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MERCHANT OF VENICE.
This is a play that, in spite of the change of manners, and of prejudices, still holds undisputed possession of the stage. Shakspeare's malignant has outlived Mr. Cumberland's benevolent Jew. In proportion as Shylock has ceased to be a popular bugbear, “baited with the rabble's curse," he becomes a half-favourite with the philosophical part of the audience, who are disposed to think that Jewish revenge is at least as good as Christian injuries. Shylock is a good hater ; "a man no less sinned against than sinning." .If he carries his revenge too far, yet he has strong grounds for “ the lodged hate he bears Anthonio,” which he explains with equal force of eloquence and reason. He seems the deposi. tary of the vengeance of his race; and though the long habit of brooding over daily insults and injuries has crusted over his temper with inveterate misanthropy, and hardened him against the contempt of mankind, this adds but little to the triumphant pretensions of his enemies. There is a strong, quick, and deep sense of justice mixed up with the | gall and bitterness of his resentment. The constant apprehension of being burnt alive, plundered, banished, reviled, and trampled on, might be supposed to sour the most forbearing nature, and to take something from that “milk of human kindness,
with which his persecutors contemplated his ini dignities. The desire of revenge is almost inseparable from the sense of wrong; and we can hardly help sympathizing with the proud spirit, hid beneath his “ Jewish gaberdine," stung to madness by repeated undeserved provocations, and labouring to throw off the load of obloquy and oppression heaped upon him and all his tribe, by one desperate act of " lawful" revenge, till the ferociousness of the means by which he is to execute bis purpose, and the pertinacity with which he adheres to it, turn us against him, but even at last, when disappointed of the sanguinary revenge with which he had glutted his hopes, and exposed to beggary and contempt by the letter of the law on which he had insisted with so little remorse, we pity him, and think him hardly dealt with by his judges. In all his answers and retorts upon his adversaries, he has the best not only of the argument but of the question, reasoning on their own principles and practice. They are so far from allowing of any measure of equal dealing, of common justice or humanity between themselves and the Jew, that even when they come to ask a favour of him, and Shylock reminds them that “ on such a day they spit upon him, another spurned bim, another called him dog,
and for these curtesies request he'll lend them se much monies.”—Anthonio, his old enemy, instead of any acknowledgment of the shrewdness and jugtice of his remonstrance, which would have been preposterous in a respectable Catholick merchant in those times, threatens him with a repetition of the same treatment
“I am as like to call thee so again,
After this, the appeal to the Jew's mercy, as if there were any common principle of right and wrong between them, is the rankest hypocrisy, or the blindest prejudice ; and the Jew's answer to one of Anthonio's friends, who asks him what his pound of forfeit flesh is good for, is irresistible
"To hait fish withal ; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgrac'd me, and hinder'd me of half a mil. lion, laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains, scorn'd my nation, thwarted my bargains, cool'd my friends, heated mine enemies ; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes; hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions ; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer that a Christian is ! If you prick us, do we not bleed ? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility ? revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? why revenge. The villany you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."
The whole of the trial scene, both before and after the entrance of Portia, is a masterpiece of drama
tick skill. The legal acuteness, the passionate declamations, the sound maxims of jurisprudence, the wit and irony interspersed in it, the fluctuations of hope and fear in the different persons, and the completeness and suddenness of the catastrophe, cannot be surpassed. Shylock, who is his own counsel, defends himself well, and is triumphant on all the general topicks that are urged against him, and only fails through a legal flaw. Take the following as an instance:-
“Shylock. What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
fie upon your law !
The keenness of his revenge awakes all his faculties; and he beats back all opposition to his purpose, whether grave or gay, whether of wit or argument, with an equal degree of earnestness and self-possession. His character is displayed as distinctly in other less prominent parts of the play, and we may collect from a few sentences the history of his life his descent and origin, his thrift and domestick economy, his affection for his daughter, whom he loves next to his wealth, his courtship and his first present to Leah
his wife ! “I would not have parted with it” (the ring which he first gave her) "for a wilderness of monkies !” What a fine Hebraism is implied in this expression !
Portia is not a very great favourite with us ; neither are we in love with her maid, Nerissa. Portia has a certain degree of affectation and pedantry about her, which is very unusual in Shakspeare's : women, but which perhaps was a proper qualification for the office of a “civil doctor,” which she undertakes and executes so successfully. The speech about Mercy is very well; but there are a thousand finer ones in Shakspeare. We do not admire the scene of the caskets; and object entirely to the Black Prince Morocchius. “We should like Jessica better if she. had not deceived and robbed her father, and Lorenzo, if he had not married a Jewess, though he thinks he has a right to wrong a Jew. The dialogue between this newly married couple by moonlight, beginning - On such a night,” &c. is a collection of classical elegancies. Launcelot, the Jew's man, is an honest fellow. The dilemma in which he describes himself placed between his “conscience and the fiend,” the one of which advises him to run away from his master's service and the other to stay in it, is exquisitely humorous.
Gratiano is a very admirable subordinate character. He is the jester of the piece : yet one speech of his, in his own defence, contains a whole yolume of wisdom.
“ Anthonio. I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,