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tacks with grave, argumentative, and per: suasive elocution: but, endowed with the powers of wit, she employs them in raillery, banter, and repartee.
Ben. What, my dear lady Disdain! are you yet living 2
Beat. Is it possible Disdain should die, while she hath such meet food to feed upon, as signor Benedict ?- The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well; but civil count, civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion.
Her smartness, however, proceeds from wit rather than from humour. She does not attempt, or is not so successful in ludicrous description, as in lively sayings.
Beat. My cousin tells him in his ear, that he is in her heart.
Claud. And so she does, cousin.
Beat. Good lord for alliance! thus goes every one to the world, but I, and I am sun-burned; I may sit in a corner, and cry heigh-ho for a husband.
Pe. Lady Beatrice, I will get you one.
Another distinction, not unconnected with the preceding, is, that though lively, she is nevertheless serious, and though witty, grave. Possessed of talents for wit, she seems to employ them for the purposes of defence, or disguise. She conceals the real and thoughtful seriousness of her disposi. tion by a shew of vivacity.
Howsoever she may speak of them, she treats her own concerns, and those of her friends, with grave consideration.
A compliment, and the enticement of a playful allusion, almost betrays her into an actual confession.
Ped. In faith, lady, you have a merry heart.
Beat. Yea, my lord, I thank it, poor fool, it keeps on the windy side of care.
She is desirous of being reputed very sprightly and disdainful: but it is not of the qualities which we chiefly possess that we are usually most ostentatious. Congreve 'wished to be thought a fine gentleman; Swift would be a politician ; and Milton a divine. What Beatrice, who is really amiable, would have herself thought to be, appears in the following passage, where Hero, pretending not to know she was present, describes her in her own hearing :
Nature never form'd a woman's heart
Tender, affectionate, and ingenuous ; yet conscious of more weakness than Miranda, or not like her, educated in a desert island, she is aware of mankind, affects to be mirthful when she is most in earnest, and employs her wit when she is most afraid. Nor is such dissimulation, if it may be so termed, to be accounted peculiarly characteristical of female manners.
It may be discovered in men of probity and tenderness, and who are actuated by serious principles ; but who are rendered timid, either from some con: scious imbecility; or who become suspicious by an early, too early an observation of de. signing persons. If such men are endowed with so much liveliness of invention, as, in the society to which they belong, to be reckoned witty or humourous, they often employ this talent as an engine of defence. Without it, they would perhaps fly from society like the melancholy Jaques, who wished to have, but did not possess, 'a very
distinguished, though some portion of such ability. Thus, while they seem to annoy, they only wish to prevent: their mock encounter is a real combat: while they seem for ever in the field, they conceive themselves always besieged: though perfectly serious, they never appear in earnest : and though they affect to set all men at defiance; and though they are not without understanding, yet they tremble for the censure, and are tortured with the sneer of a fool. Let them come to the school of Shakespeare. He will give them, as he gives many others, an useful lesson. He will shew them an exemplary and natural reformation or exertion. Beatrice is not to be ridiculed out of an honourable porpose ; nor to forfeit, for fear of a witless joke, a connection with a person who is “ of a noble strain, of approved “ valour, and confirmed honesty.”
4. Portia is akin both to Beatrice and Isabella. She resembles them both in
gentleness of disposition. Like Beatrice, she is spirited, lively, and witty. Her description of some of her lovers, is an obvious illustration. “ First, there is the Neapoli" tan prince,” &c. Her vivacity, however, is not so brilliant, and approaches rather to sportive ingenuity than to wit. Her situation renders her less grave, when in a serious mood, than Isabella: but, like her, she has intellectual endowment. She is observant, penetrating, and acute. Her address is dexterous, and her apprehension extensive. Though exposed to circumstances that might excite indignation, she never betrays any violent emotion, or unbecoming expression of anger. But Isabella, on account of her religious seclusion, having had less intercourse with the world, though of a graver, and apparently of a more sedate disposition, expresses her displeasure with reproach; and inveighs with the holy wrath of a cloister. To the acquaintance which both of them have of theology, Portia superadds some knowledge of law; and displays a dexterity of evasion, along with an ingenuity in detecting a latent or unobserved meaning, which do her no discredit as a barrister. We may observe too, that the principal business in the Merchant of Venice is conducted by Portia.