W.H. Auden

“Portia we can admire because, having seen her leave her Earthly Paradise to do a good deed in this world (one notices, incidentally, that in this world she appears in disguise), we know that she is aware of her wealth as a moral responsibility, but the other inhabitants of Belmont, Bassanio, Gratiano, Lorenzo and Jessica, for all their beauty and charm, appear as frivolous members of a leisure class, whose carefree life is parasitic upon the labors of others, including usurers. When we learn that Jessica has spent fourscore ducats of her father’s money in an evening and bought a monkey with her mother’s ring, we cannot take this as a comic punishment for Shylock’s sin of avarice; her behavior seems rather an example of the opposite sin of conspicuous waste. Then, with the example in our minds of self-sacrificing love as displayed by Antonio, while we can enjoy the verbal felicity of the love duet between Lorenzo and Jessica, we cannot help noticing that the pairs of lovers they recall, Troilus and Cressida, Aeneas and Dido, Jason and Medea, are none of them examples of self-sacrifice or fidelity. […] Belmont would like to believe that men and women are either good or bad by nature, but Antonio and Shylock remind us that this is an illusion; in the real world, no hatred is totally without justification, no love totally innocent.”

W.H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand
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The Dyer's Hand The Dyer's Hand by W.H. Auden
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