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later, that Shakespeare loathed the Jew usurer more than any character in all his plays. Here are the words:
Ant. I am as like to call thee so again,
Then Shylock makes peace, and proposes his modest penalty. Bassanio says:
You shall not seal to such a bond for me:
Antonio is perfectly careless and content: he says:
Content, i' faith: I'll seal to such a bond,
there is much kindness in the Jew.”
Antonio's heedless trust of other
and impatience are qualities most foreign to the merchant; but are shown again and again by Shakespeare's impersonations.
Perhaps it will be well here to prove once for all that Shakespeare did really hate the Jew. In the first place he excites our sympathy again and again for him on the broad grounds of common humanity; but the moment it comes to a particular occasion he represents him as hateful, even where a little thought would have taught him that the Jew must be at his best. It is a peculiarity of humanity which Shakespeare should not have overlooked, that all pariahs and outcasts display intense family affec
tion; those whom the world scouts and hates are generally at their noblest in their own homes. The pressure from the outside, Herbert Spencer would say, tends to bring about cohesion among the members of the despised caste. The family affection of the Jew, his kindness to his kindred, have become proverbial. But Shakespeare admits no such kindness in Shylock: when his daughter leaves Shylock one would think that Shakespeare would picture the father's desolation and misery, his sorrow at losing his only child; but here there is no touch of sympathy in gentle Shakespeare:
I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in her coffin!”
But there is even better proof than this: when Shylock is defeated in his case and leaves the Court penniless and broken, Shakespeare allows him to be insulted by a gentleman. Shylock becomes pathetic in his defeat, for Shakespeare always sympathized with failure, even before he came to grief himself:
Shy. Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:
“ Por. What mercy can you render him, Antonio?
Gra. A halter gratis; nothing else for God's sake.” And then Antonio offers to quit the fine for onehalf his goods.” Utterly broken now, Shylock says: “I
pray you, give me leave to go from hence;
Duke. Get thee gone, but do it.
A brutal insult from a gallant gentleman to the broken Jew: it is the only time in all Shakespeare when a beaten and ruined man is so insulted.
Antonio, it must be confessed, is a very charming sketch of Shakespeare when he was about thirty years of age, and it is amusing to reflect that it is just the rich merchant with all his wealth at hazard whom he picks out to embody his utter contempt of riches. The “royal merchant," as he calls him, trained from youth to barter, is the very last man in the world to back such a venture as Bassanio’smuch less would such a man treat money with disdain. But Shakespeare from the beginning of the
. play put himself quite naïvely in Antonio's place, and so the astounding antinomy came to expression.
IVER since Wordsworth wrote that the sonnets
were the key to Shakespeare's heart, it has been taken for granted (save by those who regard even the sonnets as mere poetical exercises) that Shakespeare's real nature is discovered in the sonnets more easily and more surely than in the plays. Those readers who have followed me so far in examining his plays will hardly need to be told that I do not agree with this assumption. The author whose personality is rich and complex enough to create and vitalize a dozen characters, reveals himself more fully in his creations than he can in his proper per
It was natural enough that Wordsworth, a great lyric poet, should catch Shakespeare's accent better in his sonnets than in his dramas; but that is owing to Wordsworth's limitations. And if the majority of later English critics have agreed with Wordsworth, it only shows that Englishmen in general are better judges of lyric than of dramatic work.
We have the greatest lyrics in the world; but our dramas, with the exception of Shakespeare's, are not remarkable. And in that modern extension of the drama, the novel, we are distinctly inferior to the French and Russians. This inferiority must be ascribed to the new-fangled prudery of language and thought which emasculates all our later fiction; but as that prudery is not found in our lyric verse it is evident that here alone the inspiration is full and rich enough to overflow the limits of epicene convention.
Whether the reader agrees with me or not on this point, it may be accepted that Shakespeare revealed himself far more completely in his plays than as a lyric poet. Just as he chose his dramatic subjects with some felicity to reveal his many-sided nature, so he used the sonnets with equal artistry to discover f that part of himself which could hardly be rendered objectively. Whatever is masculine in a man can
be depicted superbly on the stage, but his feminine 7 qualities—passionate self-abandonment, facile forgivingness, self-pity-do not show well in the dramatic struggle. What sort of a drama would that be in which the hero would have to confess that when in the vale of years he had fallen desperately in love with a girl, and that he had been foolish enough to send a friend, a young noble, to plead his cause, with the result that the girl won the friend and gave herself to him? The protagonist would earn mocking laughter and not sympathy, and this Shakespeare no doubt foresaw. Besides, to Shakespeare, this story, which is in brief the story of the sonnets, was terribly real and intimate, and he felt instinctively that he could not treat it objectively; it was too near him, too exquisitely painful for that.
At some time or other life overpowers the strongest of us, and that defeat we all treat lyrically; when the deepest depth in us is stirred we cannot feign, or depict ourselves from the outside dispassionately; we can only cry our passion, our pain and our despair; this once we use no art, simple truth is all we seek to reach. The crisis of Shakespeare's life, the hour of agony and bloody sweat when his weakness found him out and life's handicap proved too