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1579. Some of the characteristics of Euphuism have elsewhere been touched upon. (See I, The Elizabethan Habit of Speech, and also note on Act I, sc. i, line 19.) It may be added that the Euphuists were fond of antithesis, alliteration, the balanced sentence, and allusion, either to classic mythology or to those false notions of natural history which then prevailed. (See As You Like It, Act II, sc. i, lines 13, 14.) Under the affectation of the Euphuistic style there was often much good sense. Scott's picture of a Euphuist (Sir Piercie Shafton, in The Monastery) is, therefore, somewhat misleading, though it is a good caricature; like Shakespeare's own Armado in Love's Labour's Lost.
VI. PLACE OF THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
AMONG SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS
The few known facts of Shakespeare's life have probably been brought before the student; but it can do no harm to recapitulate them. We know from the record in the parish register of Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, that William, the son of John Shakespeare (or Shakspere) was baptized on April 26, 1564. We assume that he was born on the 23d. His boyhood and early manhood were passed in that pleasant country, and this may account for the lovely pastoral touches which we find scattered through his plays. He got a little schooling at the Stratford Grammar School. At nineteen he married Anne Hathaway, a young woman seven years older than himself, who lived at Shottery, not far from Stratford. At twenty-one or twenty-two Shakespeare left Warwickshire for London. His wife and three children, Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith, remained in Stratford. Shakespeare was probably led partly by a young man's desire to see the world, and partly by the necessity of pushing his fortunes. His
father, once a prosperous citizen, had long since fallen into poverty.
It appears that in London Shakespeare soon formed a connection with the theater, as an actor and also as an adapter of old plays. It was not very long before he began to produce plays of his own. It used to be generally believed that one of his earliest plays was Titus Andronicus, a bloody tragedy of a kind then very popular; but some Shakespeare scholars maintain that he had little, if any, connection with that disagreeable work. We may be quite sure that he wrote, at the beginning of his career, Love's Labour's Lost, The Comedy of Errors, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The first is a little satirical comedy glittering with wit, the second broad farce with some poetic touches, and the third a romantic love-comedy. In certain ways it seems related to the beautiful love-tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, which also belongs to this period. Midsummer Night's Dream, a lovecomedy containing a delightful fairy element and also some scenes of broad rustic mirth, is the last of the non-historical plays written in what is commonly known as Shakespeare's First Period, which extends to about 1596. His English historical plays produced before that date are the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. (the First Part was probably only retouched by him), Richard II., Richard III., and King John. Shakespeare's two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, were also written before 1596. It is of more interest to us that the Sonnets, some expressions in which help to throw light on the present play, probably began to be written about this time.
The precise date of the production of The Merchant of Venice cannot be ascertained. The conjectures of Shakespeare scholars on this point range from 1594 to 1598. In the account book or diary of the manager, Philip Henslowe, occurs an entry concerning "the Venesyon comodey," with the date 1594. Those who accept the earlier date base their
conclusions on this entry; but we cannot be certain that the Venetian comedy referred to was The Merchant of Venice. The later time-limit is fixed by the mention of The Merchant in a list of Shakespeare's plays, in the Palladis Tamia, or Wit's Treasury, of Francis Meres, 1598.
The Merchant, then, would appear to be either one of the last plays of the First Period, or one of the first plays of the Second Period. Now the Second Period, 1596 to 1601, is Shakespeare's sunny summer-time of comedy - a season so full of brightness that even its historical plays, the First and Second Parts of Henry IV. and Henry V., contain comedy elements. We have the rough fun of The Taming of the Shrew and The Merry Wives of Windsor, followed by the more delicate mirth of Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night — all three "joyous, refined, romantic.” To this group of golden comedies The Merchant seems related, except for its tragic thread of interest, which suggests the graver work that Shakespeare had already done in King John, and the much greater work that he was yet to do, in the Third or Tragic Period (1601 to 1608). In a certain sense The Merchant is a mature production; yet it has in it the fervor and the fluency of youth.
It would be interesting to continue tracing the growth of Shakespeare's mind in his art; but we cannot now give more than a glance forward. The last of the Second Period plays, All's Well that Ends Well, has an autumnal sadness in it; the first play of the Third Period, Measure for Measure, is rather grim and cold. Two groups of great tragedies follow: the .massive Roman plays, Julius Cæsar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus ; and the darker tragedies, Hamlet (which really in some respects stands by itself), Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear. Two strange and bitter plays, Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens, complete the period.
Between 1608 and his death in 1616 Shakespeare was living in Stratford as a prosperous gentleman. Four of the five plays produced during this time are dramatic romances, based on themes of forgiveness and reunion: Pericles, of which only the best portion appears to be Shakespeare's, Cymbeline, The Tempest, and The Winter's Tale. The fifth is the English historical play, Henry VIII., a part of which was probably written by John Fletcher.
It is as if we had been passing through connected rooms : the first a mere antechamber, the second full of light and color, the third dark, and the fourth again filled with a softer and tenderer light. To repeat, it is to the golden room, to the happy circle of choice comedies, that The Merchant of Venice belongs, despite the one dark thread in the weaving of its brilliant tapestry.
VII. SOURCE OF THE PLOT
It is always well to know something of the source from which Shakespeare took the plot of the play under consideration. In many cases the dramatist has made changes, more or less important, and these changes help us to understand his constructive art and to detect his point of view, In a composition as impersonal and mysterious as a drama all clews are precious.
It will be seen that there are two plots, or themes, combined in The Merchant of Venice : the Bond Story and the Casket Story. There are various remote sources to which each of these may be traced; but with us it is not a question of remote sources. We are not hunting for bits of curious knowledge, but trying to discover on what novel or play, or on what combination, Shakespeare based The Merchant.
In 1579 Stephen Gosson, in his onslaught on plays and players entitled The School of Abuse, mentioned with praise a play called The Jew, "shown at the Bull, .
representing the greedinesse of worldly chusers, and bloody mindes of Usurers.” This play is lost; but Gosson's refer