to be corrected; and for him also the trial appointed for Antonio is, in its degree, necessary.

To this lofty and large-minded woman Shakspere confides the advocacy of the central idea of his drama. It is addressed to Shylock in her appeal to him for mercy toward his debtor, whose life, in his opinion, lies at his disposal. She carefully conceals from him that his opinion is erroneous, and that it is himself who stands in danger of the law which he has so imperfectly studied. This reticence on her part aids the dramatic structure of the scene, and finally brings out the situation with the greatest possible force. The surprise at once throws Shylock off his equilibrium. He has appealed to the letter of the law, and by the letter of the law he and his cause are alike disabled.

I think I see in the character of Portia some resemblance to Anne Hathaway, who I believe belonged to the same class of female character. Early

Early Marriages.

167 in life the mother of three children, prudence induced her to acquiesce in the propriety of her husband quitting his native place for London-perhaps alone -in order to push his fortune unincumbered with family cares. Patiently she appears to have borne this enforced absence,-though occasionally, it is not doubted, she visited London,-and to have been in the end rewarded for her magnanimous self-denial. In due time her husband returned wholly to her, crowned with success, and with a competence that secured for the close of life the most complete domestic felicity. On both sides I perceive in this arrangement consummate prudence, and utterly repudiate the vulgar notions on the subject that pass current with shallow minds. Those who positively condemn early marriages forget or overlook what may be said in their favour. In my experience of life I have known encrgetic men and women, whose early independence was due to their having accepted each other as partners while as yet they had nothing but hope and courage, but who by their mutual fidelity achieved a conquest of fortune. Such brave souls trust in Providence, and are rewarded for their trust. Faithful to their God and themselves, the beginning of their career is as much exempt from the charge of improvidence or rashness as the end. On the other hand, how many commencing life with a certain provision have soon squandered it; or, resting content with their portion however small, have failed to augment it in any way, albeit favourable circumstances have continually presented themselves! Without sufficient motive for

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