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Ralph Nickleby money-grubbing that is vulgarly imputed to Shylock.
In any case, a fair analysis of the play cannot fail Christian to show us that the conduct of Shylock is, to say the
the Jews. least of it, not more ignoble than that of the virtuous Christians with whom he has to deal. A horde of them have wronged him to the utmost of their power; not only so, but the whole of his life, like the entire history of his people, has been one long story of similar bitter oppression. That oppression was inflicted by men who professed a religion which condemned every part of their conduct, but who, without a blush, expected their enemies to live by the code which they themselves consistently violated. Towards the close of the fifteenth century, the Jews of Spain had been read a precious and memorable lesson in the justice and fidelity of a Christian State: they had been robbed, decimated, betrayed and banished. At the moment when Shakespeare's play was first produced, as we have seen, the populace of London was clamouring to revenge upon all the Jews among them the sins, or the alleged sins, of one individual member of the race. And in the face of all this Shylock is treated to the crowning and exquisite hypocrisy of the appeal of Portia and the “generosity” of Antonio! No wonder his last words betray a feeling of nausea :
IV i 389 f.
I pray you, give me leave to go from hence;
Thus ends the tragedy of Shylock, in whose woeful figure is epitomized the history of his race, from the days of the Egyptian captivity to the last Russian pogrom and the grinding of the Jews of Poland
Effect of persecution on persecutors.
and Galicia beneath the alternate Juggernaut cars of Russia, Austria and Germany. Well may Mr. Zangwill in his sonnet complain :
A whit long-spun, O Lord, the epic play, The Wandering Jew in nineteen hundred acts! But the evil that men do recoils on them. A persecuted people inevitably develops characteristic vices, but also it inevitably obtains a “capable and wide revenge,” because the infliction of persecution creates corresponding faults in the ascendant race that is guilty of it. Socrates of old was scientifically sound, and not sentimental, when he declared it worse to do evil than to suffer it. (The craft and the cunning of Shylock are, in biological jargon, protective devices, necessitated by his struggle for existence. A blind self-righteousness overtakes those who persecute him, and judge him, by a standard which they never apply to themselves, for the faults themselves have engendered. This is the nemesis of their own headlong inhumanity.
That the ill-tutored countryman of Stratford, the foundling of fortune, exiled from those privileges and refinements of life which he would have graced and honoured, and doomed to live "by public means that public manners breed," — that he should have seen the pitiful irony of this situation, that his catholic sympathy should have pierced through the adamantine barrier of prejudice erected between Jew and Christian, is one of the greatest moral triumphs in the whole of his unmatched achievement. Having attained it,- having strained his own soul, and harrowed the more sensitive among his audience, by his courageous presentation of this terrific indictment, he turns to laughter and revelry to refresh himself,
Shakespeare's moral greatness.
and to assuage the sympathetic sorrow of his humaner auditors.
Portia, after her little hour of usurped eminence, after unwittingly judging herself and the Christian world by the judgment she passes upon Shylock, resigns her borrowed robes and abdicates her unconsciously symbolic function. She becomes again the human girl, her heart full of the joy of prosperous love and of the playful mischief which delights in vexing the object of its affection. From the grateful Bassanio she beguiles the ring which she herself Episode of had given him after pledging him never to part with the rings. • it. Nerissa, following the example of her mistress in this as she had done in her marriage, plays the like trick upon Gratiano. And then the magician waves his wand again and transfers the scene to the happy bower of Belmont, where, in the serene twilight, Lorenzo and his love pour out their souls in poetry to the sound of music. The end is the resolution of all perplexities, the enlightenment of Bassanio and Gratiano as to the triumphant strategy of their wives, and the completion of that edifice of happiness erected over the mangled spirit of Shylock.
To enjoy the play as comedy, we must place our- Conditions selves unreservedly at the point of view of an aver
ciating the age bourgeois in the Elizabethan audience. We must play as accept Bassanio and Lorenzo as Portia and Jessica comedy. accept them. We must suspend the moral judgment which, from our modern standpoint, we cannot help passing upon the spendthrift who unfolds to Antonio the story of his prodigal squandering of his estate, I ii 120 ff and and the heiress-hunting plot by which he proposes to recoup his fortunes. We must forget the ingratitude of Jessica towards Shylock, and the still meaner baseness which could prompt Lorenzo to
XVI-century and XX-century ethics.
suggest the filching of Shylock's substance. The play grows, indeed, all the finer when we appreciate the subtle irony to which I have directed the reader's attention. But the recognition of the tragedy does not debar us from the joy of appreciating the lyric happiness of the lovers, and the deft magic of the dramatist's spontaneous poetry.
The principles of morality are unchanging, but its concrete and positive rules vary from age to age. I have here depicted Bassanio and his compeers as any man whose conscience is enlightened by the morality of to-day must see them. But it would have been unjust to expect them to see themselves and their conduct in this light, or to expect an Elizabethan audience so to see them. In the last hundred years we have learned something of the inequity of making a wife and a wife's substance the mere chattels of a husband. The claims of the moral personality of woman as an autonomous spirit are now self-evident to us, and we know precisely what to think of the fortune-hunter who makes the legal theft of his wife's property his means of access to a life of selfindulgent idleness. It goes without saying that in twentieth-century England or America no man would dream of acting as Bassanio did, even if he had the chance; or, if he did, no million-dollar heiress would dream of accepting him. Nevertheless, we must abstain from reading back into the benighted sixteenth century the ethical verdicts prompted by that fuller radiance in which we walk to-day.
Of the feminine characters in The Merchant of Venice, the leading figure, of course, is Portia. Having already admitted the injustice involved in the social status of woman in Shakespeare's time,
The selfsufficiency of Portia.
I would now confidently commend Portia as an object-lesson to those mistaken feminists who treat us to fancy pictures of woman in the past as the mere slave and toy of man. Portia is one of a worthy sisterhood, which includes Rosalind, Beatrice, Helena, Cordelia, Imogen and Perdita, who show us how alert-minded human beings can make of their very disadvantages the means of outward and inward triumph. Shakespeare's women are frequently the most efficient people in his plays. Nor is this true only of the good women. It is Lady Macbeth who, at the hour of crisis, is eyes and hands and will to her irresolute and vacillating husband. Shakespeare never showed greater insight into woman's character than when he depicted the clear-eyed Portia as knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it, and having the determination to use her knowledge to the full. The fainting dolls of later fiction and romance are a libellous caricature of what the eighteenth century used to call “the sex.”
John Stuart Mill has declared that one of the Feminine chief differences between men and women in the psychology. present stage of evolution is the greater power of women to react with sensitive alertness to the sudden demands of a concrete situation. The so-called intuitive power of woman,- that gift of rapid judgment, which reaches its conclusion so promptly that it cannot pause to analyze the steps by which it has travelled, — is the source of this alert efficiency. Bassanio, confronted with the news of Antonio's predicament, is helpless. His wife, on the contrary, is able immediately to devise the plot by which the merchant is to be saved; and, whatever we may think of its morality, we cannot deny it the praise of in