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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
 
The Merchant of Venice
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
Merchant of Venice, The, is a drama of Shakespeare’s middle period (1597). The story of the bond and that of the caskets are both found in the old Gesta Romanorum, but the poet used especially Fiorentino’s ‘Il Pecorone’ (Milan, 1558). An atmosphere of high breeding and noble manners enwraps this most popular of Shakespeare’s plays. The merchant Antonio is the ideal friend, his magnificent generosity a foil against which Shylock’s avarice glows with a more baleful lustre. Shylock has long hated him, both for personal insults and for lending money gratis. Now, some twenty and odd miles away, at Belmont, lives Portia, with her golden hair and golden ducats; and Bassanio asks his friend Antonio for a loan, that he may go that way a-wooing. Antonio seeks the money of Shylock, who bethinks him now of a possible revenge. He offers three thousand ducats gratis for three months, if Antonio will seal to a merry bond pledging that if he shall fail his day of payment, the Jew may cut from his breast, nearest the heart, a pound of flesh. Antonio expects ships home a month before the day, and signs. While Shylock is feeding at the Christian’s expense, Lorenzo runs away with sweet Jessica, his dark-eyed daughter, and sundry bags of ducats and jewels. Bassanio is off to Belmont. Portia is to be won by him who, out of three caskets,—of gold, silver, and lead, respectively,—shall choose that containing her portrait. Bassanio makes the right choice. But at once comes word that blanches his cheeks: all of Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea; his day of payment has passed, and Shylock clamors for his dreadful forfeit. Bassanio, and his follower Gratiano, only tarry to be married, the one to Portia, and the other to her maid Nerissa; and then, with money furnished by Portia, they speed away toward Venice. Portia follows, disguised as a young doctor-at-law, and Nerissa as her clerk. Arrived in Venice, they are ushered into court, where Shylock, fell as a famished tiger, is snapping out fierce calls for justice and his pound of flesh, Antonio pale and hopeless, and Bassanio in vain offering him thrice the value of his bond. Portia, too, in vain pleads with him for mercy. Well, says Portia, the law must take its course. Then, “A Daniel come to judgment!” cries the Jew; “Come, prepare, prepare.” Stop, says the young doctor, your bond gives you flesh, but no blood; if you shed one drop of blood you die, and your lands and goods are confiscate to the State. The Jew cringes, and offers to accept Bassanio’s offer of thrice the value of the bond in cash; but learns that for plotting against the life of a citizen of Venice all his property is forfeited, half to Antonio and half to the State. As the play closes, the little band of friends are grouped on Portia’s lawn in the moonlight, under the vast blue dome of stars. The poet, however, excites our pity for the baited Jew.  1
 
 
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