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Deafed with the clamors of their own dear groans,
befall, I'll jest a twelvemonth in an hospital. Prin. Ay, sweet my lord; and so I take my leave.
[To the King King. No, madam ; we will bring you on your way.
Biron. Our wooing doth not end like an old play; Jack hath not Jill: these ladies' courtesy Might well have made our sport a comedy,
King. Come, sir, it wants a twelvemonth and a day, And then 'twill end. Biron.
That's too long for a play.
Arm. I will kiss thy royal finger and take leave. I am a votary; I have vowed to Jaquenetta to hold the plough for her sweet love three years. But, most esteemed greatness, will you hear the dialogue that the two learned men have compiled, in praise of the owl and the cuckoo ? it should have followed in the end of our show.
King. Call them forth quickly; we will do so.
Enter HOLOFERNES, NATHANIEL, Moth, CoSTARD,
and others. This side is Hiems, winter; this Ver, the spring; the one maintained by the owl, the other by the cuckoo. Ver, begin.
1 Dear ; used by ancient writers to express pain, solicitude, &c.
Spring. When daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver white,
Do paint the meadows with delight,
When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
Winter. When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
Joan doth keel the pot.
1 Gerarde, in his Herbal, 1597, says that the flos cuculi cardamine, &c. are called “ in English cuckoo flowers, in Norfolk Canterbury bells, and at Namptwich, in Cheshire, Ladie-smocks.”
When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.? Arm. The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You, that way; we, this way.
[Exeunt. MERCHANT OF VENICE.
1 This wild English apple, roasted and put into ale, was a very favorite indulgence in old times.
2 To keel, or kele, is to cool.
In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our Poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish, and vulgar; and some which ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, lo a maiden queen. But there are scattered through the whole many sparks of genius; nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakspeare.
"The Merchant of Venice,” says Schlegel, “is one of Shakspeare's most perfect works ; popular to an extraordinary degree, and calculated to produce the most powerful effect on the stage, and at the same time a wonder of ingenuity and art for the reflecting critic. Shylock, the Jew, is one of the inconceivable masterpieces of characterization of which Shakspeare alone furnishes us with examples. It is easy for the poet and the player to exhibit a caricature of national sentiments, modes of speaking, and gestures. Shylock, however, is every thing but a common
he possesses very determinate and original individuality, and yet we perceive a slight touch of Judaism in every thing which he says or does. We imagine we hear a sprinkling of the Jewish pronunciation in the mere written words, as we sometimes still find it in the higher classes, notwithstanding their social refinement. In tranquil situations, what is foreign to the European blood and Christian sentiments, is less perceivable; but in passion, the national stamp appears more strongly marked. All these inimitable niceties the finished art of a great actor can alone properly express. Shylock is a man of information, even a thinker in his own way; he has only not discovered the region where human feelings dwell: his morality is founded on the disbelief in goodness and magnanimity. The desire of revenging the oppressions and humiliations suffered by his nation is, after avarice, his principal spring of action. His hate is naturally directed chiefly against those Christians who possess truly Christian sentiments; the example of disinterested love of our neighbor seems to him the most unrelenting persecution of the Jews. The letter of the law is his idol; he refuses to lend an ear to the voice of mercy, which speaks to him from the mouth of Portia with heavenly eloquence; he insists on severe and inflexible justice, and it at last recoils on his own head. Here he becomes a symbol of the general history of his unfortunate nation. The melancholy and self-neglectful magnanimity of Antonio is affectingly sublime. Like a royal merchant, he is surrounded with a whole train of noble friends. The contrast which this forms to the selfish cruelty of the usurer Shylock, was necessary to redeem the honor of human nature. The judgment scene with which the fourth act is occupied, is alone a perfect drama, concentrating in itself the interest of the whole. The knot is now untied, and, according to the common idea, the curtain might drop. But the Poet was unwilling to dismiss bis audience with the gloomy impressions which the delivery of Antonio, accomplished with so much difficulty, contrary to all expectation, and the punishment of Shy.ock, were calculated to leave behind; he has therefore added the fifth act by way of a musical after-piece in the play itself. The episode of Jessica," the fugitive daughter of the Jew, in whom Shakspeare has contrived to throw a disguise of sweetness over the national features, and the artifice by which Portia and her companion are enabled to rally their newly-married husbands, supply him with materials."
“The scene opens with the playful prattling of two lovers in a summer mounlight,
• When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees.'
It is followed by soft music and a rapturous eulogy on this powerful disposer of the human mind and the world; the principal characters then make their appearance, and after an assumed dissension, which is elegantly carried on, the whole ends with the most exhilarating mirth.”
Malone places the date of the composition of this play in 1598. Chalmers supposed it to have been written in 1597, and to this opinion Dr. Drake gives his sanction.
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 began to write. Gosson, making some exceptions to his condemnation of dramatic performances, mentions among others,—“The Jew shown at the Bull, representing the greediness of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers.—These plays,” continues he, “ are good and sweete plays.”
It cannot be doubted that Shakspeare, as in other instances, availed himself of this ancient piece. Mr. Douce observes, “ that the author of the old play of The Jew, and Shakspeare in his Merchant of Venice, have not confined themselves to one source only in the construction of their plot, but that the Pecorone, the Gesta Romanorum, and perhaps the old ballad of Gernutus, have been respectively resorted to.” It is, however, most probable that the original play was indebted chiefly, if not altogether, to the Gesta Romanorum, which contained both the main incidents; and that Shakspeare expanded and improved them, partly from his own genius, and partly as to the bond from the Pecorone, where the coincidences are