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it has been related, to how many authors it has been ascribed, and in how many different shapes, of novel, ballad, and drama, it has been published.
In the Gesta Romanorum, now among the Harleian manuscripts, the story is found under the title of “ The Bond;" of which a translation into old English was made, first printed by Wynkyn de Worde, and was extremely popular; and as Shakspeare's play contains certain parts of it verbatim, an inference is drawn thence that it was from it he borrowed the Merchant of Venice.
In Doctor Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, there is a song which bears the name of “ Gernutus the Jew of Venice," and a ballad intitled “ The murderous life and terrible death of the rich Jew of Malta.”
Doctor Farmer states that in the manuscript of one Lidgate, belonging to Dr. Askew, he found a Tale of two Merchants of Egypt and of Bagdad.
The fable of the caskets is taken from a separate story.
In a book called “ The Orator,” translated from the French by Launcelot Pilot, Declamation the 95th is “ Of a Jew who would for his debt have a pound of the flesh of the Christian;" in this the christian's answer is circumstantially detailed.
Gregorio Leti, in his life of Pope Sixtus Quintus, tells the story but with the leading fact reversed, making the wicked offender a christian and the object of malice a Jew. Now Leti was a christian, was educated among the jesuits, and was not likely to take that side of the story, if he had not some proofs which to him appeared authentic.
And in a Persian manuscript in the possession of a captain Munas, in the East India Company's service at Tanjore, the same story is related to have passed in Syria between a Jew and mussul.
Baker says, that the fable of the Merchant of Venice is founded on a fact which happened in some part of Italy; but with this difference that the intended cruelty was really on the side of the christian, the Jew being the unhappy delinquent who fell beneath his rigid and barbarous resentment. It has been well observed that this, if true, is a good exemplification of the fable of the lion and the painter. Had a Jew been the dramatist it would have been otherwise.
These various stories, which are truly interesting, shall in future numbers appear in our miscellany. Mean time we will address our
selves to our Shylock, his author and his representative-to Shakspeare and to Cooke.
Many of our readers will be astonished when we candidly avow our opinion, that unjustifiable as revenge is on christian and on moral principles, and bloody and inexorable as is the heart of Shy. lock, it neither appears to us so unnatural, nor is his resentment, in our opinion, of such immixed enormity as spectators and readers in general think it. If indeed Shylock be that monster, which we firmly believe the world never saw, “ nulla virtute redemptum,” no candid casuist will say that he is “ nulla injuria redemptum." Though his revenge is abominable, it appears by his own showing, and the admission of his enemies, that his wrongs have been ex: treme and his provocations manifold and vexatious, and the more extreme and vexatious because extended to his whole nation, and wreaked upon them for their adherence to their religious faith, in which, whether that faith be orthodox or wrong, their sincerity ought to protect them from sanguinary persecution. Shall we own it?—though hating the Jew through four acts, we never could withhold our pity from him in the conclusion.
Shakspeare having taken up the story on the side most favourable to popularity, and perhaps most congruous with his own opinion respecting the fact, not contented with the naked story as delivered down to him, resolved to enhance its enormity, and has omitted no one circumstance which can tend to blacken the character of Shy-. lock and render it disgraceful to that body of human creatures to which it is supposed to belong. For this purpose he begins by erecting a contrast to the selfishness, cruelty and subtlety of Shylock, in the ardent friendship, the placid benevolence, and the generous nature of Antonio, whom he introduces first to the au. dience for the purpose of inlisting their prepossessions in his favour. When Shylock appears, the first words he utters mark that character so hateful, though necessary, to man, the Usurer; and the cautious calculation with which he ponders on the risk of crediting Antonio, speaks the coldness and hardness of his heart, while his baseness, his vindictiveness and his hypocrisy are brought out in glowing colours by the hatred he expresses (aside to Antonio, contrasted with his fairfaced fawning professions of kindness to the same object.
How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate bim, for he is a christian; Vol. III,
But more, for that, in low simplicity,
Now, if hating his nation, and reviling him personally, be not motives to dislike, we know not what can be; and we find that Antonio, so far from denying or apologizing for his unjust and evil treatment of the Jew, owns it, boasts of it, and avows that he will do it again.
Signior Antonio, many a time, and
Shakspeare, though intent upon exaggerating the wickedness of the Jew and making Antonio personally amiable, seems not less desirous to expose the persecuting spirit which so long abused and disgraced the professors of our divine religion;
and to mark its effects as more dire and pernicious, he enslaves to it a man eminently possessed of the most lovely virtues
of friend. ship, justice, generosity, and a kind affectionate heart; over whom it has such perfect dominion that in the fulness of his hatred to the sect, he uses the most foul and provoking terms of abuse in answer to the Jew's humble expostulation, and that too while begging à favour from him.
ANTONIO. I am like to call thee so again;
A friend of ours, whose ingenuity we have frequent occasion to admire, not long ago censured Shylock's charge and Antonio's acknowledgment of spitting on the Jew as unnatural and too low for a christian gentleman. Now, as others may have conceived the same objection, we will, in order to obviate it, state a few facts which came to our knowledge during a compulsory residence of near two years in Spain as a prisoner of war. Among that superstitious people thousands of fanatical opinions prevail, and thousands of ridiculous legends are circulated and must piously believed, of which few in Great Britain or America have so much as heard. One of these is, that on account of the Jews spitting upon our Saviour at his crucifixion, it was from that time forth ordained that no Jew should ever spit out, and that, for the more certainly carrying this inhibition into effect, the whole nation are rendered physically incapable of ejecting their spittle; while on the contrary it is piously believed to be the duty of a good christian to spit upon every Jew. From this it results that Spaniards feel such an abhorrence of being spit upon, that few of them would fail to return it on the spot with death. “Do you
take for a Jew?” would be the word, and the word would be followed with the knife or stiletto. Shakspeare, therefore, is no less accurate in this part than he is in the characteristic conduct of almost all the persons of his dramas.
We cannot refrain from relating a fact that came within our own knowledge, as it serves to show the state of persecution under which this unfortunate portion of our fellow beings groan, even in England. Some years ago the writer of this bought, of a Jew who lived by making Morocco chainber slippers, two pair, as he was hawking them through the streets of London. Not having silver enough to pay for them, he offered him half a guinea, and desired
him to give him the difference. This was at the shop door of an eminent mercer's in the strand. The poor Israelite timid from persecution and a sense of the inequality of his condition, and rene dered cautious by the evils experienced every day by his tribe, re. fused to touch the half guinea, but begged this writer to throw it down on the counter, and let the mercer first see it. Being interrogated as to the motives of this caution, he replied, that if the half guinea happened to be a bad one, and it became a matter of contest, nothing he could say in his own defence would acquit him of the fraud, or save him from the punishment annexed to it.
In this act of the Merchant of Venice there is nothing of that vehement passion necessary to elicit the higher powers of Cooke. But even in this, he was here eminently great: we have seen him more so; but still he was Cooke, even here. We own that we were disappointed in one passage, because in departing from his original reading in London, he omitted one of the most prominent of the many beauties we had discovered in him, and one which we were, before he came, in the habit of particularly describing to our friends On this side the Atlantic. Instead of saying as others do, and as he was used to do, to our great suprise and regret he read
Many a time and oft,
he formerly read it thus,
Many a time and oft
On the Rialto-you have rated me. The latter reading we think exquisitely beautiful and judicious; not only because it gets rid of a vulgarism, to wit, the old woman's phrase when telling her story of many a time and oft," but because by making the offence as committed oft on the Rialto, he inhances the magnitude of the injury done him by Antonio. As if he had said, by transposition, “ Many a time you have rated me, and what made it worse, often on the Rialto,". on change, in the great place ef business. This too exactly corresponds with his previous charge,
And he rails,
Yet we have never seen the charges of the Jew half so well or pointedly sent home; never his hypocrisy so forcibly or judiciously