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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 Gesta Romanorum. The first, Of the Bond, is in ch. xlviii. of the copy which I chuse to refer to, as the completest 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 & vestimentis 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 scitis quod miles nunquam se obligabat ad aliud per literam nisi quod mercator habeat potestatem carnes ab ossibus scindere, sine sanguinis effusione, de quo nihil erat prolocutum. Statim mittat manum in eum; si vero sanguinem 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 habebispone ergo manum in eum, ita ut sanguinem non effundas. Mercator vero videns se confusum abscessit: & sic vita militis salvata 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 adversa sustinuisti, Tamen si digna fueris ut uxor ejus sis cito probabo. Et fecit fieri tria vasa. PRIMUM fuit de auro purissimo & lapidibus pretiosis interius ex omni parte, & plenum ossibus mortuorum: & exterius erat subscriptio; Qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod meruit. SECUNDUM vas erat de argento puro & gemmis pretiosis, plenum terra; & exterius erat subscriptio: Qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod natura appetit. TERTIUM vas de plumbo plenum lapidibus pretiosis interius & gemmis nobilissimis; & exterius erat subscriptio talis: Qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod Deus disposuit. Ista tria ostendit puellæ, & dixit, si unum ex istis 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 inscriptions, 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
From this abstract 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 Gesta 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 novelist, 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 1594. Meres's book was not published till the end of that year. MALONE.
LORENZO, in love with JESSICA.
SHYLOCK, a Jew:
TUBAL, a Jew, his friend.
LAUNCELOT GOBBO, a clown, servant to SHYLOCK.
OLD GOBBO, father to LAUNCELot.
SALERIO3, a messenger from Venice.
LEONARDO, servant to BASSANIO.
PORTIA, a rich heiress.
NERISSA, her waiting-maid.
JESSICA, daughter to SHYLOCK.
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.
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.
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.
s This character I have restored to the Persona Dramatis. The name appears in the first folio: the description is taken from the quarto. STEEVENS.
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
SCENE I. Venice. A Street.
Enter ANTONIO, SALARINO, and SALANIO.
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
Salar. Your mind is tossing on the ocean;
—argosies—] A name given in our author's time to ships of great burthen, probably galleons, such as the Spaniards now use in their West India trade. JOHNSON.
In Ricaut's Maxims of Turkish Polity, ch. xiv. it is said, "Those vast carracks called argosies, which are so much famed for the vastness of their burthen and bulk, were corruptly so denominated from Ragosies," i. e. ships of Ragusa, a city and territory on the gulf of Venice, tributary to the Porte; but the word may have derived its origin from the famous ship Argo.
†i.e. The Venetians, who may well be said to live on the sea. DOUCE. Mr. Malone reads " on the flood."
That curt'sy to them, do them reverence,
As they fly by them with their woven wings.
Salan. Believe me, sir, had I such venture forth,
Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still
And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks?
And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought
Is sad to think upon his merchandize.
Ant. Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it,
2 Plucking the grass, &c.] By holding up the grass, or any light body that will bend by a gentle blast, the direction of the wind is found.
3 · Andrew-] The name of the ship.
Vailing her high top —] i. e. lowering.