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Up to this point any one who is not misled by detail must see the “poetical justice,” or equity, of the procedure. A novice may, perhaps, grasp Shakespeare's meaning better than an expert; for the poet is appealing to the average intelligence.
But now observe Shylock's consistency. He does not-beg for mercy. He cannot learn the lesson all at once. At this point he must be physically and mentally exhausted. The strain to which he has been subjected has been torturing. His keenest desire (incidentally evil) has appeared to be on the verge of fulfillment; and from triumph he has been hurled to ruin. A wreck, but still with something of dignity in his bearing, as of one who justifies himself, he staggers from the courtroom. The insolence with which Gratiano's tongue lashes the retreating figure, creates in us a certain sympathy with the defeated man. His nature is frightfully perverted; but his wrongs have been many. The
mercy” accorded to him by the Gentiles has been of an imperfect kind. To the Jew it must appear more like malice than mercy. They have proceeded according to their light. His life has been spared by the Duke; he has been allowed to keep half of his goods; the other half is to be held in trust for him by Antonio, and to pass at his death to Lorenzo. But there are two conditions; both imposed in kindness rather than in cruelty by Antonio, who shows no sign of undue exultation over his foe. What he does show is his utter inability, last as first, to take Shylock's point of view. The case is hopeless; between these two, in the state of society depicted, there can be no understanding. Had Shakespeare represented it otherwise, he would have falsified the facts.
Brief interludes fill necessary pauses in the main action. Notice the naturalness of these ; the mournful music of Antonio's words to Bassanio, 113–114; the passion of Gratiano, dashing itself to pieces against Shylock’s grim determination like a wave breaking against a rock, 119-138; Antonio's beautiful farewell, 259–275; the touch of comedy in Bassanio's extravagant protest, 276–281, and Portia's comment with its magnanimous humor. At the last, pure comedy links the scene to the delightful Fifth Act.
Act V, sc. i. — Little comment on the romantic charm of this act can be required. The jest of the rings is, in the early editions, carried farther than would be possible in the present day; this does not, however, indicate a fault in Portia's taste, but rather in the taste of the time. Shakespeare himself seems to enter into the irresponsible gayety of the scene; he permits himself to add, in the recovery of Antonio's argosies, an impossible turn to the plot. He leaves us, after the suspense of the trial, in an ideal atmosphere of mirth and peace and joy, of poetry and beauty and loyal love. Over all is the large sky, the pure moonlight, the eternal harmony of the sacred stars.