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of so extraordinary a case, or to interest him in Anthonio's behalf? and can any thing be more probable than that he should inform her, on rea ceiving such a message, that he was actually sent for to Venice on that very account? For it is to be observed, that the Duke speaks as if he had sent for him some considerable time before : for he says,
“ Unless Bellario, &c. come here to-day.” His
power of dismissing the court also, on his not coming, seems founded on some physical or moral impediment, that might very naturally occur, to prevent his arrival within the time : so that he must be supposed either at such a distance as made it necessary to give him a considerable timely warning, or that the extraordinary nature of the cause might make him require so much the more time to prepare himself equitably to determine it.
This being the state of the case, was not here a very apt foundation on which to build Portia's plot of officiating for the doctor? which design she, no doubt, concerted with him by letter, before she sent for the notes and clothes mentioned Scene 5. Act 3.–And that this was really the case seems evident, from what Portia says to Jessica, during the absence of Bassanio, and before she sends Bal. thazar to Bellario for the notes and clothes. Jessica compliments her on
a noble and a true conceit “ Of god-like amity; which appears most
strongly “ In bearing thus the absence of her lord.” A sufficient intimation, I think, that Bassanio must have been gone some time. Again, in Portia's reply to this compliment, she says,
Here we find Portia speaking very peremptorily and certainly of Anthonio's deliverance; and of the cost already bestowed to effect it. Is it reasonable to think she would express herself thus confidently on a mere suggestion of her own? Besides, what cost could she have bestowed ? Her having bid her husband pay the bond three times over, was nothing; because she could not be sure the money would be taken. Nay, she evidently does not intend to trust to that acceptance. It is therefore, I think, very evident, that she had even at this time concerted the schenie with her cousin Bellario. How far Belmont might be from either Venice or Padua, I cannot exactly say: but it appears from circumstances, that it could not be very far. From Belmont to Venice it seems there was a common traject, or ferry; so that the distance of both from Padua could not be too great for transacting the business in question. It is true, that the formality with which Portia introduces her charge to Balthazar, when she sends him for the notes and clothes, seems to favour the supposition, that this was the first time she had sent to Bellario, in which case there would be some grounds for Dr. Johnson's remark; but we must observe, that Balthazar is now to be intrusted with a more important charge than he had before been, in merely carrying and bringing back a letter; or, it is not unlikely, that Portia entrusted that business with a servant of less importance.
It may not be amiss to observe here, that I have known some spectators impute the device, by which Anthonio evades the penalty of the bond, to the ingenuity of Portia.- Perhaps this is the case, indeed, with the audience in general.-But, as I think it a little out of character, in a young lady of her education, to be so well versed in the quirks and quibbles of the law ; so I conceive there is sufficient reason given in the play to suppose that evasion to have been suggested by Bellario.--For she expressly mentions to the messenger notes and clothes. These notes were, doubtless, the brief or hints for her pleading. And Bellario says in his letter to the Duke, speaking of the fictitious doctor, “ he is furnished “ with my opinion.” So that I am so far from thinking that Shakspeare, as Dr. Johnson
supposes, represents Portia to be a prophetess, or a witch, that I conceive his readers in general are apt to think her much more shrewd than he describes her.
KENRICK. To Dr. Kenrick's hypothesis respecting the length of time which he imagines to elapse between Bassanio's departure from Belmont, and Portia's arrival at Venice, and to have been sufficient to admit of letters twice passing between the doctor and his cousin, it may be, in the first place, objected, that in Act 3, Scene 3, Anthonio observes,
“ These griefs and losses have so 'bated me, “ That I shall hardly spare a pound of flesh
“ To-morrow to my bloody creditor,” &c. And again, that the doctor, in the letter in answer to the Duke's application, of which Portia is the bearer, uses these words,
Your grace shall understand that at the receipt “ of your letter, I am very sick: but in the “ instant that your messenger came, in loving visita“ tion was with me a young doctor of Rome,” &c. So that it does not
any on the subject, had taken place between them more than, at most, a very short time antecedent to the arrival of Portia's messenger, Balthazar, at Padua: and lastly Portia, in Act 5, Scene the last, says to Bassanio,
-Lorenzo here “ Shall witness, I set forth as soon as you,” &c. This latter declaration is indeed, not literally true ; yet I cannot be induced to imagine that she remained
longer at home, after Bassanio's departure, than was necessary to regulate her affairs preparatory to her proposed absence thence, and deliver into the hands of Lorenzo and Jessica, which she does in Act 3, Scene 4:
“ The husbandry and manage of her house,
« Until her lord's return :" Every circumstance indeed, seems to countenance the supposition of her having commenced her journey on the same day with her husband.
Jessica's compliment might have had for its foundation nothing more than her observance of her conduct and behaviour for a very few hours, and the cost she talks of having bestowed, seems to have an obvious reference to her generous proposal to pay the amount of the bond thrice over to redeem the life of Anthonio.
The difficulty with regard to the first of the abovementioned points might have been obviated, and the possibility gained of supposing a little longer interval, by making the third Scene of Act the third the concluding one of the same.
It is somewhat whimsical that Bellario gives to the imaginary Roman doctor, with whom he is supposed to have consulted, the name of Portia’s messenger. At most there is no more than the difference of an s and a % between them. E.
None but a holy hermit and her maid.] Dr. Johnson doth not perceive the use of the hermit, because nothing is seen or heard of him afterwards.
Pray is any thing seen of him now ? He is not brought on the scene; and may, for ought that affects the business of the play, exist only in nubibus. There is no doubt that the messenger tells a lie, respecting the employment of his mistress; and why may he not do the same respecting her attendants?
But perhaps the commentator may not see the use of the fiction neither, and will therefore condemn this part of the messenger's lie as unnecessary: He would do well to recollect, however, that, although nothing is heard about a hermit afterwards, a sufficient reason was given before to speak of one in this message; which is evidently a contrivance of Portia to support the imposition she is carrying
It is to be remembered that, when Portia takes her leave of Lorenzo and Jessica, putting the management of her house and family in their hands, Act 3, Scene 5, she says
For mine own part, “ I have tow'rd heaven breath'd a secret vow, “ To live in prayer and contemplation, " Only attended by Nerissa here, • Until her husband and my lord's return. “ There is a monastery two miles off,
" And there we will abide." Now, having told them this fib at her departure, nothing could be more pertinent, or indeed necessary, to keep up the probability of the story, than for the messenger to say, she was attended by a hermit; as it would be both unseemly and dangerous for two women to stray about, kneeling and praying by holy crosses, without a male attendant; and who so proper, on such an occasion, as an holy hermit, whose sacred character might protect them from insult ? - This is sufficient to shew, that it was not unnecessary, very pertinent to the plot, to have a hermit here spoken of; which is all the poet hath done.—Add to this, that, after all, it is possible there might really be a hermit in the case, though it was