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Merchant of Venice.] The reader will find a distinct epitome of the novels from which the story of this play is supposed to be taken, prefixed to the play, and at the conclusion of the notes. It should, however, be remembered, that if our poet was at all indebted to the Italian novelist, it must have been through the medium of some old translation, which has hitherto escaped the researches of his most industrious edi. tors.
It appears from a passage in Stephen Gosson's School of Abuse, &c. 1579, that a play, comprehending the distinct plots of Shakspere's Merchant of Venice, had been exhibited long before he commenced a wri. ter, viz.“ The Jew shewn at the Bull, representing the greedinesse of worldly choosers, and the bloody minds of usurers. These plays,” says Gosson (for he mentions others with it), “are goode and sweete plays," &c.
The Jew of Malta, by Marlow, neither was performed nor printed till some time after the author's death, which happened in 1593, nor do I know of any other play with the same title. It is therefore not improbable that Shakspere new-wrote his piece, on the model already mentioned, and that the elder performance, being inferior, was permitted to drop silently into oblivion.
This play of Shakspere had been exhibited before the year 1598, as appears from Meres's Wits Treasury, where it is mentioned with eleven more of our author's pieces. It was entered on the books of the Stationers-Company, July 22, in the same year. It could not have been printed earlier, because it was not yet licensed. The old song of Gernutes the Jew of Venice, is published by Dr. Percy in the first volume of his Reliques of ancient English Poetry: and the ballad, entitled, The Murtherous lyfe and terrible death of the rich Fewe of Malta; and the tragedie on the same subject, were both entered on the Stationers' books, May 1594.
Largosies- -] n Ricaut's Maxims of Turkish Polity, ch. xiv. it is said, “ Those vast carracks called argosies, which are so much famed for the vastness of their burthen and bulk, were corruptly so denominated from Ragosies," i. e. ships of Ragusa, a city and territory on the gulf of Venice, tributary to the Porte. If my memory does not fail me, the Ragusans lent their last great ship to the king of Spain for the Armada, and it was lost on the coast of Ireland. Shakspere, as Mr. Heath observes, has given the name of Ragozine to the pirate in Measure for Measure.
Steevens. 18. Plucking the grass, &c.] By holding up the grass, or any light, body that will bend by a gentle, blast, the direction of the wind is found.
“ This way I used in shooting. Betwixt the markes
was an open place, there I take a fethere, or a lytle grasse, and so learned how the wind stood.” Ascham.
Johnson. 19. Prying-] One of the quartos reads-peering. I have followed the other, because it prevents the jingle which, otherwise, occurs in the line.
STEEVENS. - Andrew -] The name of the ship.
JOHNSON. 29. Vailing her high top lower than her ribs,] In Bullokar's English Expository, 1616, to vail, is thus explained : “ It means to put off the hat, to strike sail, to give sign of submission.” So, in Stephen Gosson's book, called Plays confuted in several actions : “ They might have vailed and bended to the
king's idol.” Again, in Middleton's Blurt Master Constable, 1602: “ I'll vail my crest to death for her dear sake." Again, in the Fair Maid of the West, 1613, by Heywood :
it did me good
“ Unto my maiden flag." A carvel is a small vessel. It is mentioned by Ra.' leigh; and I often meet with the word in Jarvis Markham's English Arcadia, 1607. STÉEvens.
54. peep through their eyes,] This gives us a very picturesque image of the countenance in laughing, when the eyes appear half shut. WARBURTON.
57. -their teeth in way of smile,] Because such are apt enough to shew their teeth in anger.
WARBURTON, 82. Let me play the Fool:] Alluding to the common comparison of human life to a stage play. So that he desires his may be the fool's or buffoon's part, which was a constant character, in the old farces; from whence came the phrase, to play the fool
WARBURTON. 91. There are a sort of men whose visages
Do cream- -] The poet here alludes to the manner in which the film extends itself over milk in scalding; and he had the same appearance in his eye when writing a foregoing line : “ With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles
come.? So also, the author of Bussy d'Ambois : “ Not any wrinkle creaming in their faces."
HENLEY 96. As who should say I am Sir Oracle,] The folio reads:
-I am Sir, an oracle. MALONE.
-let no dog bark!] This seems to be a proverbial expression. So, in Acolastus, a comedy, 1529 : - nor there shall no dogge barke at mine ententes."
Steevens. -would almost damn those ears,] Several old editions have it, dam, damme, and daunt. Some more correct copies, damn, The author's meaning is this : That some people are thought wise whilst
they keep silence; who, when they open their mouths, are sạch stupid praters, that the hearers cannot help calling them fools, and so incur the judgment denounced in the Gospel.
THEOBALD. 107. l'll end my exhortation after dinner.] The humour of this consists in its being an allusion to the practice of the puritan preachers of those times; who being generally very long and tedious, were often forced to put off that part of their sermon called the exhortation, till after dinner.
WARBURTON. 113. Farewel: I'll grow a talker for this gear.] Gear appears to me to have no meaning here. I would therefore read,
" I'll grow a talker for this year"-alluding to what Gratiano has just said : “ Well, keep me company but two years more.
MALOne. 116. Is that any thing now 1] All the old copies read, is that any thing now ? I suppose we should read, is that any thing new ?
JOHNSON. The sense of the old reading is,-Does what he has just said amount to any thing, or mean any thing?
STEEVENS. Surely the reading of the old copies is right. Anthonio asks: Is that any thing now ? and Bassanio answers, that Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing -the greatest part of his discourse is not any thing.
TYRWHITT. The first and second folio read, by an apparent er. ror of the press :