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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) < >.

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