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MS. Harl. 2270, as referred to by Tyrwhitt'; and that of the caskets is chap. xcix. of the same collection. The Pecorone of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino also contains a novel very similar to that of "The Merchant of Venice," with respect to the bond, the disguise and agency of Portia, and the gift of the ring. This narrative (Giorn. iv. nov. 1) was written as early as the year 1378, but not printed in Italy until 1554; and it is remarkable that the scene of certain romantic adventures, in which the hero was engaged, is there laid in the dwelling of a lady at Belmont. These adventures seem afterwards to have been changed, in some English version, for the incidents of the caskets. In Boccaccio's Decameron (Giorn. X. nov. 1) a choice of caskets is introduced, but it does not in other respects resemble the choice as we find it in Shakespeare; while the latter, even to the inscriptions, is extremely like the history in the Gesta Romanorum.
The earliest notice in English, with a date, of any circumstances connected with the bond and its forfeiture, is contained in "The Orator: handling a Hundred several Discourses,” a translation from the French of Alexander Silvayn, by Anthony Munday, who published it under the name of Lazarus Piot, in 1596, 4to. There, with the heading of “Declamation 95,” we find one
“ Of a Jew, who would for his debt have a pound of flesh of a Christian;" and it is followed by “ The Christian's Answer,” but nothing is said of the incidents, out of which these “declamations” arose. Of the old ballad of “The Crueltie of Gernutus, a Jewe,” in “Percy's Reliques," i. 228 (edit. 1812) no dated edition is known; but most readers will be inclined to agree with Warton (" Observations on the Faerie Queene,” i. 128) that it was anterior to Shakespeare's play: it might owe its origin to the ancient drama of The Jew," mentioned by Gosson. Henslowe's Diary,” under date of 25th Aug., 1594, contains an entry relating to the performance of “ The Venetian Comedy," which Malone conjectured might mean “The Merchant of Venice ;" and it is a circumstance not to be passed over, that in 1594 the company of actors to which Shakespeare was attached was playing at the theatre in Newington Butts, in conjunction, as far as we can now learn, with the company of which Henslowe was chief manager.
Meres has “ The Merchant of Venice" in his list, which was published in 1598, and we have no means of knowing how long prior to that date it was written. If it were “The Venetian Comedy" of Henslowe, it was in a course of performance in August, 1594. The earliest entry regarding “The Merchant of Venice" in the Stationers' Register is curious, from its particularity :“ 22 July, 1598, James Robertes.) A booke of the Marchaunt of
1 See also Wright's “ Latin Stories," p. 114, De milite conventionem faciente cum mercatore: the incidents are all different, excepting as regards the condition of the bond; and the lender of the money is not a Jew.
Venyce, or otherwise called the Jewe of Venyse. Provided that yt bee not prynted by the said James Robertes, or anye other whatsoever, without lycence first had from the right
honourable the Lord Chamberlen." Shakespeare was one of the players of the Lord Chamberlain, and the object seems to have been to prevent the publication of the play without the consent of the company, to be signified through the nobleman under whose patronage they acted. This caution was given two years before “ The Merchant of Venice" actually came from the press : we find it published in 1600, both by J. Roberts and by Thomas Heyes, in favour of the last of whom we meet with another entry in the Stationers' books, without any proviso, dated, “28 Oct., 1600, Tho. Haies.] The booke of the Merchant of
Venyce.” By this time the “licence” of the Lord Chamberlain for printing the play bad either been obtained, or was not held necessary. At the bottom of the title-page of Roberts's edition of 1600, no place is stated where it was to be purchased: it is merely, “Printed by J. Roberts, 1600;" while the imprint to the edition of Heyes informs us that it was “printed by I. R.," and that it was “to be sold in Paules Church-yard,” &c. I. R., the printer of the edition of Heyes, was, perhaps, J. Roberts; but it is entirely a distinct impression to that which appeared in the same year with the name of Roberts. The edition of Roberts is, on the whole, to be preferred to that of Heyes; but the editors of the folio of 1623 indisputably employed that of Heyes, adopting various misprints, but inserting also several improvements of the text: these are pointed out in our notes. The similarity between the names of Salanio, Salarino, and Salerio, in the Dramatis Persona, has led to some confusion of the speakers in all the copies, quarto and folio, which it has not always been found easy to set right.
“The Merchant of Venice” was performed before James I., on Shrove-Sunday, and again on Shrove-Tuesday, 1605: hence we have a right to infer that it gave great satisfaction at court. The fact is thus recorded in the original account of expenses, made out by the Master of the Revels, and still preserved in the Audit Office :“By his Matis Plaiers. On Shrovsunday a play of the Mar“By his Matis Players. On Shrovtusday a play cauled the
chant of Venis."
Martchant of Venis againe, commanded by the Kings
Matie." The name of Shaxberd, for Shakespeare, as“ the poet which made the play," is added in the margin opposite both these entries ?.
Notwithstanding the original popularity of this drama, it seems to have been so much forgotten after the Restoration, that in 1664, Thomas Jordan made a ballad out of the story, inserted in his “Royal Arbor of Loyal Poesie,” and thought himself at liberty to pervert the fable, by making the Jew's daughter the principal instrument of punishing her own father: at the trial, she takes the office which Shakespeare assigns to Portia, and marries the merchant. Although on the whole but a poor performance, it shows what Jordan thought of the subject, and is worth subjoining. We take it that it was written while the theatres were closed, from about 1647 to 1660.
“ The Forfeiture : a Romance.
“ Tune, • Dear, let me now this evening die.'
“ You that do look with Christian hue
Attend unto my sonnet;
As ever wore a bonnet:
My story not so mean is ;
Under the States of Venice.
“Where he by usury and trade
Did much exceed in riches :
Not much unlike a witches.
That would defend all weather ;
And both ends met together.
“ Yet this deformed father had
A daughter, and a wise one;
Did ever set his eyes on:
Must be a purblind noddy;
Lodg'd in a Jewish body.
? See “Extracts from the Accounts of Revels at Court," by P. Cunningham, Esq., printed for the Shakespeare Society in 1842, pp. 204, 205.
“ Within the City there did live,
If you the truth will search on't,
A gallant Christian merchant,
In youth and comely feature; Whose love unto a friend was knit
As strong as bonds of nature;
“A gentleman of good renown,
But of a sinking fortune, Who having no estate of's own
Doth thus his friend importune :• Friend, lend me but one thousand pound;
It shall again be paid ye, For I have very lately found
A fair and wealthy lady.'
“ The merchant then makes this reply :
• Friend, I am out of treasure, But I will make my credit fly
To do my friend a pleasure: There is a Jew in town (quoth he),
Who, though he deadly hate me, Yet 'cause my wealth is strong at sea,
This favour will not bate me.'
“When they were come unto the Jew,
He did demand their pleasure: The merchant answers,— I of you
Would borrow so much treasure.' The Jew replies, – You shall not ha't
If such a sum would save ye, Unless in three months you will pay't,
Or forfeit what I'd have you!
66. If at the three months' end you do,
As you shall seal and sign to't, Not pay the money which is due,
Where'er I have a mind to't, I'll cut a pound out of your flesh.'
The merchant is contented, Because he knew in half that time
His shipping would prevent it.
“ IN news by every ship comes in,
His ships are drown'd and fired;
For three months are expired.
The Court must now decide it :
Is ready to divide it.
" The merchant's friend, that had the gold,
Now being richly married,
To have his friend's life spared.
One in Doctor's apparel,
Thus to decide the quarrel.
“Jew, we do grant that by the law
A pound of flesh your due is,
We'll show you what a Jew is :
Be sure you cut no further,
You be arraigo'd for murther.'
“The Jew enrag'd doth tear the bond,
And dares not do the slaughter :
The Doctor proves his daughter;
From a true heart derived,
This subtle sleight contrived.
“ The Court consent, and they are wed:
For hatching of this slaughter
And given to his daughter.
The Jew cries out he's undone !
To England nor to London."
The following, extracted from a small volume called “ Cambridge Jests,” 8vo, 1674, p. 148, seems to prove that the story of Shakespeare's “ Merchant of Venice” was not then well known:
"In the city of Constantinople, a certain Christian desired to horrow of a Jew the sum of five hundred ducats. The Jew lent them unto him, with the condition, that for the use of the money he should at the end of the term give him two ounces of his flesh, cut off in some one of his members. The day of payment being come, the Christian repaid the five hundred ducats to the Jew, but refused to give him any part of his flesh. The Jew, not willing to lose his interest, convented the Christian before the Sultan Soliman, Emperor of the Turks, who, having beard the wicked demand of the one, and the answer of the other, commanded a razor to be brought and to be given to the Jew, to whom he said :-'Because thou shalt know that justice is done thee, take there the razor, and