Examination Questions on The Merchant of Venice
Question: How does Shakespeare set about delineating his chief characters as compared with other authors? Importance of his secondary
personages in this particular?
Answer: The distinguishing feature of Shakespeare's delineation of character is the utter absence of all formal and
deliberate effort to assist us in gaining an insight into the minds of his creatures. Little by little the whole tissue of
their minds is revealed to a carefully observant eye; but it
is all done in the natural course of conversation and events,
and without the slightest consciousness on the part of the
reader of an intentional discussion of character by Shakespeare. With most other authors the case is different. Take
George Eliot for an example. Her character-portrayals are
marvellously powerful, but her method is the exact opposite
of Shakespeare's. After every trifling incident she dissects
and analyzes each sensation and emotion of her characters
with a carefulness and minuteness of detail due to her very
excess of mental grasp; and so far as the characters themselves are concerned, she requires little mental action on
the part of her readers save the following out of her own
train of thought.
It is easy to see, in pursuing his method, of what great
value Shakespeare's secondary characters would be to him.
By means of casual remarks or involuntary displays of emotion on the part of chance-acquaintances or of more intimate friends, many of the finer touches are added, almost
without our being conscious of it, to the images which shape
themselves in our minds as we read, but which would have
instantly jarred upon us had they come to us from the lips
of the chief characters themselves.
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How to cite this article:
Miller, Bessie Porter. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/merchant/examqm/veleven.html >.
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