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merchants to wager their ships that they will possess her person, and then drugs their possets. Giannetto tries his fortune among the rest, borrowing the means from his godfather, Ansaldo; twice he leaves his ship behind in the harbour of Belmont. The third time, warned by the waiting-maid, he refrains from the drug and wins his wager. But Ansaldo, to equip his final expedition, has been compelled to borrow from a Jew on the familiar condition. The news that the Jew has claimed his bond startles Giannetto from the delirium of wedded bliss. As in the play, the lady despatches him, with ample means, to redeem Ansaldo, follows him in disguise, undertakes Ansaldo's defence, saves him by the no-drop-of-blood plea, and begs Giannetto's ring as her only reward. The Jew forfeits his loan, but suffers no further punishment. The gay crosspurposes and explanations of Shakespeare's fifth Act follow, but the lady does not, like Portia, heighten the fun by hinting at familiarities of her own with the doctor.
But it is only in her later career that she recalls Portia at all. She is still the lady of a fairy tale, whose character changes when her secret is discovered; Odysseus withstands her arts, and Circe becomes the most benignant of goddesses. In the world of the Midsummer-Night's Dream such a transformation might have been natural; in the riper comic art of the Merchant fairydom, though by no means banished, is only admitted in disguise. The crude, undramatic conditions which she imposes on her suitors must in any case have disappeared under his treatment. But it is probable that the old playwright had already replaced them by another, not only free from moral offence, but aptly leading up to the exposure of the usurer with a parable
against worldly greed. Stories of worldly chusers' who preferred a gold to a leaden or silver casket, and found it full of dead men's bones, were current in various forms. One, as already stated, was known from the English Gesta Romanorum, and contains, at least, the germ of Shakespeare's casket-story. It had been published in Robinson's translation in 1577, two years before Gosson described The Jew.
A king's daughter, betrothed to an emperor's son, is sent by sea to be married to him. After being wrecked and swallowed by a whale, she reaches land alone, is brought before the emperor, and claims his son's hand. To test her worth, he causes three caskets to be made, one of gold, filled with dead men's bones; one of silver, filled with earth and worms; one of lead, filled with gold. The first was inscribed: Whoso chooseth me shall find that he deserveth. The second, Whoso chooseth me shall find that his nature desireth. The third, Whoso chooseth me shall find that God hath disposed to him. The maiden, considering that she deserved little, that her desires were ill, and that God never disposeth any harm,' chooses the leaden casket and is married.
But a trace has been pointed out of another version in which the wrong choice was made, and by a man. In his romance Mamillia (1583), Robert Greene thus enlarges on the text that virtue is the highest excellence of woman: 'He which maketh choyce of bewty without vertue commits as much folly as Critius did, in choosing a golden boxe filled with rotten bones' (ed. Grosart, ii. 114). This story, which Greene cites as familiar, forms a valuable link.1 So much of the groundwork of the Merchant may plausibly be held to have been laid in the old play.
1 E. Köppel, Beiträge zur Geschichte des elisabethanischen Dramas (Eng. Stud. xvi. 372).
The immense artistic transformation which Shakespeare wrought in his materials we cannot measure with precision; but it is certain that no previous drama is so alive in every line with Shakespearean quality; and much of what is most Shakespearean in it presupposes literary and social influences more recent than 1579. In particular, the intense and terrible vitality of the figure of Shylock, beside whom Portia herself has almost the effect of a glorious picture, announces clearly enough the powerful impression made upon Shakespeare by the Jewish character as he saw it in contemporary English life, and by Marlowe's grandiose incarnation of all its Machiavellian ferocity in the Jew of Malta. His intimate feeling for Hebraic characteristics has often fortified the theory that Shakespeare had seen the Continent, or even Venice itself. But, as Mr. Lee has shown, the law which had for centuries banished the Jew from the realm was in the later years of Elizabeth entirely ignored. The Government itself eagerly employed their technical knowledge,2 Elizabeth and her Court confided in a Jewish doctor, needy London resorted to the Jewish money-lender, and the Jewish vendor of old clothes was already a typical figure of the London streets. The rapid rise of the general scale of living, the growth of luxury and social ambition in all classes, made what was still branded as 'usury' a social need, and the Jews who swarmed in the great mercantile centres of the Continent, above all in Venice, flocked to London to supply it.
The author of The Three Ladies of London (pr. 1584) significantly makes 'Usury,' sometime servant
1 New Shakespeare Society, Transactions, 1888.
2 Thus, a certain Joachim Gauntz, who spent the years
1589-91 in England, furnished the Government with information about new methods of smelting copperas (Lee, u.s.).
of 'old Lady Lucre of Venice,' pass over to seek service with her grand-daughter Lucre,' in London, having heard that
England was such a place for Lucre to bide
As was not in Europe and the whole world beside.1
It is curious that the actual Jewish usurer, Gerontus, who figures in this play, is so far from anticipating the Shylock-type that he freely resigns both interest and principal to prevent his debtor, a wily Christian merchant, from abjuring his Christianity! Early in the next century English usurers were said (Webster, The White Devil) to be more extortionate than Jewish,-like the Italianate Englishman, surpassing his master.
But this was not the normal temper; and a few years later the mild Jew, Gerontus, was utterly effaced in the popular imagination by the spectacle of the two monstrous Jewish criminals, Barabas and Lopez. Marlowe's play was inspired by no Christian fanaticism. His Humanist thirst for colossal passions and energies found in the fierce intensity of Jewish race-pride and race-hatred, as in Tamburlaine's thirst for conquest and Faustus's thirst for power, the making of a Titanic tragic figure; and he threw himself into the exposure of Barabas's crimes with a frenzied impetus which doubtless impaired the poetic grandeur of his work, but even heightened its inflammatory virulence. Some four years later Roderigo Lopez, the Queen's Jewish physician, was charged with being concerned in a Spanish plot to poison her.2 He was probably innocent, but Essex did his utmost to bring the charge home. Witnesses were got to testify to it on the rack, 'where men enforced do speak any
1 Hazlitt, Dodsley, vol. vi. 2 Lopez's tragic story is told P. 268. in full by Mr. Lee, u,s.
thing,' as Portia, perhaps significantly, is made to say (iii. 2. 35); and, in fine, Lopez was put on his trial in February 1594, and hanged at Tyburn amid the yelling execrations of the mob, in May. How heavily the supposed crime of Lopez told to the disadvantage of Judaism at large is shown by the series of vindictively anti-Jewish plays which in the ensuing months filled. the benches and the treasury of the London theatres. The old Jew of Gosson's day was revived, and, during the remainder of the year, shared with Marlowe's Jew the chief honours of the stage controlled by Philip Henslowe. In May, Marlowe's Jew was entered on the Stationers' Register (though not printed till 1633), as well as the Gernutus ballad on the bond story. New plays on Jews and usurers were in brisk demand; one such was probably the lost Venetian Comedy, which Henslowe enters as 'new' in August.1 Under such conditions the great rival company was not likely to rest idle, and Shakespeare, before all things a man of his age, did not refrain from turning the temporary sensation into matter for all time.
Not, however, by any deliberate approach to modern tolerance and humanity. The deliberate strokes of Shakespeare, so far as we can trace them, tend rather to make the vengeance which finally overwhelms Shylock more severe, and its justice more apparent. The Jew of the novel is foiled, like Shylock, by the quibble about shedding no blood; but the law, having foiled him, is satisfied. His attempt to commit a crime under shelter of the forms of law has been met by a still more stringent applica
1 The Venetian Comedy was possibly a further réchauffé of the bond story; and this is still more likely in the case of The Jew of Venice, printed, as
by T. Dekker, in 1653. But there is no evidence that this was not composed after the Merchant.