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“MERCHANT OF VENICE.”
"O, it is excellent
"Had I power, I should
In my peregrinations and bohemian investigations I have met on several occasions, and in strange lands, Mr. Ahasuerus, the Jerusalem shoemaker, who is reported to have jeered and scoffed at Christ as he passed his shop, bearing the heavy cross up the rugged heights of Calvary.
That was a terrible day for Jesus of Nazareth (dying for the sins of others), but worse for his foolish brother, the Jew shoemaker; for as punishment to the scoffing and heartless Ishmaelite, the “Son of God,” bending under the weight of the cross, exclaimed to the “Son of Saint Crispin”: “Tarry thou 'till I come! Move on!”
And from that hour to this the “Wandering Jew” has been traveling and seeking for peace and
death, but has never found surcease from everlasting sorrow and misery.
I have often met his business partners, Solomon Isaacs and David Levy; and while these gentlemen are compelled by nations to "move on," they have the great gift of loading up their pack with the rarest jewels-silver, gold and diamonds being their great specialty-with ready made clothing, pawnshops and banks as convenient adjuncts.
Their three golden balls, worn in front of their establishments, they say, represent energy, economy and wealth; while their victims insist that they represent passion, poverty and suicide.
And yet these wandering Jews of all lands and climes, having no home or country anywhere, have the best of homes, churches, banks and temples everywhere.
War and peace they often hold in their financial power, and therefore become the arbitrators and umpires of national fate.
When my friend William was working on the rough sketch of the "Merchant of Venice," in the years 1598 and 1599, there was a great hate manifested against the London Jews, Dr. Lopez, the physician of Queen Elizabeth, having been recently tried and hung for the design of poisoning Her Majesty.
The Jews were accused of clipping the coins of the realm, demanding one hundred per cent. usury, bewitching the people, sacrificing Christian boys on the altar of religious fanaticism and setting fire to the warehouses and shipping along the Thames.
These outrageous stories were believed by many people, and Shakspere, being infected by the hate of the multitude (for the first time in his intellectual career), fashioned the repulsive character of Shylock, who walks the world as a synonym of greed, hate and vengeance.
Several Jew plays had been put on the London boards, like the “Venetian Comedy” and the "Jew of Malta,” but none had the lofty pitch of Shakspere’s, who derived his main idea of the play from the Italian story of “Pecorone,” by Florentina, and Silvayn's "Orator."
Yet, with William's imagination, a hint was sufficient, the rose and acorn giving him scope enough to create flower gardens and forest ranges.
The Jew has always been a great subject for the world's contention and condemnation, particularly since the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. If Christ, the Jew, suffered for others, his own race for nearly two thousand years have been “scapegoats” for private and public villains.
From the days of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Louis the Fourteenth of France, Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth of England, Emperor William of Germany and the Czars Nicholas and Alexander of Russia, the Jews have been robbed, exiled and murdered by Christian rulers, presumptively for their rebellion against the State, but really as an excuse to rob them of their jewels and gold. The Caucasian Christian has never hesitated to rob and murder anybody anywhere for cash and country!
Look over the world to-day, and you behold nothing but diplomatic cheating, domestic and foreign robbery and international murder for individual ambition and national territorial expansion! The official hypocrite is the greatest liar of the century !
England, Germany, France, Russia and the United States are this very day competing with each other in the race for universal empire! Considering that “Uncle Sam” has had only one hundred and twenty-six years of national life, he has forged to the front amazingly, and has become the grandest "General" on the globe! He does things!
The “gentle reader" (confidentially speaking) may think this a slight digression from the “Merchant of Venice,” which was enacted at the Globe Theatre, London, on the first Saturday in December, 1599. The "gentle reader" may also have found out by this time that the “subscriber” pays little attention to the “unities of time and place,” as a thousand years are but short milestones in the life of the “Strulbug” family!
What the “gentle reader” needs more than anything else is knowledge and truth; and he observes, if he observes at all, that I give bits of the most eloquent and philosophic speeches in all the plays of Shakspere, besides the true personal transactions and escapades of the Bard of Avon!
The enactment of the various scenes of the “Merchant of Venice” takes place in the great water city—Venice, “Queen of the Adriatic," that ruled the commercial world two thousand years ago.
Antonio, the Christian merchant, and Shylock, the usurious Jew, are the principal characters of the play, while Portia, the wealthy heiress, and Jessica, the daughter of Shylock, with Bassanio and Lorenzo carry the thread of Shakspere's argument trying to prove that it is Christian justice to steal an old man's money and daughter, and punish him for demanding his legal rights !
In speaking privately to William I tried to have him change the logic and morals of the play, but his curt answer was:
"Jack, the dramatic demand and tyrant public must be satisfied.”
Burbage took the part of Antonio, Jo Taylor played Shylock, William played Portia, Condell acted Bassanio, Heming represented Lorenzo and Field played Jessica, Poole played Gratiano, Slye played the Duke.
The Globe Theatre was packed from pit to loft by the greatest variety audience I had ever seen; lords, ladies, lawyers, doctors, merchants, mechanics, soldiers, sailors, and street riff-raff—all assembled to see and hear how the Jew, Shylock, was to be roasted by the greatest dramatist of the ages.
Antonio in a street scene in Venice opens up the play thus:
"In sooth, I know not why I am
sad; That I am much ado to know myself.”
Salarino replies to the ship merchant:
"Your mind is tossing on the ocean;