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THE reader will find a distinct epitome of the novels from which the story of this play is supposed to be taken, at the conclusion of the notes. It should, 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 greediness of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers."-" These plays," says Gosson, (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 silently into oblivion.
This play of Shakspeare had been exhibited before the year 1598, as appears from Meres's Wits Treasury, where it is men-` tioned with eleven more of our author's pieces. It was entered 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 murtherous Lyfe 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. STEEVENS.
The story was taken from an old translation of The Gesta 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 choiceThe first was made of pure gold, well beset with precious stones without, and within full of dead men's bones; and thereupon was engraven this posie: Whoso chuseth me, shall find that he deserveth. The second vessel was made of fine silver, filled with earth and worms; the superscription thus: Whoso chuseth me,' shall find that his nature desireth. The third vessel was made of