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The Merchant of Venice
As Presented by
"A stage, where every man must play a part,
"If I can catch him once upon the hip,
A creature that did bear the shape of man
"We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
"You take my life,
When you do take the means whereby I live.
Printed, for William Winter, by
Francis Hart & Company, 63 and 65 Murray Street.
than a mutilation. While, however, much has been omitted, nothing has been introduced. If the piece does not go as far as might be desired, it is, at least, faithful to Shakespeare, as far as it goes. The object sought has been the construction of an acting copy, suitable for the use of leading tragedians, in which the position of chief prominence is assigned to the character of Shylock. "The Merchant of Venice". aside From some aspects of the treatment of the Jew-is pure comedy; and, when given entire, it should be acted by a company of excellent comedians. The part of Shylock would naturally fall to the "character" actor in such a company; but it would not largely overshadow its companion parts— supposing every portion of the piece to receive competent and careful treatment. When, on the other hand, this play is acted chiefly for the purpose of illustrating Shylock, a judicious compression of the scenes is found not only expedient but highly desirable. Such a compression — with this view, and for this reason. -has been attempted here. It will be found, though, that the story, while told with brevity, has not been impaired in substance. The incidents of the bond and the caskets are duly displayed, and the poet's great skill in combining them is suitably exhibited. This version is in four acts, and it can be represented in two hours and a quarter.
"The Merchant of Venice" is mentioned by Meres , and it was first published in 1600. The sources to which it
is thought that Shakespeare resorted for the main incidents of its plot are : a collection of tales called "Il Pecorone," written by Ser Giovanni, a notary of Florence, about 1378, and first published in 1558, at Milan; and the popular collection of stories called the "Gesta Romanorum.” The Ballad of Gernutus, which embodies the incident of the bond, -and which may be found in Percy's "Reliques," and in several modern collections of old poetry-was also, probably, extant in Shakespeare's day, and known to him. It is conjectured, too, that an earlier play, mentioned by Stephen Gosson  as "shewn at the Bull," and as "representing the greedyness of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers," may have dealt with some of the old materials which served Shakespeare for his comedy. The savage, relentless Jew is one of the most ancient persons of fiction. "The story of the caskets," says Dowden, "is first found in the medieval Greek romance of 'Barlaam and Josaphat, by Joannes Damascenus (about 800); in another form it is told by the English poet Gower, and the Italian novelist Boccaccio." These matters are solely or chiefly interesting as tending to direct study upon the wonderful genius with which Shakespeare transfigured all that he touched. His originality is not that of the maker of themes and bald facts, but that of the shaper and interpreter. "In the management of the plot," says Hallam, "which is sufficiently complex without the slightest confusion or incoherence, I do not conceive that it has been surpassed in the annals of any theatre." "The union of the two actions in one event," says Dr. Johnson, "is, in this drama, eminently happy. Dryden was much pleased with his own address in connecting the two plots of his 'Spanish Friar, which yet, I believe, the critic will find excelled by this play."
The supremacy of Shakespeare as the poet of nature is conspicuously seen in any comparison between "The Merchant of Venice" and its popular predecessor on the old London stage, "The Rich Jew of Malta," by Christopher Marlowe . The Jew in Marlowe's piece, a thoroughly diabolical character, was acted by Alleyne, the founder of Dulwich College-still standing, with his tomb