Imágenes de páginas

before you all, thou shalt believe me with a right knowledge of that I shall say to you. Ye have heard how much I have proffered this merchant for the life of this knight, and he forsaketh all and asketh for more, and that liketh me much. And therefore, lordings that be here, hear me what I shall say. Ye know well that the knight bound him by letter that the merchant should have power to cut his flesh from the bones, but there was no covenant made of shedding of blood. Thereof was nothing spoken; and, therefore, let him set hand on him anon; and if he shed any blood with his shaving of the flesh, forsooth, then shall the king have good law upon him. And when the merchant heard this, he said, Give me my money, and I forgive my action. Forsooth, quoth she, thou shalt not have one penny, for before all this company I proffered to thee all that I might, and thou forsook it, and saidst loudly, I shall have my covenant; and therefore do thy best with him, but look that thou shed no blood, I charge thee, for it is not thine, and no covenant was thereof. Then the merchant, seeing this, went away confounded; and so was the knight's life saved, and no penny paid.”

In Mr. Douce's elaborate treatise upon the most singular collection of ancient stories, the 'Gesta Romanorum,' we have the following analysis of the ninety-ninth chapter of the English Gesta ;' which, Mr. Douce says, “is obviously the story which supplied the caskets of “The Merchant of Venice.” “A marriage was proposed between the son of Anselmus, emperor of Rome, and the daughter of the King of Apulia. The young lady in her voyage was shipwrecked and swallowed by a whale. In this situation she contrived to make a fire and to wound the animal with a knife, so that he was driven towards the shore, and slain of an earl named Pirius, who delivered the princess and took her under his protection. On relating her story, she was conveyed to the emperor. In order to prove whether she was worthy to receive the hand of his son, he placed before her three vessels. The first was of gold, and filled with dead men's bones; on it was this inscription—Who chooses me shall find what he deserves.' The second was of silver, filled with earth, and thus inscribed

-Who chooses me shall find what nature covets.' The third vessel was of lead, but filled with precious stones; it had this


inscription—Who chooses me shall find what God hath pluced.' The emperor then commanded her to choose one of the vessels, informing her that, if she made choice of that which should profit herself and others, she would obtain his son; if of what should profit neither herself nor others, she would lose him. The princess, after praying to God for assistance, preferred the leaden vessel. The emperor informed her that she had chosen as he wished, and immediately united her with his son.”

Thus, then, out of these very ancient legends, and their Italian adaptations, Shakspere has worked up one of the most attractive of his plays.

A German critic, Dr. Ulrici, has presented to us the entire plot of “The Merchant of Venice' under a very original aspect. His object has been to discover, what he maintains had not been previously discovered, the fundamental idea of the drama—the link which holds together all its apparently heterogeneous parts. The critic first passes the several characters in review. Antonio is the noble and great-hearted, yielding to a passive melancholy, produced by the weight of a too agitating life of action; Bassanio, somewhat inconsiderate, but generous and sensible, is the genuine Italian gentleman, in the best sense of the word; Portia is most amiable, and intellectually rich; Jessica is a child of nature, lost in an oriental love enthusiasm. The critic presents these characteristics in a very few words; but his portrait of Shylock is more elaborate. He is the well-struck image of the Jewish character in general—of the fallen member of a race dispersed over the whole earth, and enduring long centuries of persecution. Their firmness had become obstinacy; their quickness of intellect, craft; their love of possessions, a revolting avarice. “Nothing,” says Dr. Ulrici, “had kept its rank in their universal decay, but the unconquerable constancy, the dry mummy-like tenacity of the Jewish nature. So appears Shylock—a pitiable ruin of a great and significant by-past time—the glimmering ash-spark of a faded splendour which can no longer warm or preserve, but can yet burn or destroy. We are as little able to deny him our compassion, as we can withhold our disgust against his modes of thinking and acting.”


VOL. y.

[ocr errors]

Throughout many of Shakspere's plays, according to Dr. Ulrici, the leading fundamental idea, concentrated in itself, is so intentionally hidden—the single makes itself so decidedly important, and comes before us so free, and self-sustained, and complete,—that the entire work is occasionally exposed to the ungrounded reproach of looseness of plan and want of coherency. On the other hand, there are sufficient intimations of the meaning of the whole scattered throughout; so that whoever has in some degree penetrated into the depths of the Shaksperean art cannot well go wrong. The sepse and significancy of the process between Antonio and the Jew rest clearly upon the old juridical precept, Summum jus, summa injuria (the strictest law the highest injustice). Shylock has, clearly, all that is material, except justice, on his side; but, while he seizes and follows his right to the letter, he falls through it into the deepest and most criminal injustice; and the same injustice, through the internal necessity which belongs to the nature of sin, falls back destructively on his own head. The same aspect in which this principle is presented to us in its extremest harshness, in the case of Shylock, shows itself in various outbursts of light and shadow throughout all the remaining elements of this drama. The arbitrary will of her father, which fetters Portia's inclination, and robs her of all participation in the choice of a husband, rests certainly upon paternal right; but even this right, when carried to an extreme, becomes the highest injustice. The injustice which lies in the enforcement of this paternal right would have fallen with tragical weight, if chance had not conducted it to a fortunate issue. The flight and marriage of Jessica, against her father's will, comprehends a manifest injustice. Nevertheless, who will condemn her for having withdrawn herself from the power of such a father? In the sentence laid upon the Jew, by which he is compelled to recognise the marriage of his daughter, is again reflected the precept-Summum jus, summa injuria ; right and unright are here so closely driven up into the same limit, that they are no longer separated, but immediately pass over one to the other. Thus we see that the different, and apparently heterogeneous, events unite themselves in the whole into one point.


[graphic][merged small][graphic][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »