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tracted revel, interspersed with the still fiercer joy of combat. The riotous torrent of their wit cannot be stopped even by the approach of death, as is shown by the punning of Mercutio when he is dying:
Romeo: Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much. III i 89 ff.
Mercutio: No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am pepper'd, I warrant, for this world. A plague o both
your houses ! Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death! A braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.
Romeo: I thought all for the best.
Mercutio: Help me into some house, Benvolio,
Already in The Two Gentlemen of Verona we Household noticed certain of the phrases which have since taken words. root in language. In Romeo and Juliet these begin to fall thick and fast: “He jests at scars that never II ii 1. felt a wound”; “Virtue itself turns vice being mis- II iii 21-2. applied, and vice sometimes by action dignified”; "a gentleman, Nurse, that loves to hear himself II iv 132. talk"; "a plague o' both your houses”; “What's in III i 85. a name? That which we call a rose by any other II ii 43-44. name would smell as sweet”; “my poverty but not Vi 75. my will consents.” This power of minting instantaneously phrases that will remain authentic currency so long as the language lasts, is one of the indisputable signs of genius; and that Shakespeare possessed it more richly than any English writer before or since is a fact that can be established by a
mere process of arithmetic. The Bible alone rivals his plays for the number of unimprovable quintessential phrases that form part of the mental stock of the English-speaking world.
“THE MERCHANT OF VENICE": THE TRAGEDY OF
tending first was or was not the first draft of Shakespeare's Mer- production. chant of Venice is uncertain, but in all probability it was. Just before the production, there had been an outburst of anti-Semitism in London, awakened by the execution of Dr. Roderigo Lopez, a Jewish physician of great distinction, who had been first in the service of the Earl of Leicester and afterwards in that of Queen Elizabeth. He was accused of having conspired to poison the Queen and a Spanish refugee named Antonio Perez. The evidence was incomplete, but he was convicted of treason. For a long time the Queen delayed signing his death-warrant, but at last, on June 7th, 1594, he was executed. Sir Sidney Lee points out the curious coincidence that a Life, Christian named Antonio should have caused the ed. 1916, ruin both of the greatest Jew in Elizabethan England and of the greatest Jew in the drama of that period. From this, as well as from the correspondence of the dates, he argues that Lopez was probably “the begetter of Shylock.”
The influence of Marlowe upon Shakespeare is Indebtedness traceable in this play for the last time on any con
to Marlowe. siderable scale. The characters of Shylock and
Jessica are obviously suggested by Barabas and his daughter Abigail in The Jew of Malta. Together with this proof of dependence, however, we have the demonstration of the way in which Shakespeare had outranged the powers of his exemplar. Shylock is a tragic and even a sublime figure as compared with the grasping brute depicted by Marlowe; and, as we shall see, there is clear evidence that Shakespeare had reacted both artistically and ethically against the vulgar race-prejudice which characterized his time, and which had been exhibited with particular grossness in connection with the death of Dr. Lopez,
The sources of The Merchant of Venice are definitely known, and consequently they furnish no occasion for a critical quarrel. The story of the Jewish creditor, the defaulting Christian debtor, and “the lady of Belmont” who rescues the latter, comes from a collection of Italian stories called Il Pecorone, by Ser Giovanni Fiorentini; that of the Caskets is told (not for the first time) in a Latin collection of stories entitled Gesta Romanorum. There is some evidence that these had been combined in a previous English play. Certain hints, too, were taken from a play (now lost) by Robert Wilson, entitled The Three Ladies of London, which had been printed in 1584.
In structure, The Merchant of Venice is one of the most elaborate and masterly of Shakespeare's productions. A whole series of separate actions are artistically combined, in such wise that they act and react upon one another in a manner that seems perfectly normal. Tragedy and comedy mingle as naturally as light and shadow,- as they do in real life, but as the classical tradition affirmed that they ought not to do in drama. We have the love-stories of Bassanio and Portia, of Gratiano and Nerissa, and
of Lorenzo and Jessica. We have the tragedy of
analysis. throws a flood of light upon the plays with which it deals, but also furnishes the basis of a liberal education in the science of inductive literary criticism.
Whether The Merchant of Venice is to be re- Comedy or garded as a comedy or as a tragedy depends in some tragedy? measure on the point of view of the reader. With his indifference to exact classification and his scorn for the iron rules of the Graeco-Roman tradition, Shakespeare may have deliberately left us in doubt upon the subject. His own favourite type of play is that which he has described by the mouth of Polonius in Hamlet: "tragical-comical-historical-pas- Hamlet toral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.” That II ii 375. phrase expresses his contempt for the established rules of technique, —“such conceits as clownage keeps in pay," —a contempt which saved him, and some of the other Elizabethans, from the deadening slavery in which the French classic drama of the seventeenth century remained fettered. When one holds the mirror up to nature, one does not find the reflection behaving itself according to the rules of any established school of art. And so of The Merchant of Venice we may say that it resembles life