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CRITICAL OPINIONS ON THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
“THE “Merchant of Venice' is one of Shakspeare's most perfect works : popular to an extraordinary degree, and calculated to produce the most powerful effect on the stage, and, at the same time, a wonder of ingenuity and art for the reflecting critic. Shylock, the Jew, is one of the inimitable master-pieces of characterization which are to be found only in Shakspeare. It is easy for both poet and player to exhibit a caricature of national sentiments, modes of speaking, and gestures. Shylock, however, is everything but a common Jew: he possesses a strongly-marked and original individuality, and yet we perceive a light touch of Judaism in everything he says or does. We almost fancy we can hear a light whisper of the Jewish accent even in the written words, such as we sometimes still find in the higher classes, notwithstanding their social refinement. In tranquil moments, all that is foreign to the European blood and Christian sentiments is less perceptible; but in passion the national stamp comes out more strongly marked. All these inimitable niceties the finished art of a great actor can alone properly express. Shylock is a man of information, in his own way, even a thinker, only he has not discovered the region where human feelings dwell ; his morality is founded on the disbelief in goodness and magnanimity. The desire to avenge the wrongs and indignities heaped upon his nation is, after avarice, his strongest spring of action. His hate is naturally directed chiefly against those Christians who are actuated by truly Christian sentiments: a disinterested love of our neighbour seems to him the most unrelenting persecution of the Jews. The letter of the law is his idol; he refuses to lend an ear to the voice of mercy, which, from the mouth of Portia, speaks to him with heavenly eloquence : he insists on rigid and inflexible justice, and at last it recoils on his own head. Thus he becomes a symbol of the general history of his unfortunate nation. The melancholy and self-sacrificing magnanimity of Antonio is affectingly sublime. Like a princely merchant, he is surrounded with a whole train of noble friends. The contrast which this forms to the selfish cruelty of the usurer Shylock was necessary to redeem the honour of human nature. The danger which almost to the close of the fourth act hangs over Antonio, and which the imagination is almost afraid to approach, would fill the mind with too painful anxiety, if the poet did not also provide for its recreation and diversion. This is effected in an especial manner by the scenes at Portia's country-seat, which transport the spectator into quite another world. And yet they are closely connected with the main business by the chain of cause and effect: Bassanio's preparations for his courtship are the cause of Antonio's subscribing the dangerous bond ; and Portia again, by the counsel and advice of her uncle, a famous lawyer, effects the safety of her lover's friend. But the relations of the dramatic composition are the while admirably observed in yet another respect. The trial between Shylock and Antonio is indeed recorded as being a real event; still, for all that, it must ever remain an unheard-of and singular case. Shakspeare has therefore associated it with a love intrigue not less extraordinary: the one consequently is rendered natural and probable by means of the other. A rich, beautiful, and clever heiress, who can only be won by the solving the riddle—the locked caskets--the foreign princes, who come to try the venture-all this powerfully excites the imagination with the splendour of an olden tale of marvels. The two scenes in which, first the Prince of Morocco, in the language of Eastern hyperbole, and then the self-conceited Prince of Arragon, make their choice among the caskets, serve merely to raise our curiosity, and give employment to our wits; but on the third, where the two lovers stand trembling before the inevitable choice, which in one moment must unite or separate them for ever, Shakspeare has lavished all the charms of feeling-all the magic of poesy. We share in the rapture of Portia and Bassanio at the fortunate choice: we easily conceive why they are so fond of each other, for they are both most deserving of love. The judgment scene, with which the fourth act is occupied, is in itself a perfect drama, concentrating in itself the interest of the whole. The knot is now untied, and, according to the common ideas of theatrical satisfaction, the curtain ought to drop. But the poet was unwilling to dismiss his audience with the gloomy impressions which Antonio's acquittal, effected with so much difficulty, and contrary to all expectation, and the condemnation of Shylock, were calculated to leave behind them ; he has therefore added the fifth act by way of a musical afterlude in the piece itself. The episode of Jessica, the fugitive daughter of the Jew, in whom Shakspeare has contrived to throw a veil of sweetness over the national features, and the artifice by which Portia and her companion are enabled to rally their newly-married husbands, supply him with the necessary materials. The scene opens with the playful prattling of two lovers in a summer evening ; it is followed by soft music, and a rapturous eulogy on this powerful disposer of the human mind and the world ; the principal characters then make their appearance, and, after a simulated quarrel, which is gracefully maintained, the whole ends with the most exhilarating mirth."-SCHLEGEL.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF
KING RICHARD THE SECOND.
SHAKESPEARE'S “ King Richard II.” was entered at Stationers' Hall, August 29, 1597, by Andrew Wise, who published the first edition that year under the title of “ The tragedie of King Richard the Second. As it hath beene publikely acted by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his Servants, London, Printed by Valentine Simmes, for Androw Wise, and are to be sold at his shop in Paules church yard at the signe of the Angel. 1597.” 4to. This is much the most accurate copy of the play extant. Three other quarto editions were published before the first folio, one in 1598, another in 1608, “ with new additions of the Parliament sceane, and the Deposing of King Richard,” and the last in 1615 ; each of which bears the author's name, “ William Shake-speare," on the title-page; that of 1615 being apparently the copy followed in the folio, 1623. There can now be scarcely a doubt that there was an older Richard II. than Shakespeare's, and one that kept its place as an acting drama, even at the Globe theatre, long after his had been played and printed. In a passage of Camden's Annals, it is related that Sir Gillie Merrick, who was concerned in the desperate insurrection of the Earl of Essex, was accused, among other charges, of having caused to be acted, by money in a public theatre, the obsolete tragedy (ecoletum tragediam) of the abdication of Richard the Second. This transaction is related more circumstantially in the official declarations, where it is stated that, “ The Afternoon before the Rebellion, Merrick with a great company of others, who were all afterwards in the action, had procured to be play'd before them the Play of deposing King Richard the Second ; neither was it casual, but a play bespoke by Merrick ; and when it was told him by one of the Players, that the Play was old, and they should have Loss in playing it, because few would come to it, there were forty Shillings extraordinary given for it, and so it was play d.” The deposition of Richard II. appears to have been a subject upon which Elizabeth was peculiarly sensitive. It was probably on this account, that the Parliament scene in Shakespeare's play, containing the actual deposition of the King, was not inserted in the quartos until after her death. In 1599, Sir John Haywarde was severely censured in the Star Chamber, and committed to prison, for his History of the First Part of the Life and Reign of King Henry IV., which contained the deposition of Richard II.,
The revival of an old play on this prohibited topic must therefore have been highly offensive to the Queen: it certainly made a deep impression upon her; for, in a conversation with the accomplished William Lambarde, twelve months afterwards, on the occasion of his presenting her with his pandect of her Rolls in the Tower, when, looking through the records, she came to the reign of Richard II., she remarked:_“I am Richard II., know ye not that?” Lambarde replied, in allusion to the Essex attempt, “ Such a wicked imagination was determined and attempted by a most unkind gent, the most adorned creature that ever your Majesty made :" to this her Majesty rejoined: “ He that will forget God, will also forget his benefactors: this tragedy was played 40tie times in open streets and houses."
That the drama in question was not Shakespeare's Richard II., is tolerably evident, from its being described as an obsolete play; but a discovery made by Mr. Collier places this fact beyond controversy. In a MS. diary kept by the notorious Dr. Simon Forman, and preserved in the Bodleian Library, Mr. Collier has found an entry under the date, Thursday, April 30, 1611, wherein Forman records his having been present at the Globe theatre, and witnessed the play of Richard II., some incidents in which he notes for his future guidance :—“Remember therein how Jack Straw, by his overmuch boldness, not being politic nor suspecting anything, was suddenly, at Smithfield Bars, stabbed by Walworth, the Mayor of London, and so he and his whole army was overthrown. Therefore, in such case, or the like, never admit any party without a bar between, for a man cannot be too wise, nor keep himself too safe. Also remember how the Duke of
Glocester, the Earl of Arundel, Oxford, and others, crossing the king in his humour about the Duke of Erland and Bushy, were glad to fly and raise a host of men ; and being in his castle, how the Duke of Erland came by night to betray him, with three hundred men; but, having privy warning thereof, kept his gates fast, and would not suffer the enemy to enter, which went back again with a fly in his ear, and after, was slain by the Earl of Arundel in the battle. Remember also, when the Duke (i.e. of Gloucester,) and Arundel, came to London with their army, King Richard came forth to them and met them, and gave them fair words, and promised them pardon, and that all should be well if they would discharge their army, upon whose promises and fair speeches, they did it ; and after, the king bid them all to a banquet, and so betrayed them, and cut off their heads, &c., because they had not his pardon under his hand and seal before, but his word.
“Remember therein, also, how the Duke of Lancaster privily contrived all villainy to set them all together by the ears, and to make the nobility to envy the King, and mislike him and his government: by which means he made his own son king, which was Henry Bolingbroke. Remember, also, how the Duke of Lancaster asked a wise man whether himself should ever be a king, and he told him No, but his son should be a king; and when he had told him, he hanged him up for his labour, because he should not bruit abroad, or speak thereof to others. This was a policy in the commonwealth's opinion, but I say it was a villain's part, and a Judas's kiss to hang the man for telling him the truth. Beware by this example of noblemen and their fair words, and say little to them, lest they do the like to thee for thy goodwill.”
This play, then, it is clear, embraced the earlier portion of Richard's reign, and may have contained its close, and have been the one which the partizans of Essex contrived to get acted. Shakespeare's tragedy, on the contrary, comprises little more than the last two years of the reign of Richard II., and the facts appear to have been dramatized exclusively from Holinshed, some of the speeches being copied with scarcely any alteration from that old chronicler. Of the date of its composition we have no reliable evidence; Malone fixes it in 1593, Chalmers and Drake in 1596.
King RICHARD THE SECUND.
LORD MARSHAL ; and other Lords.
FORD, son to John Of Gaunt; afterwards Sir STEPHEN SCROOP.
Captain of a band of Welshmen. EARL OF SALISBURY.
QUEEN To King RICHARD. EARL OF BERKLEY.
DUCHESS OF GLOUCESTER. EARL OF NORTHUMBERLAND.
DUCHESS OF York.
Lady attending on the QUEEN.
Lords, Heralds, Oficers, Soldiers, Gardeners, Keeper, LORD FITZWATER.
Messengers, Groom, and other attendants.
# Now spelt Roos.