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THE MERCHANT OF VENICE:
En Five Acts,
BY WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE,
PRINTED FROM THE ACTING COPY, WITH REMARKS,
To which are added,
A DESCRIPTION OF THE COSTUME,-CAST OF THE CHARACTERS
As now performed at the
THEATRES ROYAL, LONDON.
EMBELLISHED WITH A FINE WOOD ENGRAVING,
JOHN CUMBERLAND, 19, LUDGATE HILL.
THERE is no study more delightful than that of tracing the variou authorities that furnished Shakspeare with the plots, the incidents, and the characters, of his immortal dramas.-It is worthy of the scholar, since it affords him innumerable opportunities of pursuing his antiquarian researches-of the man of taste, for, in the wide field of literature, where will he find such abundance of
"Flowers of all hues, and, without thorn, the rose !"
and even that man who is devoid of imagination—who is insensible to the higher and more exalted beauties of so divine a muse, shall receive ample instruction in mere matters of fact, as connected with history, morals, and philosophy;-in history, comprehending events the most memorable and interesting of ancient and modern times; in morals, through the medium of examples the most noble and pure; and, in philosophy-not the thing so miscalled, which opposes a bold front of scorn and infidelity, but that philosophy, the principles of which spring from revelation and truth.
The Merchant of Venice, one of the most finished productions of Shakspeare, unites three distinct plots. Those of the caskets and of the bond are derived from an old play entitled "The Jew," which, according to Gosson, was "shewn at the Bull," and was by him pronounced to be" a goode and sweete playe," and Mr. Dunlop remarks, that the story of Lorenzo and Jessica bears some similitude to the fourteenth tale in the second book of the Novellino of Massuccio Di Salerno; and that learned, elegant, and judicious critic, Mr. Douce, observes, that neither the author of the old play, nor Shakspeare, have confined themselves to one source, in the construction of their plot; but that the Pecorone, the Gesta Romano rum, and probably the ancient Ballad of Gernutus, had been respectively resorted to. That the incident of the bond was borrowed from the former, there remains no doubt; and the whetting of the knife might be suggested by the latter; while the reasoning of Shylock before the Senate is evidently taken from Silvayn's Orator, translated by Munday, and printed in 1596;-it remained for the genius of Shakspeare to unite these various actions; and, from a rude and imperfect sketch of the "greediness of worldly choosers," and the "bloody minds of usurers, to produce a character so awfully striking, that, in the whole range of the ancient and modern drama, it cannot be paralleled.
Shylock has been set up as a mark for universal detestation; he is represented as avaricious, savage, and revengeful. Before, how. ever, we pronounce his final condemnation, let us pause, and look into his character a little deeper than the surface.
He is avaricious-the extortions and injustice of men had made him so. He is savage-their furious persecution and unrelenting cruelty had wrought his nature to a similitude to their own. He is revengeful-and who shall wonder, when, with a spirit so goaded,
• "School of Abuse."-1579.
and excited by the bitterest scorn, he beholds his enemy prostrate at his feet? If, therefore, we consider Shylock as the representative of a despised and persecuted race, fulfilling to the very letter, an awful and mysterious dispensation of Providence, he may surely claim to be heard in his own defence; and such a defence has Shakspeare very emphatically urged, in the midst of circumstances heightened for the purpose of casting an odium upon the disposition of this celebrated Jew.
After recapitulating to Antonio the reproaches he had received from him publicly, not only for being an usurer, but a Jew, he fancies himself making this ironical reply, to his request to lend him "monies"
"Fair sir, you spit on me, on Wednesday last;
and did we not know in what superstitious abhorrence the Jews were held, for a long series of ages, it would be difficult to find an apology for the taunting reiteration of Antonio:
"I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too."
The two great passions that possess the heart of Shylock, are ava rice and revenge; but revenge has the mastery; and there is not, in the literature of the world, a more terrific picture of this malignant passion, than in the scene where Tubal tortures Shylock with the news of his daughter's prodigal disposition of his jewels, and alternately relieves him with the news of Antonio's bad fortune. His grief for the loss of his wealth is aggravated, an hundred fold, by the reflexion that it is lavished upon such unworthy trifles:
"TUBAL. One of them showed me a ring, that he had of your daughter for a monkey.
"SHYLOCK. Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal. 1 would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.”
While the malicious joy that he discovers at the prospect of the forfeiture of Antonio's bond, forms a fine picture of the opposite effects produced by the same passion; and, though the means employed are almost ludicrous, the impression they excite is truly ap palling. The well-known remark, that there is but one step from the ridiculous to the sublime, never met with a better illustration than in this singular scene.
The reasonings of Shylock, as to his feelings and motives, are shrewd and eloquent. The remonstrances of the Duke, and the exe. crations of Gratiano, are no answer to them; and it is not until Portia delivers her divine speech upon Mercy, that we turn from the stubborn disposition of the Jew with horror and reprobation. And, even then, we are constrained to acknowledge, that his provocations were many, and were great; and, though we feel gratified that his extreme malice has lost him the value of his bond, we feel equally certain, that he has lost it by a quibble.
Interspersed through this powerful drama, are some of the choicest flowers of Shakspeare's poetry. The speech upon Mercy is above all praise; but there is one passage, in which the Platonic doctrine of the harmony of the spheres and of the human soul, is illustrated in language so sublime and beautiful, as to impress us with the convic