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Thomas Heyes, and are to be sold in Paul's Church-yard, at the sign of the Green Dragon. 1600." The other quarto was “ printed by J. Roberts;'
;" — the same J. R., most likely, who printed the edition for Heyes. But though both were by the same printer, and issued the same year, they were entirely distinct impressions of course Roberts was both printer and publisher; Heyes only the latter. Of these two editions it seems questionable which is to be preferred : both appear to have been equally authorized, and were probably from different manuscripts ; at all events. neither was printed from the other. There was no other issue of the play, that we know of, till the folio of 1623, where it stands the ninth in the list of Comedies. The repetition of various misprints shows the folio to have been printed from the edition of Heyes. — Two other contemporary notices of the play are found in the account of expenses for the year 1605, as kept by the Master of the Revels, and preserved at the Audit Office : By his Majesty's Players. On Shrove-Sunday a play of the Merchant of Venice.” And “on Shrove-Tuesday a play called the Merchant of Venice again, commanded by the King's Majesty." Which argues that the play gave good satisfaction at court. Sharberd is set down as “the poet which made the play;" the name having been written by the same band, no doubt, which gave us a like specimen of orthography in the case of Measure for Measure.
The Merchant of Venice, then, was certainly written before the Author's thirty-fifth year, perhaps before his thirty-first. Ii it were clear that the notice in Henslow's Diary referred to this play, that of course would settle the question in favour of the earlier date. But the best that can be said on that side is, that no other play has come down to us which answers so well to the title there given; - a thing of liule weight, considering how many dramas of that period are known to have been lost. And the play exhibits throughout such variety and maturity of power, as make strongly for the later date : the style is every where so equal and sustained; every thing is so perfectly in its place and filled to its place; the word and the character are at all times so exactly suited to each other, and both to the paramount laws of dramatic proportion; and the work is so free from any jarring, or falling-out, or flyingofi' from the due course and order of art, as almost to compel the belief that the whole was written in the same stage of intellectual growth and furnishing. And the play evinces in a remarkable degree the easy, unlabouring freedom of conscious mastery; the persons being so entirely under his control and subdued 10 bis hand, that he seems to let thein lalk and act just as they have a mind w.
Perhaps there is no one of his plays in which the Poet has drawn more largely from preceding writers : novelty of plot or story there is almost none; his mind being apparently so drawn off in creative exercise as to generate an uller carelessness of what is
usually terined invention. If any one infer from this that the play is lacking in originality, we can only advise him to think again and not to speak until he thinks ditỉerently. Some of the malerials here used were so much the common stock of European literature before his lime, and had been run into so many variations, that it is not easy to say what sources he was most indebted to for them. The incidents of the bond and the caskets are found separately in the Gesta Romanoruin, a very ancient and curious collection of tales. To set this matter clear, it must be noted that there were two collections bearing this title, the one in Latin, the other in English ; and that the incidents in question occur in both. though with considerable variations. Of the Latin Gesta no printed copy of so early a date as the Poet's time has been discovered ; bat Mr. Tyrwhitt gives some extracts from a manuscript n the British Museum, which he thinks may have been the remote origi nals of the play. The immediule originals were probably in the English Gesta. Of the story containing the choice of caskets a version was put forth by Robert Robinson as early as 1577, and has been lately reprinted in the Shakespeare Library. The Poet is clearly traced in this quarter, as will appear from the following abstract of so much as relates to the matter in hand, and especially from the inscriptions, which we give just as they stand in the old copy.
A marriage was proposed between the son of Anselme, emperor of Rome, and the daughter of the king of Ampluy. On her way to the prince's country the young lady was shipwrecked, none of the crew but herself escaping. In this condition an earl, wained Parris, found her as he was walking by the sea-shore, and took her under his protection, and, having heard her story, made it known to the emperor. To ascertain whether she were worthy of his son, he set before her three vessels; the first of gold, filled with dead men's bones, and bearing the inscription,—Whoso chooseth me shall find that he deserveth ;" the second of silver, filled with earth, and inscribed, “Whoso chooseth me shall find that his nature desireth ;" the third of lead, full of precious stones, and having the motion- -“Whoso chooseth me shall find that God hath disposed to him.” He then told her to choose one of the vessels, and that if she made choice of that wherein was profit to herself and others, she should have his son; if not, she would lose him. After praying to God for assistance, she made choice of the leaden casket. He then told her she had chosen wisely, and immediately gave order for the marriage.
There is also a choice of caskets in Boccaccio's Decameron, though not much like that in the play; nor does any one pretend that Shakespeare made any use of it.
In the story of the bond as told in the Gesta, the parties are simply a knight and a merchant, and therefore act from no such prejudices as move Antonio and Shylock. The knight undertaker a love suit to the daughter of Selestinus, a wise emperor in Rome, and certain strange terms are agreed upon heiween them as the condition of her favour. As fast as be fulfils these terms, he is yet more strangely thwarted of his purpose, until, being thereby at length reduced to poverty, he applies to the merchant for a loan of money, to carry him through one more trial. The merchant agrees to furnish him “ou condition that if thou keep not thy day of payınent, it shall be lawful to me for to draw away all the flesh of thy body from the bone with a sharp sword.” Accepting these terms, and binding himself accordingly, the knight, thus furnished, wins the lady, and, in the sweetness of wedlock, forgets the bond ill the day of payment is past. When his wife learns how the case stands, she directs him to pay the merchant whatever sum he may ask. Upon this business he departs; but the merchant, refusing the money, insists upon the covenant, and judgment is rendered in his favour. The rest of the story must be given in good old English, as printed by Mr. Douce from a manuscript written in the time of Henry VI.
“ Now, in all this time, the damsel his love had sent knights for lo espy and enquire how the law was pursued against him. And, when she heard tell that the law passed against him, she cut off all the long hair of her head, and clad her in precious clothing like 10 a man, and went to the palace where her leman was to be judged, and saluted the justice, and all they trowed that she had been a knight. And the judge enquired of what country she was, and what she had to do there. She said, I am a knight, and come of far country, and hear tidings that there is a knight among you that should be judged to death for an obligation that he made to a merchant, and therefore I am come to deliver him. Then the judge said, It is a law of the emperor, that whosoever bindeth him with his own proper will and consent without any constrain. ing, he shall be served so again. When the damsel heard this, she turned to the merchant, and said, Dear friend, what profit is it to thee that this knight, that standeih here ready to the doom, be slain ? it were betier 10 thee to have money than to have him slain. Thou speakest all in vain, quoth the merchant; for without doubt I will have the law, since he bound bimself so freely; and therefore he shall have none other grace than law will, for he came 10 me, and I not to him. I desired him not thereto against his will. Then said she, I pray thee how much shall I give to have my petition ? I shall give thee thy money double ; and if that be noi pleasing to thee, ask of me what thou wilt, and thou shalı have. Then said he, Thou heardest me never say but that I would have my covenant kept. Truly, said she; and thou shalt trow me atore you, sir judge, and afore you all, with a right wisdom of that that I shall say to you. Ye have heard how much I have proffered this merchant for the life of this knight, and he forsaketh all, mod asketh the law, and that liketh me inuch; and therefore,.ord. ings that be here, hear me what I shall say. Ye know well that the knight bound him never by letter but that the merchant should have power to cut his flesh from the bones, but there was no cov. enant made of shedding of blood; thereof was nothing spoke; and therefore let him sel hand on him anon; and, if he shed any blood with bis shaving of the flesh, forsooth, then shall the king have good law upon him. And when the merchant heard this, he said, Give me my money, and I forgive my action. Forsooth, quoth she, thou shalt not have one penny; for afore all this company I proffered to thee all that I might, and thou forsook it, and saidži with a loud voice, I shall have my covenant; and therefore do thy best with him ; but look that thou shed 10 blood, I charge thee, for it is not thine, and no covenant was thereof. Then the merchant, seeing this, went away confounded. And so was the knight's lite saved, and no penny paid.”
As this work is not known to have been in print till put forth by Mr. Douce, it appears not but that the Poet may have read it in manuscript. This, to be sure, is no proof that he did so, for many things in print then have been lost altogether : but perhaps it should make men cautious bow they linii bis reading to such printed books of that time as have come down to us.
The same incident is again met with in Il Pecorone of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, which was written as early as 1378, but not printed till 1550. The earliest known translation of this tale was made in 1755, wbich, together with the original, has been republisbed by Mr. Collier in his Shakespeare Library. No version of so early a date as the play having been heard of, we have 110 means of knowing whether the Poet read it in Italian or in English. In the novel the residence of the lady, who answers to Portia, is placed at Belmonte, an Italian seaport. Being mistress of the port and the country round, she offers herself and all that belongs to her in marriage upon certain conditions, which we cannot stay to repeat, and would not if we could. In the pursuit of this prize many gentlemen have been ruined, as all the wealth they brought with them was lo be forfeited unless they fulfilled the conditions ; which her wise ladyship still disabled them from doing by giving them sleeping potions. Her last suitor is a young Florentine nained Giannetto, who, first for his father's sake, then for his own, is greatly beloved by Arsaldo, the richest merchant in Venice. Three times Ansaldo fils bim out with fine ships and rich cargoes 10 trade in company with several friends at Alexandria, and as often the young gentleman, though a miracle of virtue and talents, contrives to steal away from his companions into the port of Bel. monte. Twice he falls a victim to the lady's potions, and returns poor and ashamed 10 Venice, but keeps up his credit by inventing such causes of his miscarriage as leave him unblamea. To com plete his third outfit, Ansaldo was forced to borrow ten thousand ducats of a Jew, and gave a bond that if payment were not made by a certain day, the Jew might take a pound of flesh from any part of his body he pleased. This time, upon his arrival at Be monte, one of the lady's maids whispers in his ear how to succeea The intoxication of his new state drowns the memory of his ben efactor till the very day of payment comes. Being then by ar. accident reminded of it, and greatly troubled thereat, he makes known the cause of his distress, and forthwith sets out for Venive, with ten times the sum due. No sooner is be gone than his wife follows him in the disguise of a lawyer, and, arriving in Venice, gives herself out as a graduate of the law-school at Bologna. Lawyers being then rather scarce, she is called in to the trial, which under her conduct turns out much the same as in the play Io his fulness of gratitude Gianetto offers her the ten thousand ducats, and she refuses them, declaring she will accept nothing nut his inarriage ring, which he at last gives her. Afterwards she banters hin upon the loss of it, and then discloses what she has done ; and finally Giannetto rewards his benefactor with the hand of the servant-maid who whispered in his ear the way of success.
This outline is enough to certify the reader that Shakespeare had access to the novel in some form or other; though no one can well conceive the wealth of his adding without readmg the original story. It should be remarked withal, that evident as are the Poet's obligations in this quarter, he varies from it in such a way as to show an acquaintance with the similar tale in the Geslu Romunorum ; while his substituting the caskets for the unhand. some conditions, imposed by the heroine of the nove!, illustrates how well he understood the moral laws of his art; that whatsoever offends against virtue and bonour is so far forth offensive to nature and good taste.
The matter of the bond and its forfeiture is again sound in The Orator, a book containing “ a hundred several Discourses." translated from the French of Alexander Silvayn by Anthony Munday, and published in 1598. A Christian inerchami owed a Jew nine hundred crowns, which he bound himself to pay within three months, or to give him a pound of his flesh. The time being passed, the Jew refused the money, and stood upon the bond. The ordinary judge of the place appointed him to cut a pound of the merchant's flesti, and, if he cut either inore or less, then his own head should be smii. ten off. The Jew appealed from this sentence to the chief judge ; and the Discourse in question is made up of the Jew's argument and the Christian's answer. Shakespeare has no signs of obligation in that quarter; so that the matter as there handled is of 10 consequence in this connection, save as showing the commonness of the incident. Mr. Douce indeed says, “Shylock's reasoning before the senate is evidently borrowed ” from The Orator; which breeds some doubt whether he had ever read the latter.
In Percy's Reliques, among the ballads that illustrate Shakespeare." we have « A new Song, showing the cruelty of Gernutus.