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to the selfish cruelty of the usurer Shylock, was necessary to redeem the honor of human nature. The judgment scene with which the fourth act is occupied, is alone a perfect drama, concentrating in itself the interest of the whole. The knot is now untied, and, according to the common idea, the curtain might drop. But the Poet was unwilling to dismiss his audience with the gloomy impressions which the delivery of Antonio, accomplished with so much difficulty, contrary to all expectation, and the 'punishment of Shy.ock, were calculated to leave behind; he has therefore added the fifth act by way of a musical after-piece in the play itself. The episode of Jessica, the fugitive daughter of the Jew, in whom Shakspeare has contrived to throw a disguise of sweetness over the national features, and the artifice by which Portia and her companion are enabled to rally their newly-married husbands, supply him with materials."
“The scene opens with the playful prattling of two lovers in a summer mounlight,
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, &c., 1579, that a play comprehending the distinct plots of Shakspeare's Merchant of Venice had been exhibited long before he began to write. 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 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 Dr. Farmer, is by Wynken de Worde, without date, but of the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was long doubted whether 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 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 plct of Shakspeare's play, are to be found in the Variorum Editions, and in Mr. Douce's very interesting work.
** The Orator, handling a hundred several Discourses, in form of Declamations, &c. written in French by Alexander Silvayn, and Englished by L. P. (Lazarus Pyol, i. e. An thony 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.” VOL. 11.
} Suitors to Portia.
Duke of Venice.
Servants to Portia
Portia, a rich Heiress.
Magnificoes of Venice, Officers of the Court of Justice,
Jailer, Servants, and other Attendants.
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.
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,
1 Argosies are large ships either for merchandise or war. The 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.
Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt,
My wind, cooling my broth,
Should I go to church,
Ant. Believe me, no. I thank my fortune for it,
Salan. Why, then, you are in love.
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
To vail is to lower, to let fall; from the French, avaler