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
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.
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/vsix.html >.