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With this field-dew consecrate.
[Exeunt OBERON, TITANIA, and train. Puck. If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
6 Ever shall IT SAFELY rest,] So the corr. fo. 1632: the usual reading has been "ever shall in safety rest,” which is decidedly wrong. This is one of the instances in which Mr. Singer adopts the emendation of the old MS. annotator, but, although he makes a note on the passage, he forgets to acknowledge bis obligation He does not follow the punctuation of this song recommended on the same authority, and as decidedly accurate. The fairies were not to be “ with this field-dew consecrate;" they could not need it, but the children who were to be thus exempted from "mark prodigious."
? And, as I'm AN HONEST Puck,] “Puck," or Pouke, is a name of the devil ; and, as Tyrwhitt remarks, it is used in that sense in “ Pierce Ploughman's Vision,” and elsewhere. It was therefore necessary for Shakespeare's fairy messenger to assert his honesty, and to clear himself from any connexion with the “helle Pouke."
“ The most excellent Historie of the Merchant of Venice. With the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the lewe towards the sayd Merchant, in cutting a iust pound of his flesh: and the obtayning of Portia by the choyse of three chests. As it hath beene diuers times acted by the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. At London, Printed' by I. R., for Thomas Heyes, and are to be sold in Paules Church-yard, at the signe of the Greene Dragon, 1600.” 4to, 38 leaves.
“The excellent History of the Merchant of Venice. With the extreme cruelty of Shylocke the Iew towards the saide Merchant, in cutting a iust pound of his flesh. And the obtaining of Portia, by the choyse of three caskets. Written by W. Shakespeare. Printed by J. Roberts, 1600.” 4to, 40 leaves.
It is also printed in the folio, 1623, where it occupies 22 pages, viz., from p. 163 to p. 184, inclusive, in the division of “Comedies.” Besides its appearance in the later folios, the Merchant of Venice was republished in 4to, in 1637 and 1652.
The two plots of “ The Merchant of Venice" are found as distinct novels in various ancient foreign authorities, but no English original of either of them of the age of Shakespeare has been discovered. That there were such originals is highly probable; but if so, they have perished with many other relics of our popular literature. Whether the separate incidents, relating to the bond and to the caskets, were ever combined in the same novel, at all as Shakespeare combined them in his drama, cannot of course be determined. Steevens asserts broadly, that“ a play comprehending the distinct plots of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice had been exhibited long before he commenced a writer;" and the evidence he adduces is a passage from Gosson's “School of Abuse,” 1579, where he especially praises two plays "showne at the Bull," one called “ The Jew," and the other“ Ptolome:” of the former Gosson states, that it “represented the greedinesse of worldly chusers, and bloody minds of usurers.” (Shakespeare Society's Reprint, p. 30.) The terms, “worldly chusers,” may certainly have reference to the choice of the caskets; and the conduct of Shylock may very well be intended by the words, “ bloody minds of usurers.” It is possible, therefore, that a theatrical performance should have existed, anterior to the time of Shakespeare, in which the separate plots were united; and it is not unlikely that some novel had been published which gave the same incidents in a narrative form. “On the whole," says the learned and judicious Tyrwhitt, "I am inclined to suspect that Shakespeare followed some hitherto unknown novelist, who had saved him the trouble of working up the two stories into one.”
Both stories are found separately in the Latin Gesta Romanorum, with considerable variations : that of the bond is chap. xlviii. of