Character Sketch of Gratiano in Merchant of Venice – ICSE Class 10, 9 English
His Copious Talk; His Wit; His contribution to the Comedy of the Play
Gratiano is a very talkative and witty man. Indeed, his garrulity is his most striking trait; and this trait would have repelled us if his talk had not been witty. He has a keen sense of humour, an infinite capacity for talk, and a fertile wit. He is never short of words, and almost every remark that he makes is amusing in one way or another. Antonio, who is a serious-minded man, does not relish Gratiano’s ceaseless talk which is nothing but chatter for his ears. And even Bassanio says that Gratiano talks an infinite deal of nothing and that there is very little real sense in his talk. Bassanio expresses the view that the sense in Gratiano’s talk may be compared to two grains of wheat hidden in a large heap of chaff (or straw). However, Bassanio does not feel much upset by Gratiano’s endless talk though he does have some apprehension that Gratiano’s glib tongue would create some embarrassing moments for him (Bassanio) at Belmont. He feels it necessary to get a promise from Gratiano not to talk too much at Belmont before agreeing to Gratiano’s request that he should take him (Gratiano) there. Gratiano makes a substantial contribution to the comedy of the play. The Merchant of Venice is a romantic comedy which means that it is a play containing both romantic and comic elements in ample measure. If Bassanio is a man who contributes greatly to the romantic character of the play Gratiano is a man who contributes equally greatly to the play’s comic character.
His Satirical Comment on the Silent and Reserved Kind of Man
Gratiano’s comment on Antonio’s melancholy in the very beginning of the play shows the big difference between these two men. Gratiano says that he cannot understand why a man should feel sad at all. He asks why a man, whose blood is warm within, should sit still and motionless like his grandfather’s statue. And then he asks why a man should creep into the jaundice by being peevish. By contrast with Antonio’s role as a sad man on the world-stage, Gratiano’s role is that of a “fool” (or a jester) who would like to grow old with mirth and laughter. Gratiano ridicules men who try to win respect by remaining silent so as to appear thoughtful and wise. He ridicules to man who talks in the tones of Sir Oracle, who wants others to stop talking as soon as he opens his mouth to say something.
His witty Promise to Bassanio
Gratiano’s promise to Bassanio to exercise restraint upon his natural effusiveness and boisterousness is another example of his witty manner of speaking. He tells Bassanio that he would swear only occasionally at Belmont, that he would carry prayer-books in his pockets, and that he would put on a solemn expression when gracebefore meal is being said. Indeed, Gratiano’s wit has a large share in the comedy of the play, The Merchant of Venice.
His Bitter, Fierce, and Denunciatory or Abusive Wit
Gratiano shows his wit even in the Trial Scene which is, on the whole, a very serous one, bordering almost on tragedy. Here his wit is ironical and sarcastic. Here his wit has an incisive quality which produces a devastating effect on the Jew. He repeats the words which Shylock has originally used when Shylock thought that he had won the case against Antonio. But Gratiano repeats those words in a tone of mockery and ridicule so as to aggravate the mental torture which Shylock is going through on finding that he has completely lost the case. The words Gratiano speaks are: “O Jew! an upright judge, a learned judge!’’ And then “A second Daniel! I thank thee Jew for teaching me that word.” He also suggests mockingly that the lew should be given a halter gratis so that he may hang himself. Indeed, Gratiano’s wit here becomes bitter, and even fierce and violent. His wit takes even the form of abuse and denunciation. He calls Shylock a damned, cursed dog. He also says that Shylock was in his previous life a wolf because his desires in his present life are wolfish, bloody, and starved.
The Wide Range of His Wit
Gratiano’s wit is wide-ranging. He can be simply jovial but he can also become bitterly sarcastic and even abusive. He can be furious and yet witty in his wrathful remarks. He can be mirthful and gay, and then he can make witty comments to add to the gaiety and the laughter. This pleasant side of his wit comes to our notice more particularly in the concluding scene of the play when the comedy of the rings reaches its climax. Here he defends himself against Nerissa’s allegation with a witty disparagement of Nerissa’s ring and tries to turn the quarrel into a trivial and frivolous manner.
His Knowledge of this World, and the Wisdom Resulting Therefrom
Gratiano is by no means a person who can only talk in a jovial and flippant manner. One or two of his speeches show that he is essentially a discerning man who has observed this world with close attention, and who has become fairly shrewd in judging people and things. On one occasion he makes a speech describing the decline in a man’s enthusiasm for something which had originally inspired a good deal of eagerness and zest in him. Nobody, he says, gets up from a feast with the same keen appetite with which he had sat down to it. Similarly, while a horse runs very fast in the beginning, it runs very slowly when it is coming back to the starting-point. When a ship sails away, it looks splendid; but, when it returns, it presents a sad spectacle because its body has greatly been damaged and its sails look worn- out on account of the strong winds and furious storms which the ship had to endure in the course of its long voyage. And the essence of this whole speech is found in the following lines:
all things that are,
Are with more spirit chased than enjoyed.
Gratiano is by no means a novice in the affairs of the world.
His Marriage with Nerissa
Gratiano’s visit to Belmont does not prove to be futile. He is able to win Nerissa as his wife; and he is able to do so without having to go through the ordeal which Bassanio has to go through in order to win Portia. Gratiano was able to coax Nerissa into agreeing to marry him even though she had laid down a condition. She had promised to marry him if Bassanio succeeded in winning Portia as his wife. He is, on the whole, a pleasing young man, with considerable knowledge of the world and of human nature. Nor do we have any doubt that he would make a good husband for Nerissa who is herself a highly intelligent woman with as penetrating a judgment of human character as her mistress Portia is. He and nerissa are, indeed, well-matched and make an excellent pair.
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