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such as the Jew in Il Pecorone appears to be, into a possible, though terribly. and piteously perverted, man.
These considerations naturally lead us to Act II, sc. viii, and to Act III, sc. i. Observe the different sides of Salanio and Salarino, which are shown in that part of the dialogue dealing with Shylock, and in that part dealing with Antonio. In which case do the gentlemen appear to greater advantage? Does Salanio's account of Shylock's “confused passion” (sc. viii) imply that avarice was the sole cause of Shylock's distress? or are we also to conclude that he loved his daughter, or to set down a portion of his suffering to a wounded racial pride?
It is safe to say that in Act III, sc. i, lines 50–58 form the most magnificent expression ever given to the human plea against race prejudice. In order to estimate the passage, it is well to remember that the words were written by a Christian Englishman, in a time when race prejudice of all kinds was rampant. — Shylock, left alone with Tubal, breaks out into the loose and fervid exprestion natural to an emotional race. Notice how this contrasts with the tenseness of his speech to the Gentiles. Lines 74–79 are capable of being variously interpreted. Does Shylock really mean that he has never felt the curse which has fallen upon his nation until now? Would that be true? (Compare Act I, sc. iii, lines 96–119.) Or does he mean that his present misery is so great that it dwarfs all past miseries which he, as a Jew, has suffered ? Does his exclamation, “I would my daughter,” etc., signify mere cupidity ? Or is it Oriental exaggeration of the terrible wrath and sorrow of a betrayed father? (“ If the passage is taken in connection with the rest of the dialogue, it will be found to be merely a inaster-stroke of the poet in depicting as powerfully as possible the unbridled passion of a volcanic nature. This language reminds us of the exaggerated expressions of King Lear against his daughters.” — Honigman, quoted by Dr. FURNESS.) A gain, might it not be read so as to mean, “I would even give my beloved jewels and ducats if my daughter were dead, rather than false to her race"? (It is worth noting that the ducats are imagined “ in her coffin,” as if to be buried with her.) – Is Tubal in this scene malicious ? or unsympathetic? or merely coarse-grained and solemnly important? The subtle reality of Shakespeare's presentation appears in lines 102-106. If we are reading in the right spirit, we shall feel, at
this point, a confusion of emotions, such as a corresponding utterance would arouse in real life. The human feeling displayed by Shylock is pathetic; his expression “a wilderness of monkeys,” is, as Hazlitt remarked, a fine Hebraism; yet the picture suggested and the contrast between his point of view and his daughter's are certainly comic. It is a case of “very tragical mirth.” Of such mingled yarn is life woven; and the art that would represent life must be complex. — Find the recurring expression of Shylock's lowest motive for hating Antonio. Where did it occur before?
We return to the postponed casket scenes. What does Shakespeare gain by presenting to his audience two of these before the scene of Bassanio's choice? In Act II, sc. vii, he makes us feel and therefore felt himself a certain sympathy with Morocco, though it does not go so far as to make us desire his success.
On what subject are Morocco's thoughts, during his deliberations, chiefly fixed ? What two considerations induce him to choose the golden casket? What, then, does his line of reasoning imply? Does his choice indicate that he overvalues appearances? Of what two subjects is Arragon (Act II, sc. ix) chiefly thinking? Does his choice indicate that he overvalues appearances? That eccentric, though virtuous, person, Portia's father, appears to have wanted a son-in-law of precisely his own turn of mind; one who, from intellectual similarity, could read his riddle. If he was, in addition, trying to protect his daughter from fortune-hunters, Shakespeare must be laughing in his sleeve at the ironic situation. We have no indication that either Morocco or Arragon had ever thought of Portia's wealth; the former was too magnanimous, the latter too proud. And we know that Bassanio had thought of it, though we are, fortunately, sure that it was his second rather than his first thought.
Is it not possible that Shakespeare, who likes to do two things at once, is letting the case of Bassanio, for the purposes of the plot, point the moral which apparently underlay the test as planned -- that we must not judge “ by the view” – while he is at the same time contrasting, for his own satisfaction, the natures of Morocco and Arragon, and pronouncing against them both for the practical uses of life? It seems to be the theme so often treated in the plays,
the contrast and contest between “blood” and "judgement," and the necessity of keeping the balance between
them. (See note on Act I, sc. ii, line 16.)
We have the passionate Morocco, his judgment clouded by his utter absorption in Portia, set against the cold-blooded Arragon in his intellectual pride. And Shakespeare lets the mocking rhymes tell the hot lover that his suit is cold as death itself, and tell the cool egotist, who stands aloof from the crowd in fancied wisdom, that he is a fool. — The contrast between the two men is perhaps most marked at the moment of parting. Morocco goes quickly, with a “grieved heart”; Arragon will keep his oath, and go without dispute; but he is conscious that he cuts a foolish figure, and he feels that he is an injured man.
Act III, sc. ii. — Portia's plea, “ I pray you tarry,” leads us to consider the duration of the action. It will be found quite impossible to reconcile the opposing testimony, as to the lapse of time, occurring in different parts of the play. A careful computation has been made by Mr. P. A. Daniel; but he is driven, by the necessity of allowing three months for the expiration of the bond, to the hypothesis that Bassanio was at least twelve weeks in Belmont before he made his choice of the casket. This is utterly inconsistent with the present speech of Portia. — We are obliged to fall back on Professor Wilson's Theory of Double Time. This will be found fully set forth in the Furness Variorum Edition of Othello. In brief, it is that Shakespeare distributed through a play two sets of hiuts, one set causing the action to appear rapid, and the other retarding it. The magical effect is, to give the play, when acted, the movement of life, so that no question as to possibility arises, at the tiine, in the mind. It will be profitable for the student to make a table of these accelerating and retarding time-notes in The Merchant of Venice, and finally to compare his results with Dr. Furness's analysis, in the Variorum Merchant,
The chief interest of this scene is, of course, the revelation of Portia's exquisite womanliness. Touch by touch it unfolds itself before us, like some royal rose, until in the perfect speech to Bassanio (lines 150–176), we see the very soul of Portia, in its joyous abandonment to a new feeling. Notice her haste to help, her emotion on hearing Antonio's letter, her generosity, not only in the readiness to “pay the petty debt twenty times over,” but in the insistence that Bassanio shall “away to Venice.” .- Lines 281–287 afford some evidence as to Shylock's original intention; but is Jessica a trustworthy witness ? She is plainly led by the desire to make herself important. Until she volunteers this piece of information, she has been quite in the background. If we accept her testimony, do Shylock's words to Tubal and Chus prove that he would have been able to persevere in his dreadful purpose, without an additional injury to urge him on?
Act III, sc. iv. — Though Portia's intention is serious, she hopes so strongly for the best that she can carry it out with a merry heart. Notice the incidental touch of playful satire in her final speech, reminding us of Act I, sc. ii.
Act III, sc. v. — Portia, it seems, has made an impression even upon the light-minded Jessica. However, the graceful hyperbole of the compliment (lines 53-57) appears rather intended to deepen the effect of Portia's virtues upon the audience or the reader, than to exhibit the nature of the speaker.
Act IV, sc. i. — In this scene our first thought would naturally be of Antonio, and accordingly we find him in the foreground, passive and sad, yet not forgetting to be grateful and gracious in his reply to the Duke. Our interest would then turn to his enemy; and Shakespeare has provided for this by next introducing Shylock. The latter's manner is perfectly composed. He believes that his cause is securely based upon the law. In this position of advantage he can be cool and self-controlled. He at first shows a proper de ence to the Duke, but as he continues speaking, his tone becomes more and more bitter. Toward Bassanio he is contemptuous. (A most effective point is made by Sir Henry Irving in lines 81–83. He slowly taps the extended bag of gold with the point of his knife, before speaking the lines in a low tone of great firmness.) Lines 84 and 85 are as important as any in this scene. They clearly express the two opposite spiritual attitudes which it seems to be one of the main purposes of the scene to exhibit. The Duke suggests an attitude of forgiveness toward transgressors, springing from a sense of one's own transgressions. Shylock shows in contrast the proud consciousness of perfect rectitude, which neither asks nor makes allowances. It will be convenient to describe these two attitudes as those of mercy and justice. The first endeavor of Portia, 178–196, is with solemn eloquence to impress on Shylock the beauty and the
necessity of that spiritual attitude already suggested by the Duke. As before, he answers the plea for mercy with a claim for justice. “ Law” is the keynote of Shylock's speeches; observe how the word recurs. Portia, with her usual tact, first wins the Jew's confidence by refusing to “wrest the law,” and then follows up the advantage by calling for the bond. Shylock is thus brought close to her; and she takes occasion to speak to him, in a low tone, no doubt unheard by the others (line 221). The highest argument she could use having proved inoperative, she now appeals to his love of money, and is met by a consideration on his part far higher than the love of money, though lower than the love of man. He is bound; he has an oath in heaven; again he stands upon law, though this time it is not the law of Venice. Portia declares aloud that the bond is forfeit; then vainly repeats, in a lower tone, the two expedients that have just failed, with the same result (lines 227–228). She afterward makes two more futile efforts to move Shylock. In line 249 she tries by her question to create a physical shrinking; in lines 251–252 she finally tests the Jew to see how far his notion of strict justice will carry him. She finds that his conception of justice is absolutely literal. Portia's patience and her unwillingness to condemn Shylock prematurely have been very noticeable.
But now she must strike, and she strikes hard. Leading Shylock to the very height of expectation in lines 293, 294, 296, and 297, she suddenly hurls him down. It has been objected that Portia wins by a quibble; but it must not be overlooked that her method is simply the reductio ad absurdum. Shylock has urged the letter of the law. Now he shall have his own notion of “justice,” more than he desires. Observe that he does not resist. The perfect consistency of his character appears in the single question, Is that the law ?” He then endeavors to recede from this labyrinth step by step; and at every turn Portia meets him by insisting, as he has insisted, upon the letter. It would, however, be against Portia’s principles (since these decisions do not really represent her own attitude, but merely travesty that of Shylock) to rest here. She has a more solid basis on which to proceed. She brings forward the law against the contriving alien (342–350), and thus throws Shylock into a position where he must, she thinks, beg for mercy. She ends as she began, by emphasizing this idea.