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Examination Questions on The Merchant of Venice

Question: Compare Shylock and Macbeth as to the progression of their natures.

Answer: In Macbeth, we have the history of the debasement and ruin of a soul which was at first, as human beings go, a noble one. In the case of Shylock, the debasement had already proceeded to a considerable extent; but the completing steps in that process, and his final ruin, were yet to be accomplished. The suggestion of a great crime comes to Macbeth and is allowed to linger there. It is received, not only with toleration, but with strong encouragement by his wife, the person who has the most influence upon him; and with her aid and active co-operation, the irrevocable deed is committed. But though the deed is outwardly completed, its inward impress is a plague-spot which increases and spreads until the man's whole soul is black, and his spiritual peace forever destroyed. Crime after crime is perpetrated, one hallowed affection after another is weakened and dissolved, until finally, when he hears that his wife, goaded on by anguish and remorse, is dead, his only expression is one of selfish regret that it had not come hereafter. The depth of his degradation has been reached; and he shortly after gives up the ghost, filled to the last with savage rage and disappointment, and utterly hopeless as to the life to come.

Shylock lacks much of the natural nobility of Macbeth, and many steps in his downward progress have already been taken before the opening of the play; but there is nevertheless a strong similarity in the progression which takes place in the two characters. In an evil moment, the thought comes to him of inserting within the bond between himself and the Christian the condition relative to the pound of flesh. Prepared by his former yielding to evil promptings, he has not even a thought of resistance; and by a few cleverly turned sentences he gains the easy acquiescence of Antonio. The thought of the forfeiture constantly recurs to him, and his nature grows more in harmony with it with every recurrence. His daughter's flight with one of Antonio's friends gives an added impulse to the purpose already shaping itself within him; and he becomes in mind, as he sought to become in deed, a murderer. It is true that the completion of the deed is not allowed to become a reality; but his spiritual ruin is nevertheless final and complete.

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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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