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Poetic beauty of the finest order, character infinitely diversified, and an interesting plot, managed with consummate skill, combine to place the “ MERCHANT OF VENICE" in the foremost rank of Shakspeare's comedies. The gentle Portia contrasts with Shylock as the moon shines cloudless over the convulsions of an earthquake or the outbreak of a volcano. Antonio, Bassanio, and the other principals of the drama, are delineated with proportionate strength and grace; while the numerous subordinates are embellished with the same sort of careless magnificence that Nature often shews in those sequestered gems and shells and flowers, which never but by chance can greet the human eye. The glorious prodigality is manifested in the two “walking gentlemen” who, with Antonio, open the play; but still more strikingly is it displayed in the Princes of Arragon and Morocco. These disappointed suitors are not essential to the plot, and in representation are always omitted: but what gorgeous beauty is thrown into the scenes in which they figure! It seems the very wantonness of mental wealth, boundless in
generosity, because fearless of exhaustion. The comic portion of this surpassing drama is no less profuse and admirable. For Gratiano, we can hy no means concede to his demurer friends that “he speaks an infinite deal of nothing; more than any man in all Venice.” Venice must have been far more fortunate than huger cities that might be mentioned, if she contained a large proportion of roysterers “ whose bloods were warm within,” that talked to better purpose. All he lacks, is a little verbal discretion, in order to obtain that perfect measure of respect which the multitude, perhaps, never accord but to those whose staidness of demeanor seems to claim it as a right.
And thou, “whatever title please thine ear!” how shall we address thee? “Good Launcelot, or good Gobbo," or rather (as the phrase appears to be in choicest odor with thee), “ Young Master Launcelot!” Accord to us the honor of touching your worship’s eloquent palm. Let not so small a trifle as “fifteen wives, eleven maids, and nine widows,” induce thee to withhold thy blushing visage. Thou couldst not help the fates' decree. Although in danger of thy precious life " with the edge of a feather-bed,” thou hast nothing to apprehend from our pointless goose-quill, which even now weeps dingy tears in thinking of its inability to celebrate those various excellences which go so near to justify the infinite self-complacency of their delectable owner. When a convocation shall be called of Shakspeare's Clowns, believe it, dainty Master Launcelot, thy proper seat will not be on the lowest bench.
Shylock is a topic which it is scarcely safe to touch, unless “ with bated breath and whispering humbleness." Luckily, there cannot be two opinions as to the prodigious power displayed in his delineation. Against the Jews, as a nation, we entertain no idle prejudice: their ultra-trading character has been clearly forced upon them; for, in their palmy state, they were a people eminently pastoral. Still, we cannot subscribe to what may now bo termed the current theory, that all which was attempted by the individual Hebrew Shylock is to be considered merely fair and patriotic retaliation. To us, it is evident that his main source of hatred to the Merchant will be found in the remark, “ He lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.” Antonio, too, we venture to suggest, does not so much hate Shylock the Jew, as Shylock the extortioner, the cruel creditor, — although the complex idea is ever present to his mind: -“I oft delivered from his forfeiture many that have at times made moan to me." In execrating usurers, Antonio may have been a bad political economist; and, doubtless, he degraded himself far more than the object of his indignation, when he spat upon the Hebrew's gaberdine. Still the royal Merchant was generous and disinterested; and we are not quite content to see the current of sympathy setting wholly in favor of his opponent, merely because, in times less enlightened, it may have been urged too exclusively in the opposite direction.
The “ MERCHANT OF VENICE" was twice published in quarto, before its appearance in the folio collection Some account of the various sources of the plot will be found in the Notes.
Iterchant of Venire.
SCENE I. — Venice. A Street. | Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs,
To kiss her burial. Should I go to church, Enter ANTONIO, SALARINO, and SOLANIO.
And see the holy edifice of stone, Ant. In sooth, I know not why I am so sad : And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks, It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
Which, touching but my gentle vessel's side, But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, Would scatter all her spices on the stream; What stuff 't is made of, whereof it is born, Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks ; I am to learn;
And, in a word, but even now worth this, And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, And now worth nothing ? Shall I have the That I have much ado to know myself.
thought Salar. Your mind is tossing on the ocean; To think on this; and shall I lack the thought There, where your argosies with portly sail, That such a thing, bechanced, would make me Like signiors and rich burghers of the flood,
sad ? Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea,
But tell not me; I know Antonio Do overpeer the petty traffickers.
Is sad to think upon his merchandise. That courtesy to them, do them reverence,
Ant. Believe me, no : I thank my fortune for it, As they fly by them with their woven wings. My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, Solan. Believe me, sir, had I such venture Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate forth,
Upon the fortune of this present year: The better part of my affections would
Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad. Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still Salar. Why then you are in love. Plucking the grass, to know where sits the wind; Ant. Fie, fie ! Peering in maps for ports, and piers, and roads; Salar. Not in love neither? Then let us say, And every object that might make me fear
you are sad Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt
Because you are not merry: and 't were as easy Would make me sad.
For you to laugh and leap, and say you are merry Salar. My wind, cooling my broth, Because you are not sad. Now, by two-headed Would blow me to an ague when I thought
Janus, What harm a wind too great might do at sea. Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time: I should not see the sandy hour-glass run, Some that will evermore peep through their eyes, But I should think of shallows and of flats; And laugh, like parrots at a bag-piper; And see my wealthy Andrew docked in sand, And other of such vinegar aspéct,
That they 'll not shew their teeth in way of smile, As who should say, “I am Sir Oracle,
O, my Antonio, I do know of these,
That therefore only are reputed wise Solan. Here comes Bassanio, your most noble For saying nothing; who, I am very sure, kinsman,
If they should speak, would almost damn those ears Gratiano, and Lorenzo. Fare you well; Which, hearing them, would call their brothers, We leave you now with better company.
fools. Salar. I would have stayed till I had made you I'll tell thee more of this another time: merry,
But fish not with this melancholy bait, If worthier friends had not prevented me. For this fool's gudgeon, this opinion. —
Ant. Your worth is very dear in my regard. Come, good Lorenzo. — Fare ye well a while; I take it your own business calls on you, I'll end my exhortation after dinner. And you embrace the occasion to depart.
Lor. Well, we will leave you, then, till dinnerSalar. Good morrow, my good lords.
time : Bass. Good signiors both, when shall we laugh? | I must be one of these same dumb wise men, say when?
For Gratiano never lets me speak. You grow exceeding strange : must it be so ? Gra. Well, keep me company but two years Salar. We'll make our leisures to attend on
Thou shalt not know the sound of thine own tongue. [Exeunt SALARINO and SOLANIO. Ant. Farewell : I'll grow a talker for this gear. Lor. My lord Bassanio, since you have found Gra. Thanks, i' faith; for silence is only comAntonio,
mendable We two will leave you : but at dinner-time In a neat's tongue dried, and a maid not vendible I pray you have in mind where we must meet.
[Excunt GRATIANO and LORENZO. Bass. I will not fail you.
Ant. Is that anything, now? Gra. You look not well, Signior Antonio; Bass. Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothYou have too much respect upon the world : ing; more than any man in all Venice. His reaThey lose it that do buy it with much care. sons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels Believe me you are marvelously changed. of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them; Ant. I hold the world but as the world, Gra- and when you have them, they are not worth the tiano;
search. A stage where every man must play a part,
Ant. Well; tell me now, what lady is this same And mine a sad one.
To whom you swore a secret pilgrimage, Gra. Let me play the Fool:
That you to-day promised to tell me of ? With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come; Bass. 'T is not unknown to you, Antonio, And let my liver rather heat with wine,
How much I have disabled mine estate,
Nor do I now make moan to be abridged
Hath left me gaged. To you, Antonio,
And from your love I have a warranty With purpose to be dressed in an opinion To unburden all my plots and purposes, Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit;
How to get clear of all the debts I owe.