Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

books also speak of interest of money; and in the course of a minute examination, on these points, of the laws and customs of Moses, as well as of those propounded for the primitive Christians, the Author was forcibly struck by the recollection of certain passages in Shakespeare which seemed to him to have been derived from sacred sources.

These labours and recollections originated the idea of an Essay on the character of Shylock; and as the Author's former publications on the varieties in Mania, illustrated in Lear, Edgar, Hamlet, and Ophelia, were favourably received by numerous readers, he has been induced to submit the present paper also for public opinion.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

SHYLOCK.

ACT J. SCENE III.

Of the many splendid Essays on the vices and frailties springing from human passions, which Shakespeare has furnished in the course of his plays, the character of Shylock, in the Merchant of Venice, may be considered as the masterpiece. It has been truly said, that “His language, allusions, and ideas, are every where so appropriate to a Jew, that Shylock might be exhibited for an exemplar of that peculiar people."-Still the reader of the play will not find his expectation of superior pleasure realized, by witnessing its performance on the stage.-For the last fifty years, Shylock has been portrayed as a Being of coarse manners, servile habits, and most vindictive temper; penurious in his ways, griping in his dealings, unjust in his practices, and so ferocious in his nature, as to be devoid of those common feelings of tenderness towards kindred, with which even the brute Creation are generally

B

endowed. From his first entrance to his final exit, he has been exhibited in one continuous state of snappish acerbity, whether in intercourse with Bassanio, Antonio, his Daughter, his Servant, or his Friend.-Nay, he has been divested of even the negative merit of superior cunning, by being made to propose the forfeiture of a pound of Christian flesh, in a manner so seriously earnest and vindictive towards Antonio, as must have immediately defeated his own object, by at once exposing to his intended victim the malice and cruelty of his secret intentions. It remains to be considered, whether “ this is the Jew, which Shakespeare drew," and intended to offer as an exemplar of a whole people; or whether the picture has not derived its colouring from the prejudices of those, who, like the sculptor in the fable, put the Man astride the Lion, as conclusive evidence of superior strength, without reflecting, that if a lion had carved the work, he would have put the lion upon the man.

From such a being as the Shylock of the last half century, every man would have turned with disgust and horror, and Bassanio instead of courting his assistance, would have paid an extra rate of interest to any of the other usurers with which Venice then abounded, rather than have come in contact with a reptile so openly repulsive, vindictive, and unnatural. In short, the many eminent Actors who have personated Shylock, seem never

to have taken the trouble to look into the motives, the allusions, the passions, and the prejudices, which form the mainsprings of the character.

It may here be useful to refer to the sources from which it is supposed Shakespeare drew the leading incident of his play.-One commentator has pointed to a story in the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, a novelist, who wrote in 1378-another, to a persian manuscript; in both of which 'a Jew is made the insatiable creditor ; but it is scarcely probable that Shakespeare had recourse to either of these far-fetched authorities, when the following anecdote is related to have passed in his own time, and almost under his own observation.—It should be premised that those who have made it their business to ascertain the order in which Shakespeare's plays were written, have dated the Merchant of Venice in 1594.

In 1585, Queen Elizabeth's Admiral, Francis Drake, made himself master of St. Domingo; and the first report of that event which reached Rome is said to have been conveyed in a private letter to Paul Secchi, a Christian merchant in that city, who finding it to his interest to have the report believed as true communicated it to Sampson Ceneda, a Jew usurer, who, however, for purposes of his own, threw discredit on the story, and pretended to disbelieve it; whereupon the Christian, half in sport and half in passion, said, *I'll willingly pay you a thousand crowns, if it be

false, provided you will let me cut off a pound of

your Jew's-flesh if it prove true;' intending, as it is said, to cut it from “ that part of his body which it is not necessary to mention.”—The Jew accepted the wager, and articles were signed. The report proving true, the Christian revelled in the joke of nicking the Jew in his most fleshy part. However, the matter coming to the ears of Pope Sixtus V. he summoned the parties before him, and said, “When contracts are made, it is just they should be fulfilled, as we intend this shall. Take a knife therefore, Secchi, and cut a pound of flesh from any part you please of the Jew's body: we should advise you however to be careful; for if you cut but a scruple or grain more or less than your due, you shall certainly be hanged."-The merchant at these words became very much alarmed, and protested it was far from his thoughts to insist on a performance of the contract, which he requested might be destroyed. Sixtus then asked each whether he was content, and on being answered: “Yes,” replied, “ But we are not content, nor is there sufficient satisfaction made to our laws : we desire to know what authority you have to lay such wagers ? The subjects of Princes are the property of the State, and have no right to dispose of their bodies, nor any part of them, without the express consent of their Sovereign." He accordingly condemned them both to death,

« PředchozíPokračovat »