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The scene opens with the playful prattling of two lovers in a summer moonlight,
"When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees.'
It is followed by soft music and a rapturous eulogy on this powerful disposer of the human mind and the world; the principal characters then make their appearance, and after an assumed. dissension, which is elegantly carried on, the whole ends with the most exhilarating mirth."
Malone places the date of the composition of this play in 1598, Chalmers supposed it to have been written in 1597, and to this opinion Dr. Drake gives his sanction.
It appears, from a passage in Stephen Gosson's School of Abuse, etc. 1579, that a play comprehending the distinct plots of Shakspeare's Merchant of Venice had been exhibited long before he commenced writer. Gosson, making some exceptions to his condemnation of dramatic performances, mentions among others :The Jew shown at the Bull, representing the greediness of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers. These plays, continues he, are good and sweete plays."
It cannot be doubted that Shakspeare, as in other instances, availed himself of this ancient piece. Mr. Douce observes, that the author of the old play of The Jew, and Shakspeare in his Merchant of Venice, have not confined themselves to one source only in the construction their plot, but that the Pecorone, the Gesta Romanorum, and perhaps the old ballad of Gernutus, have been respectively resorted to. It is however most probable that the original play was indebted chiefly, if not altogether, to the Gesta Romanorum, which contained both the main incidents; and that Shakspeare expanded and improved them, partly from his own genius, and partly as to the bond from the Pecorone, where the coincidences are too manifest to leave any doubt. Thus the scene being laid at Venice; the residence of the lady at Belmont; the introduction of the person bound for the principal; the double infraction of the boud, viz. the taking more or less than a pound of flesh, and the shedding of blood, together with the after incident of the ring, are common to the novel and the play. The whetting of the knife might perhaps be taken from the ballad of Gernutus. Shakspeare was likewise indebted to an authority that could not have occurred to the original author of the play in an English form; this was Silvayn's Orator, as translated by Munday. From that work Shylock's reasoning before the senate is evidently horrowed; but at the same time it has been most skilfully improved*.
There are two distinct collections under the title of Gesta Romanorum, The one has been frequently printed in Latin, but never in English; there is, however, a manuscript version of the reign of Henry the Sixth among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum. This collection seems to have originally furnished the story of the bond. The other Gesta has never been printed in Latin, but a portion of it has been several times printed in English, The earliest edition, referred to by Warton and Doctor Farmer, is by Wynken de Worde, without date, but of the beginning of the Sixteenth Century. It was long doubted whether
The Orator, handling a hundred several Discourses, in form of Declamations, etc. written in French by Alexander Silvayn, and Englished by L. P (Lazarus Pyol, i. e. Anthony Munday), London, Printed by Adam Islip, 1596. Declamation 95. Of a Jew who would for his debt have a pound of flesh of a Christian."
this early edition existed, but it has recently been described in the Retrospective Review. The latter part of the thirty-second history in this Collection may have furnished the incidents of
But as many of the incidents in the bond story of the Merchant of Venice have a more striking resemblance to the first tale of the fourth day of the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni, this part of the ⚫ plot was most probably taken immediately from thence. story may have been extant in English in Shakspeare's time, though it has not hitherto been discovered.
The Pecorone was first printed in 1550 (not 1558 as erroneously stated by Mr. Steevens), but was written almost two centuries before:
After all, unless we could recover the old play of The Jew mentioned by Gosson, it is idle to conjecture how far Shakspeare improved upon the plot of that piece. The various materials which may have contributed to furnish the complicated plot of Shakspeare's play are to befound in the Variorum Editions and in Mr. Douce's very interesting work.
LORENZO, in love with Jessica.
SHYLOCK, a Jew.
TUBAL, a Jew, his Friend.
LAUNCELOT GOBBO, a Clown, Servant to Shylock.
OLD GOBBO, Father to Launcelot.
SALERIO, a Messenger from Venice.
LEONARDO, Servant to Bassanio.
PORTIA, a rich Heiress.
NERISSA, her Waiting-Maid.
Magnificoes of Venice, Officers of the Court of
SCENE, partly at Venice, and partly at Belmont, the Seat of Portia, on the Continent.
This enumeration of the Dramatis Personæ is by Mr. Rowe,
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
SCENE I. Venice. A Street.
Enter ANTONIO, SALARINO, and SALANIO.
IN sooth, I know not why I am so sad;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
Salar. Your mind is tossing on the ocean;
That curt'sy to them, do them reverence,
1 Argosies are large ships either for merchandise or war. word has been supposed to be derived from the classical ship Argo, as a vessel eminently famous; and this seems the more probable, from Argis being used for a ship in low Latin.
My wind, cooling my broth,
And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,
Is sad to think upon his merchandise.
Ant. Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it, My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate Upon the fortune of this present year: Therefore, my merchandise makes me not sad. Salan. Why then you are in love.
Fye, fye! Salan. Not in love neither? Then let's say, you
Because you are not merry: and 'twere as easy
That they'll not show their teeth in way of smile,
2 To vail is to lower, to let fall. From the French avaler.