Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

we shall find that his passion springs from a loathing for that which he considers sordid and base, united with a prejudice characteristic of the time, not peculiar to the man. — Antonio has come to the autumn of life, and in the midst of his prosperity he feels an autumnal sadness. He is alone. No son bears his name; the deepest tenderness of his being has never been called forth in the most natural way. With his wealth of stored-up affection he has endowed his gay young kinsman, Bassauio, and the latter is grateful and responsive. But there is necessarily some difference, which will inevitably increase, between the interests of the two friends. Bassanio's life lies before him; Antonio's lies behind him. The younger has many hopes and joys that the elder cannot share. And Antonio has lately had a hint of some desire and purpose of Bassanio's with which he sympathizes, no doubt, but which nevertheless casts over his sensitive spirit the shadow of coming change. Notice his first important speech to Bassanio, lines 119-121. Read Sonnet LXXIII, probably addressed by Shakespeare to a younger friend, and find that he himself knew the melancholy of middle age. (In II Pecorone Ansaldo, the merchant, having no children of his own, is in like manner wholly devoted to his young godson Giannetto.)

As the three gentlemen go on with their talk, we are to observe the lively imagination of Antonio's friends. Salanio puts himself into Antonio's place, and conceives the situation so intensely that he fairly sees himself holding the light blade or feather of grass in his fingers, anxiously trying the direction of the wind. It is the same with Salarino; both, though in other respects ordinary men, are highly imaginative, judged by our modern standards.— Another point that impresses itself upon us is the constant presence of the sea in the thoughts of these men. All through the play, from Salarino's very first speech, "Your mind is tossing on the ocean," the rhetoric frequently reminds us that we are in, or concerned with, a sea city; there is a kind of subdued sea murmur, as it were, in the reader's ears. On this suggestion, it would be interesting to collect instances of illustrations taken from the sea, or'allusions to sea legends, in The Merchant of Venice.

Notice the graceful courtesy of all these gentlemen, as Salarino and Salanio take leave and the others enter; particularly the dignity and reserved cordiality of Antonio's speech, lines 62, 03. What do you find to be the chief characteristics of Gratiano? Can you conjecture what was Shakespeare's reason for introducing him at this point? Shakespeare seems to have known this type of young manhood very well; compare Mercutio, Hotspur, Falcon bridge, Petruchio, — all " like in difference."

When the two kinsmen are left alone, notice the beautifully simple expression of Antonio's perfect devotion to his friend; but notice also that his ideals for Bassanio are high, and his standard of right and wrong unaffected by his feeling; in what lines is this made clear? — In Bassanio's account of Portia, lines 161-172, there are certain indications that he is not, primarily, seeking her wealth, He has set forth his plan, it is true, as a plan "to get clear of debt"; and his manner in so presenting it has been most reasonable, as it naturally would be, in addressing the man on whose cooperation all depended; but as soon as he begins to speak of Portia, the lover flashes out. His words raise a golden cloud of romance about the distant Portia; we, too, desire to see this fair lady of wondrous virtues; and we are made aware that, in spite of all the preliminary talk about debts and plots and purposes, the love-story has really begun already; that it began before Portia was " richly left." What lines confirm this? (In conjunction with sc. ii, lines 98-102.)

Act I, sc. ii. — In picturing Portia for ourselves we must never forget Bassanio's description (see sec. i, lines 169, 170). Is Portia's weariness at all like Antonio's sadness? What do you conjecture to be the cause of it? How deep does it appear to lie, and what dispels it? (Compare As You Like It, Act I, sc. ii.) What intellectual quality of Portia's is most evident in this scene? What bit of dialogue seems inserted expressly to make a connection with sc. i?

Act I, sc. iii. — Shylock comes before us plainly clad in a dark gaberdine. He wears some distinguishing badge. (See note on line 100.) He is an elderly man, with gray or gray-sprinkled beard. As one of an oppressed race, he will certainly have an air of habitual deference. But before the dialogue has proceeded far, we perceive that under this external appearance lies a keen wit, with great bitterness of spirit. What are the first signs of this? — For the natural causes of this bitterness we have not far to seek. Shylock is intellectually much abler than any other man in the play. Yet, through race prejudice, he is suppressed; his energies are confined to a single field, and for success in that field he is scorned. — Notice his subtle, malicious enjoyment of the present situation. His enemies ask help from him; he will be slow and tantalizing in his answer. Picture the impatient Bassanio in his rich dress, and the glances he darts at Shylock while the Jew musingly repeats, " Three thousand ducats." — Notice the reasons which Shylock, in soliloquy, assigns for his hatred of Antonio. Remember that soliloquy is the dramatist's only method of revealing what actually passes through a person's mind. In soliloquy there can be no motive for deceit; unless the thinker be a selfdeceiver. Taking the soliloquy, then, as an expression of Shylock's genuine thought and feeling, which shall we conclude to be the most potent cause of his hatred for Antonio, the wrongs of his race or his individual wrongs? In Shylock's speech, lines 96-119, appears that wonderful power which Shakespeare had in greater measure than any other writer that ever lived: the power of getting inside of a character, of temporarily taking exactly the point of view of a nature wholly different from the dramatist's own in circumstances wholly different from those which surround or have surrounded the dramatist. It is this which makes the creation of Shylock a much greater achievement than the creation of Antonio. The intellect alone will not furnish such insight. "Main force of mind" could never have made Shylock. (Compare Marlowe's Barabas in The Jew of Malta.) In addition, the dramatist must have had a broad human sympathy — the only key that will really open the hearts of men to inspection. We must love, or pity, to understand. Love for a nature which has become utterly unlovely, like that of Shylock, may be impossible. But pity, because the conditions have made him what he is, is certainly possible. Shakespeare seems to recognize that Shylock's feeling, in these circumstances, is almost inevitable. And while we read we may share Shakespeare's power of understanding, and of sympathizing with "all sorts and conditions of men." This is one of the great gains of literary study.

Notice that the proposal made by Shylock is made at the climax of the scene, immediately after Antonio's speech of defiance, lines 120-127. It is Antonio himself who confirms Shylock's previous resolution not to forgive him. — It would be premature, however, to conclude that Shylock, in this early phase of the affair, intends to exact the penalty. May it not be possible that the pleasure of having his enemy's life in his power, and thus of torturing him for a time, — the peculiar delight of listening to his supplications, — that this is all Shylock is forecasting? We must look for evidence as we proceed.

Observe that Antonio exhibits in this scene a side very different from that shown us in sc. i. Does he appear to greater advantage here or in sc. i? (See comment, in notes on M. i, on causes of his behavior to Shylock.)

Act II, sc. i. — There is a largeness in the nature of Morocco, and an exuberance in his imagery, befitting a son of the hot South. He seems like a rough sketch of that greater Moor whom Shakespeare afterward drew, and who was also connected with a fair Venetian. — Portia's tact is shown in lines 13-22. It is true that the concluding passage, as we know from Act I, sc. ii, is not so complimentary to Morocco as it appears; yet it is not insincere. No doubt the Moor's nobility impresses her. On account of his different race, she dreads his success; she would not willingly be his wife; yet doubtless she would prefer him to any one of the " parcel of wooers " on whose "very absence " she dotes. Meanwhile, she welcomes him with graciousness. What word of hers is most felicitous in carrying out her kindly purpose of removing his sense of disadvantage? It is to be noticed that the race question enters here also. Shakespeare introduces it, as it were, half consciously, because his mind is working with the theme.

Act II, sc. ii. — For a comment on the character and speech of Launcelot Gobbo, see note on the stage direction, Enter Launcelot.

Act II, sc. iii. — It is convenient to consider this scene in connection with sc. v. In the earlier of these scenes, what side-light does Jessica throw upon Shylock's home life? What one word, used by her, indicates the reason of her feeling? What single touch of conscience does she show? Why does she change her faith? What kind of nature does this indicate? Does it appear, in sc. v, that Shylock was unkind to her? How would you characterize his behavior toward her?—What is Shylock's reason for recommending Gobbo to Bassanio? Notice, in this tiny detail, the demoralization of the man's nature by a cherished hatred. There may be something impressive in hatred exhibited on a large scale (compare the " immortal hate " of Milton's Satan); it is when we see its ultimate results in petty instances that we realize its essential baseness.

Act II, sc. iv.—This scene may be examined together with M. vi. Note the rapid movement of the two scenes, retarded only by the easy moralizing of Gratiano under the penthouse. We are plainly intended to share, temporarily, in the lively spirit of the scene; to appreciate the naturalness and gayety of it, its irresponsible brightness and dash. We should be able to make a beautiful setting for the action: the dark blue of Italian night, the flaring of torches, strains of music from gliding gondolas, a surrounding atmosphere of rich romance. But presently the scene is over: Shylock's dark house, the house he has trusted to his daughter, is left alone. A chill falls upon us as we realize Jessica's treachery and selfishness. By what step has she descended to her lowest level? It is natural that the poetic and infatuated Lorenzo should, at this time, admire every action of hers; but is she worthy of him? Shakespeare understands them; in a certain sense he sympathizes with them; but it would be a mistake to think that his sympathy means approval. The creator of Cordelia could not approve Jessica. — We begin to perceive that we are to take Shakespeare's plays, even the comedies, as we should take life: not as partisans of causes clearly right and persons absolutely perfect, but observantly, kindly, sometimes regretfully; never surrendering our sense of right and wrong, yet never failing to make allowance for our fellow-creatures.

It becomes time to ask, why does Shakespeare thrust into his plot this story of the false daughter stolen by a Christian? It is no part of the Italian tale; we have no reason for supposing that it occurred in The Jew "shown at the Bull." But to Shakespeare's purpose it is essential. It is his turning-point. It determines Shylock's action. Again has a Christian decided the matter. If Shylock has, up to this point, merely intended to torture Antonio by getting the latter into his power, it is clear that after this injury his intention will go further. If he has already resolved to kill Antonio, this double-clamps his resolution, which might have given way. In either case, the emphasis laid by Shakespeare upon this part of the plot converts Shylock from an impossible monster,

« AnteriorContinuar »