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• THE MERCHANT OF Venice.] The reader will find a dira tinct epitome of the novels from which the ftory of this play is supposed to be taken, at the conclusion of the notes. It Thould however be remembered, that if our poet was at all indebted to the Italian novelists, it must have been through the medium of some old translation, which has hitherto escaped the researches of his most industrious editors.
It appears from a passage in Stephen Gosson's School of Abuse, &c. 1579, that a play, comprehending the distinct plots of Shakspeare's Merchant of Venice, had been exhibited long before he commenced a writer, viz. “ The Jew shown at the Bull, representing the greedinesle of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers." “ These plays, says Goffon, (for he mentions others with it) are goode and sweete plays,” &c. It is therefore not improbable that Shakspeare new-wrote his piece, on the model already mentioned, and that the elder performance, being inferior, was permitted to drop filently into oblivion.
This play of Shakspeare had been exhibited before the year 1598, as appears from Meres's Wits Treasury, where it is mentioned with eleven more of our author's pieces. It was enter'd on the books of the Stationers' Company, July 22, in the same year. It could not have been printed earlier, because it was not yet licensed. The old song of Gernutus the Jew of Venice, is published by Dr. Percy in the first volume of his Reliques of ancient English Poetry : and the ballad intituled, The Murtherouslyfe and terrible death of the rich Jewe of Malta; and the tragedy on the same subject, were both entered on the Stationers' books, May 1594. STEVENS.
The story was taken from an old translation of The Gefta Romanorum, first printed by Wynkyn de Worde. The book was very popular, and Shakspeare has closely copied some of the language: an additional argument, if we wanted it, of his track of reading. Three vessels are exhibited to a lady for her choice–The firft was made of pure gold, well beset with precious Itones without, and within full of dead men's bones; and thereupon was engraven this posie: Whojo chufeth me, shall find that he deserveth. The second vessel was made of fine filver, filled with earth and worms; the superscription was thus: Whapo chuseth me, fball find that his nature desireth. The third vessel was made of lead, full within of precious ftones, and thereupon was insculpt this pofie: Whofo chuleth me, Jhall find that God hath disposed for him. -The lady after a comment upon each, chuses the leaden velfel.
In a MS. of Lidgate, belonging to my very learned friend, Dr. Askew, I find a Tale of two Marchants of Egipt and of Baldad, ex Geftis Romanorum. Leland therefore could not be the original author, as Bishop Tanner suspected. He lived a century after Lidgate. Farmer.
The two principal incidents of this play are to be found separately in a collection of odd stories, which were very popular, at least five hundred years ago, under the title of Gefta Romanorum. The first, of the hond, is in ch. xlviii. of the copy which I chuse to refer to, as the completeft of any which I have yet seen. MS. Harl. n. 2270 A knight there borrows money of a merchant, upon condition of forfeiting all his flesh for non-payment. When the penalty is exacted before the judge; the knight's mistress, disguised, in forma viri & veftimentis pretiosis induta, comes into court, and, by permission of the judge, endeavours to mollify the merchant. She first offers him his money, and then the double of it, &c. to all which his answer is-Conventionem meam volo habere.-Puella, cum hoc audisset, ait coram omnibus, Domine mi judex, da rectum judicium super his quæ vobis dixero.-Vos fcitis quod miles nunquam fe obligabat ad aliud per literam nisi quod mercator habeat potestatem carnes ab ossibus scindere, fine sanguinis effufione, de quo nihil erat prolocutum. Statim mittat manum in eum; fi vero fanguinem effuderit, Rex contra eum actionem habet. Mercator, cum hoc audisset, ait; date mihi pecuniam & omnem actionem ei remitto. Ait puella, Amen dico tibi, nullum denarium habebis-pone ergo manum in eum, ita ut sanguinem non effundas. Mercator vero videns se confusum abscessit; & fic vita militis falvata est, & nullum denarium dedit.
The other incident, of the caskets, is in ch. xcix, of the same collection. A king of Apulia sends his daughter to be married to the son of an emperor of Rome. After some adventures, (which are nothing to the present purpose,) she is brought before the emperor; who says to her, “Puella, propter amorem filii mei multa adverfa fuftinuifti. Tamen fi digna fueris ut uxor ejus fis cito probabo. Et fecit fieri tria vasa. PRIMUM fuit de auro puriffimo & lapidibus pretiofis interius ex omni parte, & plenum offibus more lucrum; & exterius erat subscriptio; Qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod meruit. SecuNDUM vas erat de argento puro & gemmis pretiofis, plenum terra ; & exterius erat subscriptio: Qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod natura appetit. TERTIUM vas de plumbo plenum lapidibus pretiosis interius & gemmis nobiliffimis; & exterius erat subfcriptio talis : Qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod deus difpofuit. Ifta tria oftendit puellæ, & dixit, fi unum ex iftis elegeris in quo commodum, & proficuum est, filium meum habebis. Si vero elegeris quod nec tibi nec aliis est commodum, ipsum non habebis.” The young lady, after mature consideration of the vessels and their in, scriptions, chuses the leaden, which being opened, and found to be full of gold and precious stones, the emperor says: “ Bona puella, bene elegisti-ideo filium meum habebis.”
From this abitract of these two stories, I think it appears sufficiently plain that they are the remote originals of the two incidents in this play. That of the caskets Shakspeare might take from the
English Gefta Romanorum, as Dr. Farmer has observed; and that of the bond might come to him from the Pecorone ; but upon the whole I am rather inclined to suspect, that he has followed some hitherto unknown novellist, who had saved him the trouble of working up the two stories into one. TYRWHITT.
This comedy, I believe, was written in the beginning of the year, 1598. Meres's book was not published till the end of that year. See An Attempt to ascertain the order of Shakspeare's plays, Vol. I, MALONE,
Duke of Venice.
fervants to Portia.
Portia, a rich heiress :
Magnificoes of Venice, Officers of the Court of Justice,
Jailer, Servants, and other Attendants.
SCENE, partly at Venice, and partly at Belmont,
the Seat of Portia, on the Continent.
2 In the old editions in quarto, for J. Roberts, 1600, and in the old folio, 1623, there is no enumeration of the persons. It was first made by Mr. Rowe. Johnson.
3 It is not easy to determine the orthography of this name. In the old editions the owner of it is called, -Salanio, Salino, and Solanio. STEEVENS.
* This character I have restored to the Personæ Dramatis. The name appears in the first folio: the description is taken from the quarto. STEEVENS.