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Shakespeare, in introducing the extra pair of lovers at the very climax of the scene between Portia and Bassanio, had to be careful not to let it rise to the same plane of interest. It is therefore introduced with a slight touch of humor; for it is certainly humor which affects us when we learn that the tantalizing Nerissa regards love in such a light that she will only marry in case her mistress goes along. The main event is pleasingly aggrandized by this deference of maid and man; and we are pleased by this little glimpse of Gratiano's good fortune, suddenly and shortly introduced. Shakespeare helped to keep it on a lower plane by having Gratiano tacitly refer to it as such; and as the episode is itself in the nature of a diversion from the more serious scene, the dramatist, by this allusion to it as an “intermission” would seem to be speaking out of his own playwrighting policy. But however this may be, we may certainly understand, with no straining of words, that Gratiano means that his love affair is a secondary matter which would only attract attention betweenwhiles. And this is quite in keeping with the self-sacrificing and devoted character which he upholds.
Those who render the passage so that it reads, "for intermission no more pertains to me, my lord, than you,” explain it as meaning that Bassanio was incessant in love-making, and Gratiano was the same. We can hardly believe that Shakespeare introduced this pas
sage to point out that Bassanio was always at it and that his man Gratiano was just like him always at it. Besides dragging everything down to such a common plane, it destroys that subordination and deference to the main characters which is so pleasing and so dramatically important. I believe I have explained these lines in a way that makes their intention clear; and I have dwelt upon them somewhat at length in the hope that future editions may punctuate in the way which will admit of the meaning which, I think, Shakespeare intended.
Earlier in this scene, at line 191, there is a passage which is the cause of much disagreement and conjecture. It is at the point where Gratiano steps forward to congratulate Bassanio upon his good fortune. Without taking particular issue with any of the various commentators, I might here offer my understanding of the passage, especially as it is different from any view I have seen.
For I am sure you can wish none from me. We should here ask ourselves — as Shakespeare always asked himself in creating a character — What was Gratiano thinking? He is thinking that if Bassanio and Portia were to have the fullest scope of their desires, if they were to wish without limit, there is one thing that neither of them ever could wish. Neither
Portia nor Bassanio could wish to have the other away. Consequently Gratiano is willing to let them wish anything and he will subscribe to it beforehand; for he is certain that their wishing could never result in separating himself from Nerissa. For has not Gratiano's possession of her been wholly dependent upon the union of the other two? This is the very basis of the whole episode.
It is another beautiful expression of the fourfold happiness of the two couples; and it is not as ingenious as it might seem, for Gratiano is well aware that if Portia were ever to be separated from Bassanio, away would go Nerissa. It is a thought that lurks deep in his heart but he is not afraid; he is willing to abide by any fortune they might wish, for he knows they could not wish themselves apart; hence he runs no risk of being separated from his own Nerissa.
Conjecture upon this passage began with Hanmer in 1744, but the succeeding renditions failed to satisfy. Staunton paraphrased it, “For I am sure you can wish none which I do not wish
Rolfe's conjecture is that Gratiano was thinking that Portia and Bassanio could wish no joy away from him “because you have enough yourselves.”
A MASTER OF WORDS
I do profess
- yet my duty,
(Henry VIII, iii, 2, 192) This passage, according to the Globe editors, contains the one crux in Henry VIII. They mark it on “that am, have, and will be.” Gollancz, who shares the general uncertainty as to whether the words even “represent” what Shakespeare wrote, notes a certain emendation as follows:- "Instead of 'that am, have, and will be, it has been proposed to read, 'that am your slave and will be'; this would get rid of the awkward have = have been, but probably the line is correct as it stands."
Before starting to explain this passage let me ask the reader to place a period or colon after will be, and eliminate the second dash so that all that follows will be is unbroken in sense. Read now this part, beginning with Though and observe that it is all that could be desired in
the way of clear, logical statement and of close grammatical structure.
Next, try to read it according to the presentday punctuation, as above. There is a part that comes between dashes. Try to connect the parts of the statement before and after the dashes and it will be found impossible to make sense out of it. The point of view is contradictory. Shift the dash about, as for instance, before that, and try again. It will be found impossible to make a cogent statement out of the passage as a whole by any such means. It would therefore be desirable to have all this part beginning with Though a complete and separate statement.
But this would require of us to make complete and separate sense out of the three lines preceding; and now the question arises: Can this be done? And if done, can it be shown that this way of reading the passage is what Shakespeare intended? Let us devote our attention then to these first three lines.
The trouble here is what the words “that am, have, and will be,” have been taken in a wrong
That, as here used is not a relative pronoun, but a demonstrative. And the words am and have and will-be are nouns. These of course are the verbal auxiliaries of English; but here, instead of filling their auxiliary functions they are being referred to as such words, for which reason they are nouns by use; and this is done to emphasize what Wolsey is professing.