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His heart doth thinke on many a wile, how to dcceiue the poore:
His mouth is almost ful of mucke, yet still he gapes for more.
His Wife must lend a Shilling, for euery weeke a Penny;
Yet bring a pledge that's double worth, if that you will haue any.
And see (likewise) you keepe your day,
or else you loose it all: This was the lining of the Wife;
her Cow she did it call.
Within that Citie dwelt that time, a Marchant of great fame,
Which being distressed, in his need unto Gernutus came,
Desiring him to stand his friend, for twelue month and a day,
To lend to him an hundred Crownes, and he for it would pay
Whatsoeuer he would demand of him, and Pledges he should haue.
No (quoth the lew with flearing lookes) Sir aske what you will haue.
No penny for the lone of it, for one yeare you shall pay:
You may doe me as good a turne, before my dying day:
But we will haue a merry iest,
for to be talked long: You shall make me a Band (quoth he)
that shall be large and strong.
And this shall be the forfeyture, of your owne Flesh a pound:
If you agree, make you the Band, and here is a hundred Crownes. With right good-will the Marchant sayd,
and so the Band was made.
that backe it should be payd,
The Marchants Ships were all at Seas,
and Mony came not in:
to thinke he doth begin.
And to Gernutus straight he comes,
with cap and bended knee: And sayd to him, of curtesie3
I pray you beare with mee.
My day is come, and I haue not
the Mony for to pay:
will doe you, I dare say.
With all my heart, Gernutus sayd,
commaund it to your minde,
you shall me ready finde.
He goes his way, the day once past,
Gernutus doth not slacke,
and clapt him on the backe:
And layed him into Prison strong,
and sued his Band witball.
for iudgement he did call.
The Marchants friendes came thither fast,
with many a weeping eye:
but he that day must die.
3 In the Pepysian copy ' curtesie' has a full stop after it.
The Second part of the lewes crucltie, setting foorth the mercifuluse of the ludge towardes the Marchant. To the tune of Blacke and yellow.
Some offered for his hundred Crownes,
five hundred for to pay:
And at the last, Ten thousand Crownes
they offered him to saue: Gernutus sayd, I will no Gold,
my forfeite I will haue.
A pound of fleshe is my desire,*
and that shall be my hire.
let me of you desire,
To take the flesh from such a place,
as yet you let him liue:
to thee here will I giue.
No, no (quoth he) no iudgement here,
for this it shalbe tride:
from vnder his right side.
It grieued all the companie,
his crueltie to see:
but he must spoyled bee.
The bloudy lew now ready is,
with whetted blade in hand, To spoyle the bloud of Innocent,
by forfeit of his Band.
And as he was about to strike
in him the deadly blow:
I charge thee to do so.
* So in the Pepysian copy. Percy reads * demand."
Sith needes thou wilt thy forfeit haue,
which is of flesh a pound: See that thou shed no drop of blood,
nor yet the man confound.
For if thou doe, like murderer,
thou here shalt hanged bee: Likewise of flesh see that thou cut,
no more then longes to thee.
For if thou take either more or lesse,
to the value of a Mite, Thou shalt be hanged presently,
as is both law and right.
Gernutus now waxt franticke mad,
and wotes not what to say: Quoth he at last, ten thousand Crownes
I will that he shall pay:
And so I graunt to set him free.
The Judge doth answere make, You shall not haue a penny giuen,
your Forfeyture now take.
At the last he doth demaund,
but for to haue his owne. No quoth the Judge, doe as you list,
thy Judgement shalbe showne.
Either take your pound of flesh, quoth he,
or cancell me your Band: O cruell Judge, then quoth the lew,
that doth against me stand.
And so with griping grieued minde,
he biddeth them farewell: All the people praysed the Lord,
that euer this heard tell.
Good people that doe heare this song,
for trueth I dare well say, That many a wretch as ill as he,
doth liue now at this day.
That seeketh nothing but the spoyle
of many a wealthy man: And for to trap the Innocent,
deuiseth what they can.
From whom, the Lord deliver me,
and every Christian too:
that meaneth so to doe.
We will conclude with a reference to a different version of the same story, told by Gregorio Leti in his Life of Pope Sixtus V. and resting on very slight authority. In this, a Jew, Samson Ceneda, is the victim, and Paul Secchi, a Roman merchant, the inexorable creditor. The Pope is the judge, and the evasion of the bond is the same as in the play. Both merchant and Jew were condemned to death, the one for premeditated murder, the other for selling his life; but in the issue the sentence was commuted to that of the galleys, with the option of buying off that too by paying each two thousand crowns to the hospital lately founded by the Pope.
In the composition of The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare, as we have said, in all probability worked upon the basis of the previously existing play, and, as in other cases, followed its plot with few alterations. Like other great masters of fiction, such as Goethe and Walter Scott, his genius showed itself more in the development of character than in the construction of a story, and besides, as we see in the case of children, the audience would prefer having no change made in the conduct of a tale with which they were already familiar.
As to the time at which it was first produced, we have the testimony of Meres, who mentions it in his Palladis Tamia (fol. 282 a, 1598). In the same year it was entered at