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WITH THE STAGE BUSINESS, CAST OF CHARACTERS,
COSTUMES, RELATIVE POSITIONS, ETC.
No. 18 ANN-STREET.
"The MERCHANT of Ver ICE," ranks deservedly as one of the most finished productions of Shakspeare. We can trace in this play, the maturity of the poet's intellectual power, which he so eminently knew how to fuse into his strongest delineations of passion and feeling. The literary researches of the Editors of Shakspeare, have placed the date of its composition to be about the year 1598, when the author had arrived at the thirty-fourth year of his age; a period when, in the full maturity of his powers, and a confidence derived from previous success, we may suppose him to be capable of writing with a brilliancy and a vi. gor, unsurpassed in any former or subsequent period of his life. It is, perhaps, to these causes we owe the creation of Shylock ; a character so matchless in its intellectuality, so striking in its idiosyncracy, that in the whole range of the Drama, it cannot be paralleled.
The plot, or rather plots, of this play, appear to have been derived from various sources; we give from contemporaneous authorities, the following abstract of the supposed materials, out of which Shakspeare constructed this magnificent drama:
“ Those of the caskets and of the bond are dorived from an old plry entitled • The Jew,' which, according to Gosson, was shewn at the Bull,' and was by him pronounced to be a goode and sweete play,' which represented the grcediness of worldly choosing, and the bloody minds of usurers;' and Mr. Dunlop remarks, that the story of Lorenzo and Jessica hears some similitude to the fourteenth taie in the second book of the Novellino of Massuccio Di Salerno ; and that learned, elegant, and judicious critic, Mr. Douce, observes, that neither the author of the old play, nor Shikspeare, have confined themselves to one source, in the construction of their plot; but that the Pecorone, the Gesta Romanorum, and probably the ancient Ballad of Gernutus, hall been respectively resorted to. That the incident of the bond was borrowed from the former, there remains no doubt; and the whetting of the knife inight be suggested by the latter; while the reasoning of Shylock be. fore the Senate is evidently taken from Sylvayu's Orator, translated by Munday, and printed in 158 3."
In attempting to add anything new, or pointed, in illustration, of the works of Shakspeare, a writer of the present day is overwhelmed with a sense of the inutility, as well as the utter hopelessness of his labours. The genius, the research, and the learning, of the great master minds which have preceded him, leave scarcely a thought unsaid, that can be evolved by the closest study, or the most critical analysis of the mighty creations he is lost in wonder in contemplating. And the more closely that research is pursued, which brings us nearer to the true beauties and vast genius of the author, does the sense of this incompetency predominate in the minds of those, who have looked into Shakspeare with a single eye to extract the true meaning of his language, and who depend upon the author as being the best expositor of his own conceptions. We however will venture to say, that the character of Shylock, both in its representation by actors, and its appreciation by critics, seems to have been fated to erroneous misconception. The bad theatrical taste of former times consigned the part of Shylock to a low comedian, and in accordince with this view of the character, Lord Lansdown, at the tatter end of the Seventeenth Century, compiled his Jew of Venice" from the original play, and introduced a new scene of ridiculous buffoonery for Shylock, in which the Jew is represented at the feast given by Bassanio, as the Jest and the Jester, for the amusement of his Christian entertainer and his friends; and, to crown the absurdity, the noble author entrusted the part to Doggett, the favourite low comedian of the time, an actor who was unusually broad in his delineations of comic humour. This ridiculous misconception of the character of Shylock, prevailed until Macklin restored the original text to the stage, or rather the present acted copy, and also presented a comparatively faithful embodiment of Shakspeare's Shylock. His admirable performance of the character, at once so new and striking, drew froru Pope the well-known eulogium,
“ This is the Jew
That Shakspeare drew." The prominent characteristics of Macklin's conception, are described as representing in coarse, but vivid colours, the avarice and malignity of the Jew. This conception has been followed
oy every leading representative of the part since Mackin's time, modified, perhaps, by the peculiar style, or temperament, of the
Henderson, for example, who succeeded Macklin, subdued and softened down the coarser parts of the original ; while Cooke restored all the vigor and fiend-like malignity which pre dominated in Macklin's personation. The elder Kean infused feeling into the part, but did not divest it of the strong traits of avarice and revenge, exhibited in the delineations of his prede
Inferior actors have copied these great artists, and Shy lock has become a kind of stereotyped representation on the stage, differing only in the varied shades of capability each actor brings to the task.
That this generally-adopted conception of Shylock, as repre sented on the stage, does not convey a full delineation of the varied phases of the character, as drawn by the Poet, we think no careful and discriminating reader of Shakspeare, but will be ready to acknowledge. We yield that the two strong passions, avarice and revenge, are the predominant points in Shylock's character. But, look at the causes which appear to have engendered these passions, as related by himself.
The wrongs of his Christian enemies, the extortions and injuries inflicted on him and his race, have goaded him almost to madness. We look upon Shylock as being the representative of the whole race of despised and persecuted Jews of the period antecedent, and at the time when Shakspeare wrote. He is the embodiment of this idea in several parts of the play. In the famous speech to Antonio, in the first act; in the terrific outbreak of his passion, when bereft of his daughter; and in the shrewd and eloquent appeals in the Trial Scene, we see distinctly marked a species of sublimity of character surrounding the Jew, that involuntarily claims our admiration. He stands the unbending, inflexible type of a race, no wrongs nor contumelies could overcome. Our actors do not oring these palpable points of the character sufficiently out. They divest him of the ridiculous buffoonery that önce degraded the part; but from the first to the last scene, Shylock is still only the sordid, avaricious, revengeful Jew. But the greatest defect in the modern delineation of the character, we conceive to be in the total misconceptiv n of the scene where Shylock obtains the