« PreviousContinue »
", The scene opens with the playful prattling of two lovers in a suinmer 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, froin 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 of 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 bond, 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 borrowed ; 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 neyer 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 Discourges, 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, 1596.3 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 the caskets.
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. The 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 ously 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.
PERSONS RÉPRESENTED *.
DUKE of Venice.
Servants to Portia.
Portia, a rich Heiress.
Justice, Jailer, Servants, and other Attendants.
SCENE, partly at Venice, and partly at Belmont,
the Seat of Portia, on the Continent.
This enameration of the Dramatis Personæ is by Mr. Rowe,
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
Venice. A Street.
Enter AntoNIO, SALARINO, and SALANIO.
Salar. Your mind is tossing on the ocean;
Salan. Believe me, sir, had I such venture forth, The better part of my affections would Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still Plucking the grass, to know where sits the wind; Peering in maps, for ports, and piers, and roads ; And every object, that might make me fear Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt, Would make me sad.
Argosies are large ships either for merchandise or war. Tbe word has been supposed to be derived from the classical ship Argo, as a vessel eminently famous ; and this seems the mure probable, from Argis being used for a ship in low Latin.
My wind, cooling my broth, Would blow me to an ague, when I thought What harm a wind too great might do at sea. I should not see the sandy hour-glass run, But I should think of shallows and of flats; And see my wealthy Andrew dock'd in sand, Vailing? her high-top lower than her ribs, To kiss her burial. Should I go to church, And see the holy edifice of stone, And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks, Which, touching but my gentle vessel's side, Would scatter all her spices on the stream, Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks; And, in a word, but even now worth this, And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought To think on this; and shall I lack the thought, That such a thing, bechanc'd, would make me sad? But, tell not me; I know, Antonio 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. Ant.
Fye, fye! Salan. Not in love neither? Then let's say, you
are sad, Because you are not merry: and 'twere as easy For you, to laugh, and leap, and say, you are merry, Because you are not sad. Now, by two-headed Janus, Nature hath fram'd strange fellows in her time: Some that will evermore peep through their eyes, And laugh, like parrots, at a bag-piper ; And other of such vinegar aspect, That they'll not show their teeth in way of smile, Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.
2 To vail is to lower, to let fall. From the French avaler.