« PreviousContinue »
his mouth, lugged in by the head and shoulders, to explain what ought to have been explained before.
Moreover, it is evident that Shakspeare intended to inforce one great moral sentiment by the three different choices, and to make the speeches of the three suiters the vehicles of it; any one of them being taken away, the poet's intention is frustrated; the plan is interrupted; and the moral is left incomplete. The design of the poet is manifestly this:--the disappointment of Morochius, who chooses the golden casket, intimates that outward show and ornament are treacherous and deceptive, or as Bassanio afterwards says,
The world is still deceiv'd by ornament;
the disappointment of the second shows what fate that man deserves who, though wise enough to despise external ornament, is yet enslaved to vanity, in the excess of which Arragon flatters himself that because the silver casket promises that he who chooses it shall meet what he deserves, he must necessarily succeed on account of his deserts; while the choice of the third, who selects, for its plainness, the lead, which rather threatens than promises, accomplishes the moral. Perhaps a more beautiful but keen satire on vanity never was imagined than that of the prince of Arragon's finding the expected reward of his great merit nothing more than a fool's head.
They, who have thus mutilated the Merchant of Venice, deserve to find, in their casket, a fool's head, with a bobbin tied round the neck of it.
Whether the foregoing observations are founded in truth or not, may, without difficulty, be inferred from the speech of Bassanio when commenting on the caskets. After having meditated on them for some time, he breaks out abruptly
So may the outward shows be least themselves.
As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins
Instead of the fine scene between Morochius and Portia, a farci. cal one between Launcelot, the Jew's servant and his father, old Gobbo, opens the second act. This, though full of whim and exquisitely comical, has no other use but to raise a laugh, introduce Launcelot to our acquaintance, and announce his determination to leave the Jew's service. Upon their disappearance another drollone of a more refined kind, makes himself and his humour known to the audience, soliciting Bassanio to let him accompany him to Belmont; a request which Bassanio grants upon condition, that he will allay with some cold drops of modesty his skipping spirit, which Gratiano returns with so very comical a profession of gravity, that we cannot resist the inclination we have to present it to the reader.
Signior Bassanio, hear me:
Use all the observance of civility,
To please his grandam, never trust me more. The scene between Shylock, Jessica, and Launcelot, serves to unfold the domestic manners of the Jew. His doubts and hesitation about going forth to supper; his misgivings of some mischief brewing towards his rest, because he dreamed of money bags; his alarm at hearing that there are to be masks abroad; his judaical warning to his daughter not “to gaze on christian fools with varnished faces,” nor 6 let the sound of shallow fonpery enter his sober house;" his grudging animadversion on Launcelot's gormandizing, and the pleasure he expresses at the reflection that the huge feeder, as he calls him, will help to waste the money Bassanio borrows from him, are circumstantially and minutely characteristic.
The patch is kind enough; but a huge feeder,
His borrow'd purse. These minute touches and delicate strokes of the pencil are the things which distinguish the portraits of Shakspeare from all others: yet, for drawing forth the powers of an actor, this scene is rather languid. To make it striking, the actor must possess that strongly marking energy of ytterance and expression, which Mr. Cooke enjoys in so very extraordinary a degree.
We have heretofore observed, that there is nothing in which our wonderful poet displays the superiority of his genius more than in contriving rare and extraordinary conjunctures for the purpose of bringing out his characters in the most full and prominent relief. In the Merchant of Venice he so dexterously manages his events, however dissimilar or even contrary to each other, as to make them, apparently by accident, unite precisely at the crisis in which the concurrent operation of their opposite effects upon the person that is to be moved by them, will elicit the strongest indications of character. Thus the intelligence of his daughter's having robbed him and eloped, and of Antonio's ships being all wrecked, reach Shylock at the same time; and, as they happen to be mentioned, alternately harrow up his heart with grief and rage, or fill him with savag'e hope and diabolical joy.
With his usual art, Shakspeare prepares the audience for this extraordinary exhibition by a short but felicitous scene between Salarino and Salanio, who not only state Antonio's loss and deplore his hazardous situation in language which displays the amiable character of Antonio to great advantage, but describe the distraction of the Jew at his daughter's elopement in very diverting terms.
Salarino. I never heard a passion so confus'd
Or he shall pay for this. Shylock's joining Salarino and Salanio just at the very moment they are speaking of him, his ducats, and his daughter, is happily imagined; and never yet was there conceived any thing more appropriate than the agonies of grief and the distraction he exhibits on the mention of his loss on the one hand, and the hellish antipathy he discloses to Antonio on the other;-never were there such natural transitions from frantic sorrow, distraction, and despair, to coldblooded malevolence,—from invectives on his daughter to denunciations of vengeance on Antonio, as in this and the subsequent scene with Tubal. These we think the finest parts in the play for affording scope to the talents of an actor, and in these Mr. Cooke evinced the same superiority of talents that he does in Richard, in Iago, in Pierre-in every thing. We must here again repeat, that his performance of Shylock in America has in no one instance equalled that which we saw in London. The first time we witnessed his playing the Jew was the first night he ever played it in the British metropolis: it was the first time, too, that we had the pleasure of seeing him either on or off the stage, and it was for that reason perhaps that we have considered his Shylock the best acting of his we have seen-his Kitely excepted. The whole audience seemed to think as we did; for, not contented with the usual marks of approbation, they absolutely huzzaed, and, in all the transports people show when overjoyed at some great and unexpected acquisition, thundered “bravo, bravo," from all parts of the house. Indeed,
Cooke on that night so far outran all expectation, that the people seemed half frantic with enjoyment. When in the answer to Salarino, who asks him “ do you hear whether Antonio have any losses at sea or mo?” Shylock replies,
“ There I have another bad match: a bankrupt prodigal, who scarce dare show his head on the Rialto: a beggar that used to come so snug upon the mart-let him look to his bond. He was wont to call me usurer-let him look to his bond. He was wont to lend money on a christian courtesy-let him look to his bond !!!"
The breaks of Cooke were masterly; and the inexorable murderous bent of the black heart of Shakspeare's Jew was not less strongly expressed in the manner of uttering " let him look to his bond,” than it was in the whetting of the knife in the last scene. Yet that itself was surpassed by the expression of savage delight with which he received from Tubal the account of Antonio's losses.
Tubal. Other men have ill luck too;--Antonio, as I heard in Genoa Shylock. What, what, what? In luck, ill luck? The impatience of a ravening appetite for the blood of the merchant was frightfully expressed by the sudden, rapid interruption, and the abrupt repetition of the words, aided by the harsh grating of Cooke's voice-while the significant eagerness of his ghastly looks and the clawing of his fingers presented to the classic mind the imbodied image of the divine Mantuan's harpies,
uncæque manus, et pallida semper
Ora fame. And when Tubal, proceeding with his story, says, that Antonio
Hath an argosie cast away coming from Tripolis, Shylock breaks forth,
I THANK GOD! I THANK GOD! IS IT TRUE? IS IT TRUE? Tubal. I spoke with some of the sailors that escap'd the wreck.
Shylock. I thank thee, good Tubal: good news, good news; -Ha, ha, ha!--where? in Genoa? The gloomy transport, the savage exultation, the ecstasy approaching to hysterical passion expressed in his laugh, and the sanguinary rancour with which he burst forth into “ I am very glad of it-I'll plague him-I'll torture him-I am giad of it," were so natural and irresistibly impressive, that a person of a violent imagination and strong sensibility might well be startled if not appalled at it, as a circumstance of reality.