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she is helped even more; though a means for another, she is a still better means for herself; previously impoverished, she can now marry with a handsome dower. The Florentine Widow, the mother of Diana, gives her assent when she hears the plan, deeming the deception " lawful,” because of its end; she applauds when old what she would have done when young. Even the Countess is not without a touch of the same trait, though in her case it is withdrawn into the background; for is it not the part of the good mother to be a good match-inaker?
Thus every character leads back to Helena as the central figure, and, to a degree repeats her spiritual image. Bertram has to develop up to her, and reflect her too in his appreciation; he starts in bitter antagonism, and lays all stress
But his experience of life, especially his military career, has brought out his own merit to his eye, and has placed it above his rank; he is now ready to see worth in another, is ready to recognize Helena, like the rest of the world. She has seen this possibility in him from the start, and persists in not only loving him, but in being the Providence to save him. The strength of her affection and its necessity to her spring from the fact that the two were reared together from childhood; thus her love has gradually grown to be life itself. The best thing about Bertram is that he develops.
Helena also shows a continuous unfolding
From this we might think she has despaired; not a bit of it; under resignation is just the green sprout of hope. And when she takes the pilgrim's garb, we might think she bas given up her passion, and may turn nun. Nay, nay; she has a very different thought under that religious disguise ; she is to make her husband fulfill - the great prerogative and rite of love" in spite of himself. She manifestly develops into three supreme qualities, Patience, Activity, Trust; she can endure, yet act, and then commit the whole to Providence, saying, “ All's well that ends well.” What a lofty and even mighty character ! Still the doubt will rise about her means, and the dualism again enters in spite of admiration. She knows it, Shakespeare knows it; listen to her and his reflections on the plot to entrap the husband; that plot
Is wicked meaning in a lawful deed,
Here the poet gives the idea of his own play, in its moral contradiction. But no reflection, "let's about it;” Helena cuts short the possible rising scruple by the deed.
It may be questioned whether such a subject, though of great psychological and ethical interest, is suitable for art. It leaves us unreconciled; we stand in a jar between the moral and institutional order; we commend the end and condemn the means. It is curious to see what the various critics have thought. Coleridge calls Helena “ the loveliest of Shakespeare's female characters.” But he saw only one side of her, the one healthy bloom ing cheek; her paralytic side he did not see. Gervinus defends her gallantly, by dwelling on her end and slurring over the means; he complains, however, that his female readers will not accept his explanation, though it be indisputable. Doubtless he is right; few women will take Helena into their society, though the men defend her. Still a woman, Mrs. Jameson, has greeted her with warm approval. But we cannot help thinking that in this drama the Poet's art, which has elsewhere brought to harmony such profeund conflicts, has not succeeded altogether; his ethical world shows a deep fissure which divides it into two unreconciled portions.
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
This play is the culmination of the comic period of Shakespeare. He had written comedies before it appeared, but now he pushes up to the height; he makes the very principle of comedy into a comedy which shares in the movement of the world's history. It is last in the list of Francis Meres, and the date of its composition hovers nigh to the year 1598, when the Poet had reached his happiest comic development. It may well be placed as the keystore in the arch of his fifteen comedies.
Better than any other play of the Poet, the Merchant of Venice shows us the soul of his comic world. It is a mediated drama in the profoundest sense, portraying the mediation of man in pictures taken from the very body of Time. The Jewish and the Christian worlds are placed alongside of each other, are shown in conflict, are shown in transition; the one passes into the other through the doctrine of Mercy, which is not only stated in the poem, but is employed as the grand
mediatorial instrument. Thus the mightiest event of human history, the mediation of the individual, whereby he escapes from a tragic fate, is made into a comedy, in the Shakespearian sense of the word. And what is that sweep of history from antiquity into Christianity, but a great mediated drama? There is the dark, threatening, tragic element; man seems fated, but he is rescued, and the end is happy. The heart of history, warm and palpitating, is taken out of its temporal wrappage, and held up before us in a representation which is the diversion of an evening.
It is not, then, so much for its mere literary merit, which is of the highest order; not so much for its technical dramatic excellence, which is also great, that we are going to study this play; it is for its theme, for its idea. Yet the task is not simple, as is manifest by the difference of opinion which reigns among the greatest commentators in regard to this idea. Take, for example, three chief German writers on Shakespeare. Kreyssig, though not wholly consistent in his statements, doubts whether there be any single thought which will unite the diverse elements of the play. Gervinus says the Poet intends to portray the relation of man to property; this is, indeed, one thread of the drama, but not the only one, nor does it contain the thought which unifies the work. Ulrici has beheld in it the dialectic nature of abstract right; formal justice, pushed to