« PredošláPokračovať »
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
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
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.
Venice" in the Stationers' Register is curious, from its particularity :
"22 July, 1598, James Robertes.] A booke of the Marchaunt of 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 had 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 Personæ, 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 Marchant of Venis."
"By his Matis Players. On Shrovtusday a play cauled the 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
I'll tell you of as vile a Jew
No Jew of Scotland I intend,
This Jew in wealth did much transcend
"Where he by usury and trade
Not much unlike a witches.
His habit was a Jewish gown,
That would defend all weather;
His chin turn'd up, his nose hung down,
"Yet this deformed father had
A daughter, and a wise one;
Did ever set his eyes on:
But yet she had a Christian soul
2 See "Extracts from the Accounts of Revels at Court," by P. Cunningham, Esq., printed for the Shakespeare Society in 1842, pp. 204, 205.
"The merchant's friend, that had the gold,
Offer'd the sum down three times told,
To have his friend's life spared.
"Twould not be took; but straight steps in
Who, though but young, doth now begin
"Jew, we do grant that by the law
We'll show you what a Jew is:
Be sure you cut no further,
"The Jew enrag'd doth tear the bond,
To be his wife, and save his life,
"The Court consent, and they are wed:
And given to his daughter.
The Jew cries out he's undone !
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 borrow 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 heard 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