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Suitors to PORTIA.

ANTONIO, the Merchant of Venice.
BASSANIO, his Friend.
LORENZO, in love with JESSICA.
TUBAL, a Jew, his Friend.
SALERIO, a Messenger from Venice.

Servants to PORTIA,

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PORTIA, a rich Heiress.
NERISSA, ker Waiting-maid.

Magnificoes of Venice, Officers of the Court of Justice,
Gaoler, Servants, and other Attendants.

SCENE.-Partly at VENICE, and partly at BELMONT, the

Seat of PORTIA, on the Continent.



This play was first printed in 1600. Two quarto editions were published in that year,-one bearing the name of the publisher, Thomas Heyes, the other that of the printer, J. Roberts. The title-page of the latter edition is as follows:- The excellent History of the Merchant of Venice, with the extreme cruelty of Shylocke the Jew towards the saide Merchant, in cutting a just pound of his flesh. And the obtaining of Portia by the choyse of three caskets. Written by W. Shakespeare. The Cambridge Shakespeare distinguishes these two editions by calling that of Roberts the first quarto, and that of Heyes the second. The difference between these is but slight.

The play was not reprinted till 1623, when it appeared with thirty-five other plays in the first folio edition.

Of the precise time of the production of this play, nothing certain is known. On the 22d of July 1598, the following entry was made in the books of the Stationers' Company :'James Robertes. A booke of the Marchaunt of Venyce, or otherwise called the Jewe of Venyce. Provided that it be not prynted by the said James Robertes or anye other whatsoever, without lycence first had of the right honourable the Lord Chamberlen.' Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, published in 1598, gives a list of Shakespeare's known plays; and amongst the Comedies we find, last on the list, The Merchant of Venice. According to the diary of Henslowe, actor and manager, a play called The Venysian Comedy was added in 1594 ; and this, the commentator Malone thinks, was The Merchant of Venice. All we know for certain is that the play was entered at Stationers' Hall in 1598, and first printed in 1600.


In 1579, Stephen Gosson published a tract called the School of Abuse, in which he describes a play of his time as The Zew, the subject of which exhibited 'the greediness of worldly chusers, and bloody mindes of usurers.?

This play, however, has been lost; but from Gosson's description, it is supposed to have contained the two incidents of the bond and the caskets, and thus have furnished the groundwork of Shakespeare's comedy. Whether this be true or not, the respective stories of the bond and caskets were in circulation long before the sixteenth century. The incident of the pound of flesh appears in a collection of tales called Il Pecorone, written in the fourteenth century by an Italian, Ser. Giovanni, and first published at Milan in 1558. In this story we have a rich lady at Belmont, who was to be won on certain conditions ; and she is said to have been gained by the friend of a merchant, who had become surety for him to a Jew. The narrative of the forfeiture, and of the deliverance of the merchant, corresponds with that in the play. No translation of these tales is known to have been extant in Shakespeare's day.

A similar incident is told in a collection of tales, compiled in Latin, under the name of Gesta Romanorum, a translation of which, written in the reign of Henry VI., is preserved in the Harleian Collection. In this we have all the incidents of the bond, the forfeiture, the pound of flesh, and the artifice by which the penalty was avoided. In this story, however, the borrower was a knight, who fell in love with a princess, and the lender a merchant.

The story of the bond was also ready to Shakespeare's hand in an old English ballad, printed in Percy's Reliques, from which the following extracts are taken :

A NEW SONG, Shewing the crueltie of Gernutus, a Jewe, who, lending to a merchant an Hundred Crowns, would have a pound of his Fleshe, because he could not pay him at the time appointed.

To the tune of 'Blacke anå Yellow.'


In Venice towne not long agoe

A cruel Jew did dwell,
Which lived all on usurie,

As Italian writers tell.

Gernutus called was the Jew,

Which never thought to die :
Nor never yet did any good,

To them in streets that lie.

His life was like a Barrow-hog,

That liveth many a day ; Yet never once doth any good,

Untill men will him slay.

Or like a filthy heape of dung,

That lyeth in a whoard, Which never can doe any good,

Till it be spread abroad.
So fares it with the usurer,

He cannot sleepe in rest ;
For feare the theefe will him pursue,

To pluck him from his nest.
His heart doth thinke on many a wile,

How to deceive the poore ;
His mouth is almost ful of mucke,

Yet still he gapes for more.
His wife must lend a shilling,

For every weeke a penny ;
Yet bring a pledge that's double worth,

If that you will have any.
And see likewise you keepe your day,

Or else you loose it all :
This was the living of the wife ;

Her cow she did it call.

Within that citie dwelt that time

A marchant of great fame, Which being distressed, in his need

Unto Gernutus came,

Desiring him to stand his friend

For twelve month and a day,
To lend to him an hundred crownes,

And he for it would pay

Whatsoever he would demand of him,

And pledges he should have. No (quoth the Jew, with flearing lookes),

Sir, aske what you will have ; No penny for the loane of it

For one year you shall pay :
You may do me as good a turne

Before my dying day.
But we will have a merry jeast,

For to be talked long :
You shall make me a bond, quoth he,

That shall be large and strong;

And this shall be the forfeyture,

Of your own fleshe a pound.
If you agree, make you the bond,

And here is a hundred crownes.

With right good will ! the marchant says ;

And so the bond was made.
When twelve month and a day drew on

That backe it should be payd,
The marchant's ships were all at sea,

And money came not in ;
Which way to take, or what to doe,

To think he doth begin.
And to Gernutus straight he comes,

With cap and bended knee,
And sayd to him, of curtesie,

I pray you beare with mee.
My day is come, and I have not

The mony for to pay :
And little good the forfeyture

Will doe you, I dare say.
With all my heart, Gernutus sayd,

Command it to your minde,
In thinges of bigger waight than this,

You shall me ready finde.
He goes his way; the day once past,

Gernutus doth not slacke
To get a sergiant presently,

And clapt him on the backe,
And layd him into prison strong,

And sued his bond withal ;
And when the judgment day was come,

For judgment he did call.
The marchant's friendes came thither fast,

With many a weeping eye ;
For other meanes they could not find,

But he that day must die.


Of the Jew's crueltie ; setting forth the mercifulnesse of the Judge towards the Marchant.

Some offered for his hundred crownes

Five hundred for to pay,
And some a thousand, two, or

Yet still he did denay.

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