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needless that he should appear. For the messenger himself might not be in the plot, and Portia have employed a hermit to deliver him the message
from Portia, as he actually did deliver it to Lorenzo.
Some general remarks relative to the conduct
of the Play, with Extracts from Authors supposed to have furnished the Poet with the Subjects of his Fable.
OF The Merchant of Venicethe style is even and easy, with few peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of construction. The comic part raises laughter, and the serious fixes expectation. The probability of either one or the other story cannot be maintained. The union of two actions in one event is in this drama eminently happy. Dryden was much pleased with his own address in connecting the two plots of his Spanish Friur, which yet, I believe, the critic will find excelled by this play:
THERE is a wide difference, in the management of their plots, between Shakspeare and Beaumont and Fletcher-Those of the former are altogether as improbable as those of the latter. But, under his direction, improbability lessens imperceptibly; the superstructure is so beautiful, that you forget the foundation. You survey the whole building with such delight, that you have not leisure to think of the enchanted ground on which it stands.
Let me instance only the Merchant of Venice. Can any story be devised more strange and absurd than that of a bond with a forfeiture of a pound of flesh? But, when once you have admitted that into your belief, how does the poet, by the skilful texture of the Scene, alarm your mind and work on your passions ! Notwithstanding the very odious character of the Jew, Shakspeare has the art to interest you, for a time, in his favour. In the third Act, we have a Scene, in which the Jew's private calamities make some tender impressions on the audience; but the author aware of the consequences of indulging this pity, rouses them to a just knowledge of his character, by making Shylock in the midst of his private distresses, give vent to his inveterate hatred to the Merchant, whose blood he determines to spill. The story of the caskets is as romantic as any tale of knight-errantry: In the hands of our enchanter it passes for true history.
In the fourth Act of the play, a young lady, in the dress of a lawyer, imposes upon the high court of justice, and saves the life of the Merchant, by the help of a quibble: but the whole is conducted in such a powerful manner as to justify the most discerning spectators in the approbation of the writer, Davies's DRAM. MISCELLANIES,
Thursday, May 16, 1754.
TO MR. TOWN.
Oxford, May 12, 1754. YOUR last week's paper, on the subject of bets, put me in mind of an extract I lately met with in some news-papers, from the “ Life of Pope Sixtus “ V. translated from the Italian of Gregorio Leti
by the reverend Mr. Farneworth.” is as follows.
It was reported in Rome, that Drake had taken and plundered St. Domingo in Hispaniola, and carried off an immense booty. This account came in a private letter to Paul Secchi, a very considerable merchant in the city, who had large concerns in those parts, which he had insured. Upon receiving this news, he sent for the insurer Samson Ceneda, a Jew, and acquainted him with it. The Jew, whose interest it was to have such a report thought false, gave many reasons why it could not possibly be true ; and at last worked himself up into such a passion, that he said, I'll lay you a pound of my flesh it is a lie. Secchi, who was of a fiery hot temper, replied, I'll lay you a thousand crowns
against a pound of your flesh, that it is true. The Jew accepted the wager, and articles were immediately executed betwixt them, That if Secchi won, he should himself cut the flesh with a sharp knife from whatever part of the Jew's body he pleased. The truth of the account was soon confirmed, and the Jew was almost distracted, when he was informed, that Secchi had solemnly sworn he would compel him to the exact literal performance of his contract. A report of this transaction was brought to the Pope, who sent for the parties, and being informed of the whole affair, said, “ When contracts are made, it “ is just they should be fulfilled, as this shall. Take “ a knife therefore, Secchi, and cut a pound of flesh “ from any part you please of the Jeru's body. We “ advise you, however, to be very careful, for if
you cut but a scruple more or less than your due, “ you shall certainly be hanged."
What induced me to trouble you with this, is a remark made by the editor,
or that the scene “ between Shylock and Anthonio in the Merchant of
Venice is borrowed from this story." I should perhaps have acquiesced in this notion, if I had not seen a note in the “ Observations on Spenser's “ Faerie Queene, by Mr. T. Warton of Trinity
College,” where he seems to have discovered the real source from which Shakspeare drew his fable, which (he informs us) is founded upon an ancient Ballad.' The admirers of Shakspeare are obliged to him for this curious discovery: but as Mr. Warton has only given some extracts, they would undoubtedly be glad to see the whole. This Ballad is inost probably no where to be met with, but in the Ashmolean Musæum in this University, where it was deposited by that famous antiquary Anthony a Wood: I have therefore sent you a faithful transcript of it; and
with will do you more credit, as a CONNOISSEUR, to draw this hidden treasure into light, than if you had discovered an Otho or a Niger.
me, that it