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Friedrich Curtius in an article on “Measure for Measure” insists on the outstanding talents and unconditional conviction of Angelo as a man who sincerely wishes to glorify morality and virtue, but who uses undesirable methods. The fall of Angelo who despised and hated all women is another proof of the omnipotence of love and passion, which sometimes conquer the most resistant, hardened people. In the face of Angelo, Shakespeare executes not only the hypocrisy and bigotry, but the proud of spirit inherent in the Puritans, who considered themselves inaccessible to human weaknesses. Angelo’s decision to execute Claudio violating the word given to Isabella is explained by fear of his revenge for his sister’s shame. Thus, having once got off the right way and lost a foothold, the Duke Vincentio’s governor gets even more tangled, rapidly and inevitably approaching to his death (Dash, 97-104).
Shakespeare’s character of Isabella got an equally or even more interesting development. She is the same as Portion in “The Merchant of Venice”: she also has the sense of life harmony and loyalty to supra-personal ideal of an abstract honor. Isabella is the embodiment of conscience. However, despite the light emanating from the face of the main character, and despite the play’s general call for mercy (like in “The Merchant of Venice”), this, comedy of disappointments breathes with deep sorrow, and sometimes even gloom. It is no accident that the bearers of farcical comedy are exceptionally pimps procuresses, pimps, and similar characters. This comedy teaches us that life demands all possible and necessary struggles and heroism.
Isabella occupies a special place among the female characters created by Shakespeare. According to Dowden, Isabella is the only Shakespearean women seeking to an impersonal ideal; she alone, in the period of youthful impetuosity and energy, puts something abstract above any human person (Dash, 81). She remains faithful to herself to the end. Duke Vincentio proposes her to become his wife, but she replies nothing, perhaps being not ready to immediately decide to abandon her solitary life in the seclusion of the monastery (“Measure for Measure” V, 3).
“She, Claudio, that you wrong’d, look you restore.
Joy to you, Mariana! Love her, Angelo:
I have confess’d her and I know her virtue.
Thanks, good friend Escalus, for thy much goodness:
There’s more behind that is more gratulate.
Thanks, provost, for thy care and secrecy:
We shill employ thee in a worthier place.
Forgive him, Angelo, that brought you home
The head of Ragozine for Claudio’s:
The offence pardons itself. Dear Isabel,
I have a motion much imports your good;
Whereto if you’ll a willing ear incline,
What’s mine is yours and what is yours is mine.
So, bring us to our palace; where we’ll show
What’s yet behind, that’s meet you all should know”.custom term paper
Another Shakespeare’s play under consideration was first published in 1600 under the title “he Most Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice, With the Extreme Cruelty of Shylocke the Jew Towards the Said Merchant in Cutting a Just Pound of His Flesh and the Obtaining of Portia by the choice of three chests”. The peculiarity of this comedy is primarily in a specific partly fairy tale and partly novelistic tone which that pervades it. Despite its sensual tone, brightness of the material and the plasticity of images, all of these contingencies give the play some fantastic, illusory tint, which makes it slightly resemble typical pantos of Shakespeare like “Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “Storm”. Therefore, not without a reason, German director Max Reinhardt interpreted “The Merchant of Venice” as a fleeting intrigue, game of ideas on the background of what was happening at the Venice Carnival.
Another feature of the play which also provides it with great originality is the richness of its ideological content and complexity, reaching almost to contradictoriness of its leading characters. Two themes, which are most significant among the set of ideas and trends in the comedy, are: the theme of man’s relationship to property ownership, and the theme of friendship as one of the main pillars of light, harmonious life, joining the noble natures, regardless of their gender, rather than love between a man and a woman which is actually absent in the play, for a feeling connecting Bassanio and Portia and Lorenzo and Jessica could least of all be called passion: it is simply an inclination or affection with the objective of enjoying happy and harmonious friendly life.
The first issue is presented is the relationship of male characters, i.e. in the storyline of Shylock and Antonio; further it also appears, although a bit weaker, in some other parts of the play. We do not find the slightest hint of disdain for earthly goods, of disregard for wealth among men. Thus, Bassanio openly seeks to marry a wealthy heiress. But for him, money is only a means to achieve free life, not an end in itself, like for Shylock who is in love with his money, is possessed by a thirst for accumulation and is able to do anything for the sake of multiplying his capital.
The second theme, i.e. the theme of friendship, takes not less prominent place in the play. The cult of friendship which is typical of the culture and literature of the Renaissance can be seen as a natural and logical response of humanists to the unbridled and ruthless pursuit of profit, which was more and more encompassing the active elements of society in the age of emergence of primitive capitalist accumulation. The slogan homo homini lupus est was opposed by the slogan of humanity, compassion, and friendship. One form of this bright altruism, decorating and enriching human life, is the idea of friendship, which is plays a significant role in both Shakespeare’s works. For instance, Bassanio is ready to give his young friend Antonio everything he owns and even everything he doesn’t. The theme of friendship in this comedy is deeply connected with the dream for a beautiful life, in which money will serve a man without making him a slave. This makes the connection between the two themes, forming a complex ideological unity of this play (Dash, 143-52).
Two worlds are opposed to each other. The first is the world of joy, beauty, generosity, and friendship, which consists of Antonio and a group of his friends, Portia, Nerissa, to some extent, Jessica. The second world is the world of predatism, stinginess and anger; it consists of Shylock, Tubal and their cronies, who are not shown in the play, but felt in its background. These two worlds are clashed in a war for life.
The difference between these two natures is very finely marked by one of Shakespeare’s poetic images. In the fifth act, which is a kind of a musical final to the fabulous action, referring to the “heavenly music”, the “harmony of spheres, which, in this marvelous night sounds like his lover, Lorenzo emphasizes the ability of music to charm and to mitigate the human heart. He adds (“The Merchant of Venice” V, 1):
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.
Such a gloomy and dark soul is Shylock’s, who does not feel and cannot create a harmony of life, who does not bear music in his soul.
Condemnation of the power of money and gold is expressed in the play not only in connection with the actions of Shylock. The same idea is repeated in a more general and indirect form in the casket selection stage (“The Merchant of Venice” III, 2). Bassanio rejects the golden casket, calling gold the mask of truth and choosing a leaden casket, where he finally finds a portrait of Portia and his own happiness. This is an extremely remarkable scene for the ideological unity of the play, because in this scene Bassanio turns from the theme of gold to the theme of truth in human relations, which is seen as the foundation of world harmony.
Shakespeare depicts Shylock not only as an excrescence on the body of Venice, but also as a product and victim of its structure, all the wealth and political power of which rested on the “commercial honesty”. Jessica’s character complements the image of Shylock. The father she left and betrayed was not a cruel, but loving father. Jessica is factually depicted as a female character with no soul, but only adventurous mind. Besides, many women in Shakespeare’s works dress like men in order to meet with a beloved person. They thus behave naturally, playfully joking about their new position, details of men’s suit, etc. But in each of them some delicacy and touching tenderness is felt. Jessica, in contrast, keeps itself (“The Merchant of Venice” II, 4-6) with an emphasized ease; her jokes on carrying the torch, which covers her own shame and satisfaction with the fact that the night will hide her shame bear demonstratively spicy character, a hint of some kind of shamelessness. Comparing her with Shylock accentuates the bitterness he feels and the tragedy of his fate. Another female character is totally different in her attitudes to human relations. Portia is a cheerful and gentle girl loving the joys of life, the true girl of the Renaissance (Dash 205-218).
“The Merchant of Venice” used to be considered a comedy, as the outcome of the play is a happy end. Its bright, optimistic mood is amplified by numerous jokes and comic scenes, especially those involving a Lancelot Gobbo. But especially happy character is concentrated in the fifth act, in which the beauty of nature, love and joy at the victory over evil merged into a charming lyrical picture.
Dash, I. G. Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare’s Plays. Columbia University Press, 1984. Print.
Shakespeare, W. Measure for Measure. Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.
Shakespeare, W. The Merchant of Venice. Penguin Classics, 2007. Print.