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O’er the lake's smiling surface when kissed by the moon-
hil at sunrise-in still woods at noon-
But Oh, never, Oh, never have tones such as thine-
If the fragrance of spring when the dew's on the ground,
If the looks of the lovely-if virtue and worth-
It is strange how rarely the character of Shylock has been justly represented on the stage. I have seen it performed by many respectable actors, but Kean was the only one who personated the Jew with judgment and fidelity ;-other actors seemed to forget that Shylock is supposed to have lived in a time and country in which his tribe were bitterly persecuted, and kept in a state of subjection and alarm. The Jews were regarded as a species of moral lepers, with whom it was dangerous and disgraceful to associate. Shylock himself repeatedly avows, that he had been exposed to the most intolerable insults from the Christians, and until the incident of the bond, which showed more ingenuity than boldness, he does not appear to have once dared to retaliate. Had he attempted to take the law into his own hands, he would have been crushed like some obnoxious animal. His tribe were despised and defenceless outcasts. The Christians thought it no sin to treat them as pariahs. Antonio
“A kinder gentleman walks not the earth"had spit upon Shylock's beard and called him dog ; yet he applies to him in his necessities without a moment’s hesitation, as if nothing likely to excite the active hostility of a Jew had occurred between them. He even replies to Shylock, when he reminds him of these indignities,
“ I am as like to call thee so agam,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too." He then continues the pecuniary negociation, and when Shylock offers him the money, and says he will take “no doit of usance,” but merely stipulate for the bond in “a merry sport,” this un
natural and apparently slave-like courtesy raises neither surprize nor suspicion in Antonio's mind. Yet the Merchant of Venice must have been sufficiently familiar with the character and condition of Shylock's tribe. It is evident that the Jews were looked upon as a people so thoroughly humiliated, that no injury or insult from a Christian was likely to raise in their breasts so noble a feeling as that of indignation. If Shylock had been bold and arrogant in his general bearing, the circumstance would have been particularly noticed by the Christians, and his “ merry bond" would have been suspected. A consciousness of the supreme contempt in which the Christians held his countrymen, is the main cause of the spleen and bitterness of Shylock's heart. Even Antonio, entirely forgot his own generous nature when he came in contact with an Israelite. Shylock justly complains of him :
“He hath disgraced me, and hindered me of half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated my enemies, and what's his reason ? -I am a Jew?"
Shakespeare borrowed the double ground-work of the Merchant of Venice chiefly from old Italian novels*, but he was doubtless
* He appears to have taken the incidents of this play from different sources, and not exclusively from Italian works. At all events they are to be found in a variety of publications, and in more than one language. Dr. Johnson says that the leading facts are taken from a story in the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, a novelist who wrote in 1378. The story was published in English. A vast number of Italian novels were translated into English in Shakespeare's time, and he appears to have made a very free and a very admirable use of them. Warton (in his Observations on Spenser) gives a fragment of an old English Ballad from which he thinks Shakespeare took the circumstance of the bond, and the Ballad is reprinted entire in the Connoisseur. It is curious that in the Life of Pope Sixtus V. translated from the Italian of Gregorio Leti by Mr. Farnworth, there is a similar story with the chief circumstance reversed, for it is the Christian who insists upon the forfeit pound of flesh from the Jew. The story, with variations, is to be found perhaps in almost every part of the world.
Thomas Monro, when an Ensign at Tanjore, sent Mr. Malone a similar story of a Jew and a Musalman, translated from an old and imperfect Persian manuscript.
more or less influenced in the filling up and finishing of his sketch of the character of the Jew by a regard to the prejudices of an English audience of that period. If he had made him bold, blustering, and independent, the poet's contemporaries would have thought the character unnatural. Such a portrait would have been unpopular even in a much later day.
It was in vain that Cumberland pourtrayed the character of Abraham Abrahams in the Observer, and wrote the play of The Benevolent Jew. Neither Sheva nor Abraham Abrahams has made any impression on the minds of the Christians, who still contemplate with a malicious triumph the revengeful but unfortunate Shylock, who is at least as much “ sinned against as sinning." Kean always remembered Shylock's true condition as the member of a feeble and despised community, and the habits which long subjection to the "proud man's contumely" engenders in the noblest natures. It is worthy of particular notice, that Shylock never ventures to fling back those abusive epithets which sting his own heart to madness. When the Christians spit upon him and call him "cut throat dog.” he simply reasons and remonstrates with them on their gross injustice, and hazards no expression that would be likely to arouse their serious vengeance. His invectives are more general than theirs, and less personally offensive. In the pursuit of his own deep revenge, he takes an indirect and insidious course, and endeavours to entrap an enemy too powerful to combat openly. When he thinks he has him in his toils, he begins to assume a somewhat more confident tone and a bolder bearing, which gradually increase as Antonio's difficulties become more inextricable, and the legal advantages over him appear more decided. It is many years since I saw Kean in Shylock, but I have still a lively recollection of the truth of keeping which he displayed throughout. The Jew's voice and manner grew gradually firmer and more daring as he appeared to approach the consummation of his desires, but he never hazarded a gratuitous
provocation, and he never stormed. He seemed to think his whole object included in the power of his bond. He looked and spoke as if he felt that were he to lose that, he would lose every thing, and sink again into comparative insignificance and contempt. When Gratiano throws out a series of violent invectives, and exclaims,
“0, be thou damned, inexorable dog !"
Shylock contents himself with the cool reply : “ Till thou canst rail the seal from off my
bond Thou but offend'st thy lungs to speak so loud; Repair thy wit good youth, or it will fall
To cureless ruin. I stund here for law.” The generality of actors, however, mistake the Jew's temperament and manner. They make him a passionate and blustering bully; whereas he was sullen, cautious, and deliberate. not continually hurried away by gusts of passion, nor was it any sudden and unlooked for provocation that had stirred up the deepest and worst parts of his nature. He was not inebriated
He had long brooded over the degradation of his tribe and his own personal wrongs.
“For sufferance is the badge of all his tribe.”
Had he been allowed the opportunity to "wreak his soul upon expression,” and pour on the heads of the Christians as many showers of scalding curses as he had received upon his own, his passion would have lost much of its intensity and virulence. Perfect freedom of speech would have operated like a safety-valve. But bearing as he did “the pelting of the pitiless storm” of the Christian's hatred, without daring to return it, his passions gained force by concealment and concentration. It was rarely that the tempest in his heart broke out in thunder.
The original force of his nature, and this conventional restraint, combined to give a unity and depth to his character, that were