Abbildungen der Seite

At the opening of the play Antonio, the merchant, is Outline of the

discussing with two of his friends, Solanio and Salarino,
the feeling of sadness by which, without any sufficient
reason, he has of late been weighed down. His friends
ascribe this feeling to anxiety on account of the many
"ventures" he has abroad in the richly-laden vessels
bound for various ports. Such a cause Antonio repudi-
ates, since

“My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate
Upon the fortune of the present year:


merchandise makes me not sad." Solanio suggests that he may be in love, and this cause too Antonio disavows. Their conversation is interrupted by the entry of Bassanio, Gratiano, and Lorenzo. Bassanio, who in times past has been indebted to Antonio for various acts of friendship, has fallen in love with a noble heiress, Portia, who lives not far from Venice; but owing to youthful extravagance, he is in no position to pay his court to the lady in such a way as befits a suitor to one of her rank and wealth. As therefore in former straits, he now seeks help from Antonio. Ready as ever "to supply the ripe wants” of a friend, Antonio reproaches him for wasting time in a prolix statement of his difficulties instead of coming to the point at once :

“You know me well; and herein spend but time

To wind about my love with circumstance;
And out of doubt you do me now more wrong
In making question of my uttermost,
Than if you had made waste of all I have;
Then do but say to me what I should do,
That in your knowledge may by me be done,
And I am prest unto it: therefore speak.”


[ocr errors]


Bassanio tells his story and wins a warm assent. Just now, however, Antonio's fortunes are “all at sea," he has no money at hand, no merchandise at Venice on which he can raise money. But he has credit which he will rack to the uttermost; and empowering Bassanio to ascertain where money is to be borrowed, he himself goes among

the merchants upon the same quest. The second scene takes us to Belmont, Portia's seat. Sole heiress to her father's ample wealth, this lady has, in regard to her marriage, been fettered by a singular condition. By the terms of his will she is to accept as husband the man who shall choose the one of three caskets, of gold, silver, and lead respectively, in which her father has caused her portrait to be locked up. On the other hand, as a test of the sincerity of his love, each suitor who may wish to make the trial is bound by oath never, in case of failure, to seek the love of any other woman; while for the preservation of the secret he is further sworn never to reveal which casket he has chosen. Portia naturally dreads lest among the many suitors who are flocking to the trial, some one of them for whom she can feel no love may be the lucky chooser; and when first we meet her she is discussing with her waiting-maid, Nerissa,* the character of four of these now at Belmont. One by one, as Nerissa over-names them, they are rejected as wholly distasteful; and with great glee she learns from one of her servants that, un. willing to make their choice of the caskets upon the terms imposed, they have now come to take their fare well. We return to Venice, and Shylock, the Jew, now comes upon the scene. Bassanio has made application

* See note on iii. 2. 200.


to him for the money he requires, offering Antonio as his surety, and Shylock is debating, or pretending to debate, whether he should accept such security. At this point Antonio enters; and Shylock, in a soliloquy, gives vent to his loathing with which he regards him. The reasons for the bitterness are that Antonio lends money gratis, and so brings down the rate of interest in Venice; that he hates “our sacred nation," and that he constantly rails

On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift

Which he calls interest."

On Bassanio calling his attention to Antonio's presence, Shylock pretends to be considering whether on so short a notice he can raise the money required, but turning to Antonio, greets him with all deference. A dialogue follows in which Shylock recites the various insults and injuries he has received at Antonio's hands, how he has been rated for taking interest, how his religion has been mocked, how Antonio has spat upon him and spurned him with his foot and loaded him with abusive epithets, and yet now, when he needs his help, does not hesitate in coming to borrow money of him. Antonio haughtily replies that he is just as likely to treat him in the same way again, that he comes to borrow money as a matter of business, and that if Shylock lends it, he lends it not to a friend, but to an enemy from whom, if he fail in payment, the penalty may without any qualms of shame be rigorously exacted. To his storm of angry words Shylock offers a conciliatory reply, engages to lend the money, and pretends his readiness to do so merely out of good will and in order to reconcile their former differences. Yet, as though "in a merry sport," he makes it a condition that in case the debt should not be redeemed when it becomes due, the forfeit shall

“ Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.”

Antonio, confident in the return of his vessels before the date of payment, and determined at any risk to serve his friend, agrees to this condition, and Shylock goes off to bring the money.

With the Second Act we have the arrival of the Prince of Morocco to make trial of the caskets. This, however, is delayed for a time, and meanwhile we have a highly humorous scene in which Launcelot Gobbo, the Jew's servant, debates with himself whether he shall run away from the employment of one who treats him so harshly. He has just decided to do so when he meets his halfblind old father, and with his help determines to seek the service of Bassanio, who, accompanied by Gratiano, is just starting for Belmont. In rapid succession to this we have Jessica's preparation secretly to forsake her father, Shylock, in order to marry Lorenzo; Shylock's leaving his house to sup with Bassanio; and the masque prepared by Lorenzo, Gratiano, and Solanio, under cover of which Jessica, disguised as a boy, shall be able to make her escape.

The first trial of the caskets now follows, and Morocco, choosing “ by the view," unlocks the golden one, only to find in it a death's-head with a scroll emphasizing the proverb “All that glisters is not gold.” In the next scene we have the discovery of Jessica's flight, Shylock's wrath at her marriage with

one of the hated race of Christians, and the first hint of Antonio's losses at sea. This is succeeded by the second trial of the caskets, in which the Prince of Arragon, whose choice is that of the silver one, fares no better than Morocco; and, as he is dismissed, comes the news of Bassanio's arrival.

The Third Act opens with a dialogue between Solanio and Salarino. This is interrupted by the entry of Shylock, whom they take a malicious pleasure in bantering upon the loss of his daughter. As they leave the stage, Tubal, a friend of Shylock's, who at his request had gone in pursuit of Jessica, enters with the news of his failure to discover her. But with the bad news of his failure, he has also the comforting assurance to give that a vessel of Antonio's has been lost on its voyage from Tripolis. Shylock, who half forgets his own troubles in hearing of those of Antonio, is speedily brought back to his former state of frenzy by Tubal's going on to relate the extravagance of which Jessica had been guilty at Genoa. This wound, however, is healed when Tubal tells him “There came divers of Antonio's creditors in my company to Venice, that swear he cannot choose but break.” Shylock greedily hugs himself with the idea of the vengeance he will exact if Antonio fails his day, but is once again put to the torture by being told that Jessica had bartered for a monkey a much-prized turquoise ring which when a bachelor he had from Leah, afterwards his wife. Satisfied with this last thrust, Tubal concludes with the assurance that " Antonio is certainly undone”; and Shylock, his sorrows outweighed by the prospect of speedy revenge, gives instructions to Tubal to fee a bailiff a fortnight beforehand that Antonio may be


« ZurückWeiter »