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The Problem of Usury in England 13 

The Biblical "good man" and the Usurer 16 

Sufficiency and Prodigality ' 21 

Friendship with Gentiles 26 

Our Sacred Nation and the Farming Publican 36 

"The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose" 43 

"Abram" 54 


Troilus, Cressid, and the Problem of Trusting People. . . 57 

The Liturgy in Sixteenth-Century England 70 

The " Exultet " : Sacrificial Love Leads to Life 80 

Jessica as " Tesbe Babilonie, Martiris " 98 

Dido or Ariadne? Error or Adaptation? 106 

Dido, Ariadne, and the Willow 128 

Medea: Rejuvenation and Moonlight Magic 134 

Jessica's Unthrift Love and the Pattern of Quarreling . . 147 





This dissertation studies the function of Biblical and liturgical 
allusions in The rlerch.^.ut of Venice--. It also studies the function of 
classical allusions to the extent that they are integral parts of the 
Biblical and liturgical pattc?rn being studied. UTien necessary, it exam- 
ines, makes use of, and occasionally attempts to solve some of the prob- 
lems of previous scholarship. Usually, in differs from this previous 
scholarship by focusing en the v;hole of The Merchant and by examining 
the Biblical and liturgiral allusions as structurally integral eie,-,ieat3 
of the play. 

At this point a brief survey of related approaches will help to 
define the scope, limits, ir:eLhrds, and goals o"^ my si-udy. It will also 
show that my approach to The Merchant through Biblical and liturgical 
allusions is not only sinilar to a^-id dependent on previous scholarship but 
also needed and essential to a full understanding of The Merchant. 

Previous Biblical approaches have not alv;ays studied the function 
of Shahespeare' 3 Biblical allusions in their dramatic conte;-;t. In the 
nineteenth century, especially, critics tended to see Biblical allusions 
in the plays as ornamental, or as evidence that Shakespeare was a "sincere 
believer in the Bible'' or "in tlie doctrines taught therein," or as evi- 
dence thac Shakesneare was either a Catholic, a conformist, or a Puritan. 

William Burgess, The^ .Bibl£_ijT._ Shal^s^^^ (IJinona Lake, Indiana, 
1903), p. ix. For similar points of view see also Charles Wordsworth, 
Shakespeare's Knowled&:e_a_nd^ Use of the Bible (London, 1864) and John Hepry 
Fe~(^^7"The'jhak^tSjl^ ^^^'■^ '^°^^--- l'^-'6). 

Thomas Carter, for example, correctly observed that some of Shakospeare' s 
Biblical alliusions can be traced to the Geneva version of the Bible, but 

from this fact he also concluded that both John Shakespeare and William 


Shakespeare v;ere Puritan recusants. 

Recent Biblical approaches, hovjevcr, do examine Biblical allusions 
as integral parts of t\^e pl^y in vhich they occur. Some of these approaches 
are similar to mine, and I am indebted to the'ii, for frequently I continue 
where they have left off. Richmond Noble's Shakes peare 's Bi blical Knowl - 
edge and Use of th e Book of Coprmon P raye r contains the most exhaustive 
survey of Biblical ;-uid liturgical allusions in the plays of Shakespeare.- 
And although he does not analyze the allusions nor shov; how they fit into 
the context of the plays, his list does suggest that they are part of a 
coherent pattern. v;ork which focuses on coherent patterns, al- 
though it does not deal iipecif ica lly v/ith The Merchant, is that of John 
Hankins who traces "Shakespeare ' j habit of recalling the same image from 
several sources," one cf the most frequent of which is "the Bible, par- 
ticularly Psalms, Fiov'erbs, and the Book of Job.""^ Again, my approach to 
The He rchar.t is similar to that of J. A. Bryant who shows from twelve plays 
how Shakespeare's knowledge cf the Bible "worked in his art." He concludes 
that "conscicusly or unconsciously, Shakespeare was a genuine typologist 

Tho.aas Carter, Shakespeare, Puritan and F.ecu5g.nt (London, 1S97), 

and Shakespea re a nd Koly S cri pt ure, with the Versi o n He Used (London, 1905) 

Richffiond Mobie , Shakes pear e' s Biblical Know ledge and U se o f the 
Book of_Cp-"ja3n Pi-ay^r (London, 1935). 

John Eiskine Hi'nklni, Sri^^;^^viC3^-2L?-.X!SL^J.-~£-Jii'-S.^I.y. (Lawrence, 
Kansas, 1553), pp. 16-17. 

in his use of Scriptural allrsions and analogy," one who regarded Scrip- 
tural stories, persons, and images as "incorporating meaning, rather than 
pointing to it," and who used Biblical allusions because "They extend the 
depth of the play itself; they do not inei-ely point to the depths outside 
the play." Although Hankins and Bryant analy:;c the function of Biblical 
allusions in Shakespeare, they do not deal specifically with Th-O. Merchant . 

A Biblical approach tliat is most similar to mine in its method of 
demonstrating Shakespeare's dramatic uses of Scripture is James Sims's 
Dra matic Uses _o f _Bib__l_i_ c_a J Allu siorsin M arlowe and Shaker.peare . Aga i n , 
however, my study differs in scope from t'-'.at of Sims, for Sims dees not 
deal with plays as a whole but with "a saiapling of dramatic uses" from tVie 
early and minor dramatists, from two plays of Marlcwj, and from two or 
three selections from of tlie ccrpedies, histories, and tragedies of 
Shakespeare. The goal of my scudy, box-.'cver, is the same as that of Sin's. 
By focusing on Shakespeare's use of Biblical, stories, and names, 
I intend to illustrate from The Mer chan t, as Sims illustrates from Eli^a- 
bethan dramatists, 

the multitcde of ways these dramatists found to ada depth 
and breadth to the effectiveness of their characterization, 
dialogue, foreshadowing, irony, and to the total working 
out of theme by depending on knowledge already in the minds 
of the audience." 

My Biblical and liturgical approach to The Merchant of Venice, then, is 

-' J . A. Bryant, Jr., Iii2.?j7i.:£t.aj_,s _View,_^ome__Chr^ 
Shjk_es2ea£e_|_s_J'_l_a;.s_ (Lexington, 1961), pp. 16-17. Bryant analyzes "the 
essential Christianity" of T_ha_J^_rchcait on pages 33-51. 

^James Siws, PjaEi-'-tic^Uij.'-^ of Eiblical^ Allusions in^Marlowo and 
Shakes poaLe (Gainesville. 1966), p. 77. 

similar to recent studies, but I focus on a single play and attempt a cc:r. 
prehensive analysis of Biblical and liturgical allusions. 

My approach differs fundamentally from many of the allegorical, 
mythic, and ritualistic approaches to The Merchant that becam:; popular in 
the twenties. These approaches make use of Biblical and liturgical ele- 
ments in their analyses, but they ofcen claim to see m.ore of a cohftrent 
pattern than their evidence and the play will support. Moreover, allegor; 
often tends to oversimplify The Merchant by making abstractions of the 
characters, picturing th.p. conflict as simple good versus absolut-t! evil, 
and presenting the denoueuent as a perfectly harmonious resolution. 

In his allegorical approach, for example, John D. Rea finds that 
many features of the trial scene in T'ne Mercha nt (Shyiock's villainous 
prosecution, his being associated wifh the devil, his scales, and his ab-- 
ject departure at the end of the play) are "merely a re-dramatization of I 
the Medieval Processus Ee]ial,vith Shylock substituted for the devil, 
Portia for the Virgin Mary, and the passive Antonio playing the roJe c£ 
mankind." Similarly, Nevill Coghill sees the trial scene of The Mcrchar : 
as directly iuLiurnced by the medieval allegory, the "Parliauicnt of KcavL/ 
in which justice and mercy (tv.'0 of the four daughters of God) argue over 
the fate of mankind after his fail. Again, Sir Israel Gollancz sees The 
Merchant as an extension of the allegorical tradition v?hich dramatizes 
Scriptural stories. Such an approach to The Merchant, however, tends to 

John D. Rea, "Shylock and the Processus Belial," Ph ilological 
Ouajrterly, VIII (l'J29), 311. 

Kevill Coghill, "The Basis of Shakespearean Comedy," Essays and 
Studies , III (London, 1950), 1-23. See also Hope Travers, "The Four 
Daughters of God," PMIA, XL (ly23), ^4-82. 

point to deeper meaning outside the play rather than within the play it- 
self. Gollancz claims that "The starting point of the legend of Shylcck" 
is "some early monkish" homily v;hich blended the tv70 texts: "Greater love 
hath no man than this, that a should lay dov:n his life for his friend" 
and "Christ also Icved che Church and gave Hiraself for it."" 

Fy approach to the Biblical and liturgical elements in The Merchant 
is at variance with these approaches since I do not consider Th e Mer chant 
an allegory nor the Biblical and liturgical allusions as fiuictioning pa?-ts 
of an allegory. Admittedl}', however, the allegorical approach does have 
a great diversity of m.ethods, directions, interests, and critics; and at 

times I have found these allegorical interpretations both interesting and 


In my study of the Biblical and liturgical allusions in The Merchant 

I have tried to limit m.y examination cf Scriptural and liturgical allusions 

to their primary source, the liturgy and the Bible. This means that I have 

necessarily excluded many iinpcitcrit secondary sources for Biblical and 

liturgical allusions. Shakespeare's audience, for example, was familiar 

with narratives, parables, names, phrases, themes, and images of the Bible 

not only directly from their private reading and public church services 


Sir Israel Gollancz, Allegory and M ysticism i n Shakespeare (London, 

1931), pp. 19, 17. 

A recent and thorough investigation of allegory in The Merchant 
is that of Barbora K. Levalski, "Biblical Allusion and Allegory in Th_e 
Merchant of Venice/' Shakes p ea r e Quarterly, XIII (1962), 327-343. Her 
analysis cf the conflict between Shy lock and Antonio, their use of Bibli- 
cal allusions and imagery, their representation of the Jewish and Chris- 
tian communities, and Shylock's "forced conversion" are all enlightening. 
Eut I do not feel that she demonstrates the existence of "consistent and 
unmistakable allegorical meanings" in Th'S Merchant . 

but also iiidi^rectly from cycle plays, moralities, and mysteries v.-hich es- 
tablished a tradition for the use of Biblical allusions in drama. I 
have also excluded otlier important secondary sources for Shakespeare's 
Biblical allusions such as the plays of Shakespeare's contemporaries and 
the didactic and poetic literature of the period. 

For the most pare, these secondary sources have received much crit- 
ical attention; but a relatively unacknov/ledged secondary source, which 
mtrits further study, is the English proverb. Morris Tilley's A Diction - 
ary of Pr ove rbs adequately demonstrates that English proverbs vjere a rich 
secondary source for Biblical allusions in Shakespearean drama. The fol- 
lowing are some convincing examples which "especially attracted Shakes- 
pcare and other EliLabethans ." " In The_ Merchant Antonio comments: "The 
Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."-'-^ This is an allusion to the 
Biblical passage: 

Then the devil 1 . . . sayeth unco him. If thou be the sonne 
of God, cast thy selfe dovme : for it is v/ritten, that he 
shall give his angels charge over thee, and with their haades 
they shall lift thee up least at any time thou dash thy foote 
against a stone, l^*- 

■'■•'■Recently, Ber-nard Spivack has shown ho\.' the "hybrid" plays be- 
tween 1520 and 15S5 influenced Shakespeare's villains. These plays com- 
bined allegorical elements from the moralities, narrative elements from 
the Bible, and the.r.atic interpretations from the homiletic tradition, all 
of which Spivack sees reflected in Shakespeare's villains. See S hakespeare 
and the Allegory, of Ev:.l (New York, 1958), especially pp. 255-269. 

■'■^Morris Tille>, A Dictionary of P roverbs (Ann Arbor, 1950), "Fore- 
word," p. vii. Tilley adds that "The Bible naturally exercised a stronger 
influence on English [prcverbs] than any other foreign work, if, indeed, 
ve can call a book foreign that was read in every household." 

^^xhe Arden Edition of J:he Works of W ill iam ShakesDeare_,__Tha_Mer- 
chant of Venice, ed, John Russell Brown (London, 1955), i.iii.93. All 
subsequent references to The !I;-jv chant are from th'Ls edition unless noted 
otherwise . 


'The Bishops' Bible (London, 1585), Matthevj 4:5-5. For a full 

Another English proverb based on a Biblical allusion is "The Devil can 

transform himself into an angel of light" vhich comes from: 

For such false apostles are deceitful workers, transformed 
into the Apostles of Christ. And no mervaile: for Satan 
himself e is transformed into an angell of light. 

(II Cor. 11:13-14) 

This allusion is a favorite with Shakespeare: 

Dromio of Syracuse: Nay, she is vjorse, she is the devil's 
dam . . . the wenches say "God damn me," ' s as much 
as to say, "God make me a light wench." It is written, 
they appear to men like angels of light. 

(Comedy of E rr or_s_ IV . i i i . 5 1-4 ) 

Eiroii: Devils soonest tempt, resembling spirits of light. 

(Love's Labo urs Los t IV . i i i . 2 54 ) 

Hamlet: The spirit that I have seen 

May be the devil: and the devil hath power 
To assuifie a pleasing shape. 

(Raml et II. ii. 227-9) 

lago: Divinity of hell'. 

When devils will their blackest sins put on 
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows 
As I do now. 

(O_thello II . iii . 3^' 1-4 ) 

Clearly, then, although I have not looked into English proverbs, the 
cycle plays, nor Shakespeare's contemporaries for their use of Scriptural 
and liturgical allusions, these secondary sources constitute a solid tra- 
dition that was familiar to both Shakespeare and his audience. Aad, of 
course, the more frequently the Elizabethans encountered an allusion, the 

discussion of Shakespeare's version of the Bible, see Richmond Noble, 
Shakespeare ' s Biblical. .Kngwle_dge, pages 9-12, and Chapter V, "V.^hich 
Version did Shakespeare Use?" pages 58-59. Noble's conclusion is that 
"evidence tending to a certain cumulative effect" (? . 54) suggests that 
Shakespeare used the Bishops' Bible for The Merchant . Thus, all Bibli- 
cal quotations in this dissertation v;ill bo taken froin the Bishops' 
Bible unless otherwise noted. 

more certain its meaning became and the more effective the allusion be- 
carae in the context of the play. 

The effectiveness of any allusion depends on the familiarity of 
the audience v/ith the allusion. And since Dost of the Biblical allusions 
in The Merchant can be found in both r.lic Bible and the liturgy, it is niy 
practice to acknov/lcdge both sources. For it was especially by partici- 
pating in the liturgy cf the Church of England, that is, in the official, 
public worship conducted daily in parish churches and cathedrals through- 
out England, that Elizabethans became familiar with a wide range of Bib- 
licaJ. narratives, names, themes, and traditional intevpretacions . Eliza- 
bethans were required by lav/ to attend the liturgy on all Sundays and 
major feast days throughout the year. Moreover, since this liturgy was 
luade up prin-arily from Scriptural passages, and since the Anglican liturg> 
was continuously being revised, the scopa cf Old and New Testament pas- 
sages v;ith which the average Elizabethan was familiar was continuously 
expanding. Thus, the more frequently a name, image, story, or theme v/as 
encountered by an Elizabethan, the more certain and emphatic the allusion 
in the play became. 

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I have found it necessary 
to dedicate a section of this dissertation to an analysis of clas?icai 
allusions because they were woven inseparably into the Biblical and 
liturgical pattern. Although these classical allusions have been dis- 
cussed at great length during the last four hundred years, it was not 
enough, for ma merely to report v/hat classical scholars have written. 
For example, in the fifth act Lorenzo's allusion to Dido is usually con- 
sidered an erroneous allusion to Ariadne: 

In such a night 
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand 
Upon the wild sea banks, and V7aft her love 
To come again to Carthage. 


Eut the liturgical context sheds a new light on this classical problem. 

In the context of the liturgical motif of deliverance from bondage and 

in the context of the ensuing lovers' quarrel, this "error" can be seen 

as a functional and integral part of the play. 

This dissei-tation, then, attempts to explain the functional role 
of allusions in The Merc han t . That is, it attempts to see various themes 
and motifs of the play as they appear in the allusions. It attempts to 
see these allusions as integral parts of the play itself and not as simple 
orr.amentatton. . And, generally, it fiiids tnat thcsa Biblical and liturgi- 
cal allusions extend the depth of the play by illustrating and suggesting 
values already in the niads of the audience regarding various themes and 
motifs of The. Merchant : frieiidship, love, marriage, filial obedience, 
trust, love, elopement, theft, thrift, usury, justice, mercy, death, re- 
demption, sacrifice, and resurrection. 

Now a word about the raolif of bondage and its resolution in The 
Merchant . Alth.ough some critics have tried to find a governing idea or 
image v/hich would be a key to understanding T he Merchan t, T do not feel 
that there is such a single idea or image. Tliere arc many ideas, m.otifs, 
and images in The Merchant, one of which, is the bond image or the motif 
of bondage. Even a single viewing or a casual reading of The Merchant 
evokes an apprehensive at/areness of Shylock's sadistically "m.erry" bond 

"'john Russell Brown discusses this approach to Thc_TV^rxhan_t in 
his "Introduction" to the Arde n Edition, pp. xlix-lviil. 


and the cruel financial bondage he tries to impose on his creditors, for 
Shylock's bond is central to The Mercha nt. Added to this, ho\7evc:r, arc 
many other patterns of bondage, of being willingly or unwillingly bound 
and obligated to another. For example, there is the bund of marriage 
which unites Portia and Bassanio as well as Lorenzo and Jessica. There 
are the bonds of filial love, obedience, and respect which supposedly 
unite Portia to her dead father, Jessica to Shylock, and Launcelct to his 
father. There are the bonds of civil law which Shy]ock righteously de- 
mands and the obligations of mercy which Portia solicits. There is the 
open rejection of any bond of friendship or trust between the Ch7:istians 
of Venice and the Jewish Shylock and the open v^itness to tlie bond of love 
and trust bet.vce-a the Christian Lorenzo and the Jewish' Jassica. In 
general, there is a form of willing bondage which dcraands than a friend 
or lover run a risk, make a sacrifice, and even endure death, and there 
is a form of cruel bondage that demands an unwilling death. 

In act one Shy]ock introduces this pattern of bondage and its re- 
lated forms, clothing it in Scriptural and liturgical allusions. For 
him these allusions become a tool for justifying his practice of usury 
and his cash system of values. He uses the Bible to discredit the "good" 
Antonio, to justify taking advantage of the "prodigal" Christians, to 
claim Gcd's approval of his thrift, and to proclaim himself a chosen 
descendent of Abraiii and a member of a sacred nation. Consistently, 

1 z: 

"From the po:. nt oi view of Scriptural quotation3." observes 
Richmond Noble, T]Te_ M^rcha_nt is "the niost important of ail the piay^s, 
for in it Shakespeare affords evidence of having studied the Bible 
closely in his delineation of Shylock. In the deal between Laban and 
Jacob he nay be said to have used the Bible as he used Holinshed or 
North in other plays" (Sha kespeare's Bibli ca l Knowled;je, p. 161). 


presenting himself favorably and the ChiJistians unfavorably, Shylocic 
selects, distorts, and disputes, using names, passages, images, and 
themes coming mostly from the Old Testaiaent. 

In chapter one of this dissertation, then, we vrf.ll examine the 
patterns of bondage \vhich Shylock introduces and defends through Scrip- 
tural allusions. In ch">pter two vje v/ill examine the patterns of libera- 
tion, redemption, and resolution. We will see how Lorenzo and Jessica, 
Jewess and Christian, use Biblical and liturgical allusions much as Shy- 
lock and the antagonistic Christians do in act one. We v/ill see how, in 
a moonlit garden at Belnont, merrily engaging in a lovers' quarrel, they 
recall the earlier cruel and unv/illing bondage of Venice and Shylock, 
celebrate liberation from bondage, and contra':t new bonds of iovc and 
trust . 

In the pursuit of my studies and in the '/^/riting of this disserta- 
tion, I hiive become personally and professionally indebted to many people 
Among the teachers x;ho have taken a personal interest in me and my educa- 
tion are especially Professor T. Walter Herbert and Professor Thomas R. 
Preston. Among the mem.bers of my super>/isory committee, I acknowledge 
my debt of gratitude to Professor Ants Oras and Professor Richard Kiers. 

Henry Korley sees the central conflict of The Merchant in An- 
tonio's standing between "the tv70 principles cf justice and mercy, of the 
Old Testament and the New, as Shakespeare read them" (Ej»gl^is^h_Writ er s__ 
[London, 1893], Vol. X, "Shakespeare and His Time: Under Elizabeth," pp. 
243-4) . Barbara Lewalski sees in The Merch ant a Biblical "confrontation" 
between the Old Testament Law which "leads only to death and destruction" 
and a New Testament faith, love, and mercy which not only discredits the 
Law bat constitutes "the fulfillment of the La-.? and covers all defects" 
("Biblical Allusions and Allegory in The Mercha nt of Venice ," Shakespeare 
Quarterly, XIII [1352], 341, 343). 

I am forever grateful for the financial assistance, continuous encourag. 
nicnt, personal sacrifices, and gcn,;rous prayers of my confreres, the 
monks of Saint Lee Abbey, Florida, my dear parents, Frank and Margaret 
Cosgrove, and the nany friends and relatives v;ho have "prayed and en- 
couraged me through." In particular, it is a pleasure to ackao\;lenge 
the personal interest, the b'^neficial criticism, and the persistent ea- 
couragemoat of Professor T. Walter Herbert who guided ray dissertation 
from start to finish. 


The Problem of Usury in England 

In the first act cf The Merchan t, Scriptural allusions abound, 
mostly in Shylock's defense of usury. But Shylock is not the only one 
who uses Scripture to defend his own position. The Christians of Venice 
use Scripture a.gainst Shylock — much as the sixteenth-century Elizabethans 
did in their arguments for and against usury. Just as Shylock defends 
his practice of usury, and later the "justice" of his bond, on Old Tes- 
tament grounds, so tlie Christians of Venice reject usury and defend mercy 
on Nev Testament grounds. And rlthough this Scriptural dialectic is 
hardly in r.he man.ner of a forraal Renaissance debate, it is a manner of 
arguing quite familiar lo Elizabethans who associated it with what they 
considered the primary {noral ptoblcnis of the day. 

Usury, for the Elizabethan audience, was not ?. remote problem of 
Venetians and Jewish usurers but an immediate problem of Englishmen and 
English usucers. As E. C. Pettet notes, from 158C to 1600, sorv- of the 
most notable people of England were lieavily indebted to m.ercilers credi- 
tors and v/ere daily becoming more so: 

Sir Philip Sidney owed 16,000, the Earl of Essex I>22,000, 
the Duke of Norfolk ii&,000 - t7,000, the Earl of Huntingdon 
t20,C00, the Earl of Leicester t59,000. Lord Sandys t3,100. 
Sir F. Willoughby L?.1,000, and Sir Percival willoughby 
L8,000. Ouhers who v/ere heavily in debt included the Earl 
of Sussex, Lord Thomas Howard, the Earl of Rutland, Lord Vaux 
of HarrowJen, Lord Scrope, and Shakespeare's o\m patron, the 
Earl of Scuthavi'.pton. who at one time had surrendered his 



estates to creditors, and 'scarce knows whs-t course to 
take to live. ' ^ 

Moreover, the usurers vlio advanced these large suras of money were not 
Jews but thriving English tradesmen, merchants, and scriveners (like 
Milton's fatlicr), v.'ho frequently obtained land and estates as security. 
As Jacob Cardozo deiaoiiEtrates in his comprehensive study of the contem- 
porary Jew in Elizabethan drama, those fev; Jews who did live in London 


were Baptized, conforming Cliristians. 

The use of Scripcure in pamphlets and sermons defending and con- 

deimiing usury also familiarized Elizabethans with both the practice of 

usury in England and the Scriptural defense of it. In Ibll, for example, 

Thonas Wilson couiplains not about Jsv.'ish usurers or Venetians but about 

the inrnediate and crying problem, the iniquity of English usurers and the 

interest they charged: 

I do not knowe anyeplaee in chr istendoma, so muche subject 
to thys foule synne of usurie, as the whole realm?, of Eng- 
lande ys at thys present, and hathe bene of late ycares . 
For men of wealth are nowe wholy geeven every wneare all 
together to idlexies, to gett their gaine with ease, and to 
lyve by lending. . . . But these men do not live in any 
vocation, but being the divels knowne a.ppreritice3 in earth, 
and bound to doe, as hee would have them: seeks when the.y 
are dead to serv^i hym in hell, as I take it. For god say- 
eth by hys prophete David, that he shall ricver dwell in h.ys 
tabernacle, that hathe put out hys nony for usury. ^ 

"E. C. Pcttet, ''Th e M erchan t of V enice and the Problem of Usury," 
E.s_s^vs_aTid^StiuUes, IIXXI (1945)", *20. 

Jacob Lope.s Cardozo, The Contem porary Jew ir ElisabeLhait Drama 
(Amsterdam, 1925). Cardozo concludes that "Jews were not present in 
ElizabeLhan and early Stewart En'^land" (p. 330). 

■^Thomas Uilscn, A Dlscourbe Uppon Usurye, 3 572 (University Micro- 
film., Ann Arbor, 1949), reel 403, Introductory Epistle, p. iiii. 

The sixteenth century witnessed a continuous flow of treatises and ser- 
mons v/hich cited Old and New Testaiaent teachings about usury: N. Sanders's 
Briefe Tre atise of Usurie (1558), Sir Thomas Wilson's A Discourse Uppon 
Usurie (1572), Phillippus Caesar's A General P iscou rse Ag ainst the Pamn- 
able Sect of Usurers (1578), Henry Smith's Exam ination of Usury (1591), 
The Death of U sury , or the Dis trace of Usurers (1594), M. Mosse's Th e 
Arraignment a nd C onvi ction of Usurie. (1595). and T. Bell's Speculation 
of Usury (1596). 

Although an Elizabethan, then, might never encounter a Je\%", much 
less a Jewish usurer, he V7as well prepared to associate Shylock with an 
Old Testament defense of usury. And when Shylock uses the Biblical story 
Jacob and Laban to defend usury (I . iii .66-91), when he invokes "heaven"' 
in his defense (IV. i. 224), and when he calls for law and justice in the 
final scene, he uses Scriptural passages and arguments familiar to an 
Elizabethan audience. John Draper suggests that in his defense of usury 
Shylock is actually using the kind of argument which "To che 
Elizabethan was mordant casuistry," 

In this sense, then, and against this background, Shylock the 
Jewish usurer and Antonio the young aristocrat in need of a loan are 
easily recognized Elizabethans. And the Scriptural allusions which they 
rally to their defense are similar to those found in the m^r.y treatises 
and sermons dealing wdth the controversy over usury. 

John W. Draper, "Usury in The Merchant of Venice," Modern. 

Phiiolo_gv, XXXiil (1935), 44. 


The Biblical "good man" and the Usuirer 

A detailed analysis, no^;, of Act I will demonstrate hov7 Christian 
and Jew marshal Biblical allusions in their arguments over usury, theft, 
justice, mercy, thrift, ovTnership, and God's providential blessings and 
approval. In the first appearance of Shylock, Bassanio asks Shylcck for 
a loan of three thousand ducats. Shylock' s initial replies are clipped 
and business-like. But when Bassanio tells him that "Antonio shall be 
bound" for the three thousand ducats (I.iii.4), Shylock ansv;ers an^bigu- 
ously that "Antonio is a good man" (I.iii.ll), meaning that he is finan- 
cially sound and therefore a good risk for a lofin. Apparently, hov;ever, 
the word £^qod also suggests an evaluation that is unrelated to the busi- 
ness at hand, for Bassanio is immediately indignant and he challenges 
Shylock: "Have you heard any imputation to the contrary?" Shylock 
answers with a subtle combination of Biblical and business-like language: 

No, no, no, no, no: my meaning in saying he is a good man, 
is to have you understand me that he is sufficient, --yet 
his means are in supposition; he hath an argosy bound to Tri- 
polis, another to the Indies, I understand moreover upon the 
Rialto, he hath a third at Mexico, a fourth for England, and 
other ventures he hath squand'red abroad, --but ships are but 
boards, sailors but men, there be land-rats, and water-rats, 
vjater-thieves, and land-thieves, (I mean pirates), and then 
there is the peril of waters, winds, and rocks: the man is 
notwithstanding sufficient, --three thousand ducats,--! think 
I may take hi? bond. 


Although Shylcck admits here that Antonio is a "good man," his 
quickly shifting thoughts and images suggest more than a mere business- 
like evaluation. His key vjord3-~^_od, sufficient, h-^ hath squand'red 
a_broad, and per?' Is of V7a ter s, winds, and rocks--all evoke Biblical 
passages and themes whach suggest that his value:s stand in opposition 

to those of Baspanio and Antonio. By means of these Shylock suggests 

that the "good" Antonio is merely a wealthy, prodigal merchant v/nose 

nieans are providenLialiy in jeopardy. Thus, Shylock' s word good is open 

to several interpretations. 

Shylock is totally unwilling to accept the common estimation of 

Antonio as "the good Antonio, the honest Antonio"-" who, in contrast with 

his o\m calculated usury, is uncalculating, self-sacrificing, and vjilling 

to put himself immediately at the disposal of his friend: 

My purse, my person, my extremest means 
Lie all unlocked to your occasions. 

(I. i. 138-9) 

For a long time, as Shylock sees it, Antonio's generosity and willing- 
ness to lend money to those in need has been a personal affront to him, 
a religious, racial, and social barrier, a financially damaging inter- 
ference, and the chief cause of his hatred. In his first aside, Shylock 
refers to this hatred as "the ancient grudge I bear him" (I.iii.42). And 
later, when he has no reason to be ambiguous, Shylock shouts: 

Gaoler lock to him, --tell not me of mercy- - 
This is the fool that lent out money gratis. 


And hopelessly, Antonio admits that the conflict is irremediable: 

He seeks m.y life, his reason well I know; 
I oft deliver'd from his forfeitures 
Many that have at times made moan to me. 
Therefore he hates me. 


Antonio is not a "good" man in Shylock' s eyes, because Shylock has a 

Salaiio is extremely laudatory: "that the good Antonio, the 
honest Antonio ;--0 that I had a ticia good enough to keep his name com- 
pany" (III. i. 12-14). Bassanio also refers to A:^.tonio as "my good friend" 
(III. ii. 232). 


different system of values. As E. C. Pettet demonstrates, Shylock is 
trying to replace the old-v.'orld, aristocratic, self-sacrificing "ideal- 
ized relationships of friendship and mutual service" with a "cash-nexus" 
system of evaluating what is "good." 

The Biblical overtones of Shyloclc's first speech constitute a 
rather subtle argument urged against a fairly stable backgrour'.d of six- 
teenth-century Scriptural tCichings on usury. For example, the second 
alphabetical tabid of Eiblica] themes appended to the Geneva B ible , 1583, 
lists eighteen Biblical citations "Against Usury." Repeatedly in these 
citations, the good man is the man who docs not exact interest on loans 
but rather lends freely to bis brot"-er in need. Psalm 13, which was read 
on the fourth day of each by those Elj zabetlian 3 who attended mcrn- 
ing prayers, asks \^h'i will be worthy to enter the Lord's sanctuary 

^E. C. Pettet, ";i1ie_ 2Ier chant of Venice and the Problem of Usury," 
_Es£ays and Studies, XjsXI, ]9'+5, 29'. Pettet notes that : 

For a long time pamphlets and books denouncing moneylending 
flovjed on from the press, the most important being Wilson's 
Discourse upon Usury, first published in 1572, Another attack, 
worthy of note since it came cut in 1595, only a year before 
the probable date of The _Mer chant o f V enice, was Miles Nosse's 
Arraifiunuy.t and_ Conviction of Usery, whichj so the Stationers' 
Company Register declared, conta.ined 'proof that it [usury] is 
manifestly forbidden by the Word of God, and sundry reasons 
alleged vhy it is justly aiid v/orthily condemned. . . . Divers 
causes why usury should not be practised of a Christian, es- 
pecially net of an Englishman, though it could not be proved 
that it is not simply forbidden in the Scriptures'" (pp. 21-2). 
According to Wilson (Discourse upon Usurye, 1572) , "Hardness of heart 
hath nov; gotten place" av.d usury "defaceth chivalries, [and] beateth 
doTjn nobility" (quoted b^r Pettet, p. 19). Pettet concludes that "Antonio 
is the hero of The _Nej\chant of Venice because, through suffering and peril, 
he fights for the cause of disinterested generosity" (p. 27). 

'Gen^.?;^_jL;ibl_e, 1583, "llie Second Alphabet of . . , uordes." 


Litur^ica 1 S;:r"'/ices . _lji.V:jLn: oJ._es _and _0c cas ional _ Forms of Frayer 
Set F orth in the Reip.- i of f^ueen Eli.'z.abeth, "Index &, Calendar ium, " ed. 


(verse one), and then answers: 

Hee that giveth not his money upon usurie: nor taketh 
reward against the iruiocent. 

(Ps. 15:6) 

Another Biblical aspect of the "good" man is that God will repay 
him for lending without interest. Thus, Psalru 112, which was read on 
the twenty- third day of each month at morning prayers and also at evening 
prayers on Easter Sunday, pictures the good man being blessed by God 
with "Riches and plenteousnes" not because he is self-sufficient but be- 
cause he is merciful and lends to the needy: 

Riches and plenteousnes shal be in his house: and his 
righteousnes endureth for ever. . . . he is mercifull, 
and loving, and righteous. A good man is merciful and 

(Psalm 112:3-5) 

The Geneva Eible glosses lendeth with the note: "Hee sheweth what is 
fruit of mercy: to lend freely and not for gaine, and so to measure his 
doings, that he m.ay be able to helpe where nacde requireta." Thus, ^oci£, 
sufficient, and usury are all words which are assoc iated--eithcr positive- 
ly or negatively--with the providence of God. 

The "good" man according to Scripture also lends what is "suffi- 
cient" for the needs of his brethren. Deuteronomy, chapter fifteen, 

William Kea tinge Clay (Cambridge, 1347), p. 311. Subsequently I will 
refer to this edition as the Prayei.J^ok (1559) . Psalm fifteen is one 
of the first Scriptural passages used by Elizabethans in their arguments 
against the "foula synne of usurie." Thomas VTilson writes in his intro- 
ductory epistle; "For god sayeth by hys prophete David, that he shall 
never dwell in hys tabernacle that hathe put out hys mony for usury," 
_A_Di scour se Upppn Usurye, 1572, p. iiii. And Thomas Bell quotes verses 
one ?rnd six "as the title-page inscription for his Sca£ulj._^ti,cn_of_JJsLn;X' 
1596 (University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, 1951), reel 451. 

^"Index L Calendar iura, " Prayer__3ook. (1559), pp. 311, 316. 


1 C 

assigned for evening pra^/ers sacli year on February 28, is explicit: 

If one of thy brethren among you be poore, within any of 
thy gates, in the lande v;hich the Lorde thy God giveth 
thee: thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut to thine 
hande froiT thy poore brother: But thou shalt open thine 
hand unto him, and lend hira sufficient for his neede which 
he hath. Beware that there be not a wicked thought in thine 
heart that ... it grieveth thee to looke on thy poote 
brother, and givest him nought, and he then crie urto the 
Lorde against thee, and it he. sinne unto thee. Thou shalt 
give him, and let it not grieve thine heart to give unto him. 

(Deut. 15:7-10) 

Here, the antithcois of the "good" man :.s the bard-heartod man who lacks 
compassion and exacts interest from the needy. The Biblical image be- 
longs to a recurrent pattern in the Penirateuch which describes Pharoah 
as the cruel master who held the Israelites in bondage (Exodus 1:32, 
7:13, 7:14, 7:22, 8:15, 8:lil). At the beginning of the trial scene, 
Antonio uses this sam? image to describe Shylock'i; lack of compassion: 

You may as well do any thing most hard 

As seek to soften that--than which what's harder?-- 

His Jewish heart'. 

(rv.i. 78-80) 

The Bible, then, pictures the good man as the man who is not hard hearted, 
but lends freely what is sufficient for his brother's need. If he does 
this the good man will be favored v.ith "riches and plenteousness ." 

Scripture also insists that the "good" man should not seek the 
reward for being good although the Lord promises a revjard. Tnis Scrip- 
tural passage, listed uucer "Usury" in the concordance appended to the 
Geneva Bible, 1583, and used on the fourth Sunday after Trinity as the 
Go?pel, reaas: 

"Tne Kev; Calendar, 1561," appended to the second edition, 
Fj.S:yjiL-M.9-9h (1559), p. 445. 

^^Ihe Prayer Book (15 59), p. 142. 

But love ye yC'ur enCiOies : doe good and lend, hoping 

for nothing thereby, and your reward shal be much, and 

you shal be the sonncs of the Highest, because hiw self 

is beneficial upon the unkinde and the evil. Be ye 

therefore merciful as also your father is merciful. 

Judge not, & yoii shal not be judged, condemne not, & 

you shal not be condemned, forgive, and you shal be forgiven, 

Give, and there shal be given to you. 

(Luke 6:33-8) 

Sufficiency and Prodigality 

Even though Antonio is the type of man who is willing to "aoe gOv. 
and lend, hoping for nothing thereby," Shylcck is unwilling to look upoi 
him as a good m'ln in the Biblical sense. For Shylcck has replaced the 
Biblical value system for judging usury with an economical value syster 
He is -.■.'illiiig to adroit that Antonio is "gocd" in the ve.y restricted 
sense of being financially "sufficient" (I.iii.l5), for Antonio has ar- 
gosies bound to "Tripojis . . . Indies . . . Mexico . . . [and] England 
But he is not vrilling to ad?.:it that his Christian competitor is morally 
good or that hi? sufficiency' is from Gcd. 

Antonio's sufficiency, according to Shylock, is perilous and "; ■ 

supposition" (I.iii.l5), for, 

ships bat boards, sailors but nien, there be land- 
rats, and water-rats, water-th-ieves, and land- thieves, 
(I moan pirates), and chen there is the peril of waters, 
winds, and rocks: the man is not withstanding sufficient. 

Shylock' s references here to sufficiency and to the perils of meichant 
ships are Biblical allusions to St. Paul's Second Letter tu che Corin- 
thians. Chapter three, read at evening prayers on Febn-ary eight and 

agaii\ as the Epistle for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity, cxpl'-iins: 

■"■•^•"The Mew Calendar, 1561," Prayer Book (1559), p. -V.o and '-The 
.xiix Sunday," Prayer Book (1559), p. 149. 


Not that we are sufficient cf our selves, to think any 
thing, as of our selves: but our sufficiencie is of God. 

Chapter eleven, which Elizabethans listened to every Sexagesima Sunday, "*■ 

reads : 

In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of rob- 
bers, in perils of mine own nation, in perils among the 
heathen, in perils in the citie, in perils in the V7ilder- 
nesse, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren. 

(II Cor. 11:26) 

Thus, only after Shylock has revaluateo this "good" Antonio, judged his 
sufficiency against a background of Biblical allusions, and concluded 
that his present sufficiency does not come from God but is "in supposi- 
tion" and therefore subject to the perilous circumstances and likely mis- 
haps "sway'd and fashion'd by the hand of heaven,"^ is he willing to ven- 
ture: "I think I m.ay take his bond" (I.iii.24). If Antonio's sufficiency 
is supposed to come from God, reasont^ Shylock, then God v;ill provide for 
his sufficiency. 

It is Shy leek's belief, hov.-ever, that heaven will favor hini \<rith 

Antonio's forfeiture, for this Christian is not his brother in need but 

1 (1 

the prodigal brother, "the fool that lent out money gratis." ' As 

"-^Eishons'^ Bible, 2 Cor, 3:15. The Prayer Book (1559) gives the 
follov.'ing translation for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity: "not that 
we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing, as of ourselves; but 
if we be able unto anything, the ssme com.eth of God," p. 1A9. 

"The Epistle" for Sexagesima Sunday, Pra yer Book (1559), pp. 
94-95. " ■■ ' 

•'--'Sixty lire.s later Antonio rejects Shylock' s justification of 
usury on the grounds chat it is net a godly "vent^ire" "svv'ay'd and fashi'Xi'd 
by the hand of heaven" (1 . iii. .86-90) . 

i^i£jiiiL'^.L--U--^' III.ili.2. Vlien Shylock calls Antonio a feci, he 
would very likel}/- st.-r up in an Elizabethan audience remembrances of the 
follov;ing New words of Jesus : 

Ye have heard that it was said unto them of old time, 
Thou shalt not kil, whosoever killeth shall be in danger 

Richmond Noble observes, the parable of the prodigal son who i^eceived 

his inheritance, Xi'ent abroad, and squandered it in riotous living "is 

the most frequently mentioned Parable of the Gospels in the plays.'' 

The Bishops ' Bible (1585) records this parable of "The pxodigall sonn." 

as follows : 

A certain man bad two sonnes : And the yonger of l;hcm 
said to his father, father, give moe the portion of the 
substance that to me belongeth. And he devided unto 
them his living. And not many dayes after, when the 
yonger sonne had gathered all that he had together, he 
tooke his jourroy into a farre countrey, and there v-'asted 
his substance with riotous living. 

(Luke 15:11-13) 

This parable of the prodigal is continuously in the background o; 

The Mercha nt . Twice Shylock specifically refers to it. The first t;r;. 

he tells Jessica contemptuously: 

I am- bid forth to supper Jessica, 

There are my keys:--but v.'herefore should I go? 

I am not bid for love, they flatter me, 

B\it yet I'll go in hate, to feed upon 

The prodigal Christian. Jessica my girl. 

Look to my house. 

(II. v. 11- 16) 

of judgment. But I say unto you: that whc so ever is 
angry V7ith his brother (unadvi.sedly) shall be in danger 
of judgment. And who so ever say unto his brother, 
Racha, shall be in danger of a cousel. But who so ever 
saith, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 

(Matt. 5:21-2) 
This passage, read as che Gospel for the sixth Sunday after Trinity 
(^ Pra yer Book [1559], p. 144), is readily associated with the differen- 
between a Jew and a Christian. For Jesus is 'distinguishing berween r,' 
servance of the law and observance of the spirit. "Ys have beard" tr.. 
the act of murder is forbidden (in Exodus 20:13). "But I say" thit f' 
Christians even, the desire to kil?. cr call someone fool is forbidden. 
In Ti"'°. ^?i-l£b?i'" ' ^- course, the Ch7:istian? actually hate Shylock a-3 'w 
as he hates tliem. 

'Ri.chmond Noble, Shakesp eare's Biblical, p. 277. 


Here Shylock's tone of reprobation is unmistakable as he contrasts his 
ovm thrifty concern for his keys ?nd for his house with the riotous liv- 
ing of the "prodigal Christian;.," who, as he sees it, flatter him by in- 
viting him to supper in hopes of getting good terms for their loan. Shy- 
lock adds th£ t he does not want even the sound of the riotous, feasting, 
prodigal "Christian fools" to violate his "sober house" by entering 
through his "house's ears": 

What are there masques? Hear you me, Jessica, 
Lock up my doors, and when you hear the drum 
And the vile squealing of the wry-neck's fife 
Clamber not you up to che casements then 
Nor thrust your head into the public street 
To gaze on Christian fools with varnisli'd faces: 
But stop my house's ears, I mean niy casements, 
Let not che sound of slialicw fopp'ry enter 
My sober house, 

(11, v. 28-36) 

For Shylock lending money gratis is equivalent to prodigality. 

When Salerio asks, "tell us, do you hear whether Antonio have had any 

loss at sea or no?". Shylock ansv/ers by alluding to the parable of the 

prodigal son: 

There I have another bad match, a bankrupt, a prodigal, 
who dare scarce show his head on the Rialto, a beggar 
that was us'd to come so smug upon the mart: let him 
look to his bond I he was v;ont to call me usurer, 
let him look to his bond', he was wont to lend money 
for a Christian cur'sy, let him look to his bond! 


Clearly, here, Shylock's implication is that Antcnio is a "prodigal" and 
a "bankrupt" because he lends for "Christian cur'sy" (courtesy, generos- 
ity, friendship, and charity), and that he the usurer is thrifty. 

Bassanio is a self -acknov.'lcdgcd exaniple of a prodigal. For in 
coming to Antonio he is \7illing to sh>-'ot another arrow over the house to 
find the one he has already lost even while ackno'w-l edging: 

'Tis noL unknovm to you Antonio 

How much I have disabled mine estate, 

Wherein my time (something too prodigal) 
Hat?i left me gag'd. 

(I. i. 122-3, 129-130) 

Antonio also is intentionally prodigal with his love, for he is ^^7illing 
to "be rack'd even to the uttermost" (I.ii.181) for his prodigal "kins- 
man" (I.i.57). And again, the revelers find themselves v;ithout their 
masque simply because they are too careless to make adequate prepara- 
tions : 

Lor, Nay, we will slink away in supper-time 

Disguise us at my lodging, and return 

All in an hour . 
Gra. We have not m.ade good preparation. 
Sal. We have not spoke us yet of torch-bearer s, -- 
Sol. 'Tis vile unless it may be quaintly ordered. 

And better in my mind not undertook. 


Even in his first description of Antonio's mercantile resources, 

Shylock alludes to Antonio's prodigality: "other ventures he hath 

squand'red abroad." Here the words s guand ' red abr cad have been rightly 


but inadequately g,lossed as "scattered" and "dispersed."' For Shake- 
speare's only other use of sjquandc_r is in opposition to v.'isdora and thrift. 
I'^ As You Like It Jaques, envious of the wise foci's frec'dom and impunity 
"To blow on X;7hom I please," telis Duke Senior: 

Invest me in my motley; give me leave 

To speak my mind, and I will through and through 

Cleanse Che foul body of che infected world. 

(AYLI rj..vii.58-60) 


See A Kexj Variorui:i Ed ition of Shakespeare; The Merchant of 

Venice, ed . Horace Hov/ard Turness (Philadelphia, 1888), p. 35n. In the 

future I will refer to this edition as the Furness Variorum. 


According to Jacques, 

The wise man's foil}' is anatomised 

Even by the squandering glances of tlie fool. 

(AY1.I II. vii. 56-57) 

Thus, claims Jacques, if those claiming to be wise do noc gather up the 
valuable corrections of the \7ise fool, their lack of thrift is worse than 
that of the fool v/no tlien squanders his glances anatomizing the folly of 
the seeming wise man. In viev; of this usage and Shylock's two specific 
allusions to the parable of the prodigal, then, squ^.nd'red abroad is a 
disparaging description of Antonio's hazardous sufficiency. 

Thus, in Shylock's viev;, Bassanio, Antonio, and the Christians of 
Venice are prodigal':? and not brothers -in-nced to whom the Old Testa-.aent 
obliges him to lend freely. And, as he sees it, the sufficiency of 
these prodigals is perilous not onl> because "there be . . . water-thieves, 
and land thieves" but because they are s.itisfied with uncalculating cour- 
tesy, spend-thiift rioting, and haphazard planning. Shylock fully ex- 
pects heaven to bless him x;ich the forfeited bond of these prodigals. 

Friendship with Gentiles 

Critics have long recognii:ed love ard friendship as important 

1 Q 

motifs in Tue Merchant . ' Antonio comes to the assistance of his dear 
friend Bassanio, insisting that even his life is not too mjch tc sacri- 
fice for a friend (I.i.l38 and III .ii .314-320) . And when Portia asks 
Bassanio if it is his "dear friend that is thus in trouble?" (Ill .ii . 290), 
Bassanio answers: 


See the ''Introduction" to the Arden Edition, pp. xlv-xlix. 


Itie dearest friend to me, the kindest man. 
The best-conditioned and unwearied spirit 
In doing co^irtesies: and one in whom 
The ancient Roman honour more appears 
Than any draws breath in Italy. 

(III. ii. 291-5) 

Even Portia, by temporarily foregoing the marriage bed, shows deference 

to the noble bonds of friendship: 

Before a friend of this description 

Shall lose a hair through Bassanio's fault 

First, go with me to church, and call m.e wife. 

And then away to Venice to your friend: 

For never shall you lie by Portia's side 

Wi th an unqu ie t soul. 

(Ill, ii. 300-5) 

One aspect of the. friendship motif, however, is the conflict between 

lending mon^^' gratis to friends and lending nioney for interest to strangers. 

Even Shylock borrows freely frcjm his couu.ry-iian. Tubal: 

I cannot in.';t.antly raise up the groso 

Of full three thousand ducatf: of that? 

Tubal a wealthy Hebrew of my tribe 

Will furnish me. 


But Shylock is net in the practice of lending freely to the Christir-.ns of 
Venice for be does not accept tneiTi. as friends. Indignantly he recognizes 
hiiuself in the traditional role of a Jewish usurer amid hostile credi- 
tors, a stranger spurned by gentiles: 


-In an historical survey of the Judeo-Christian conflict over 

usury, R.J. Werblowsky si^ggests that the conflict between Jex7 and Chris- 
tian in the F.enaissance may have had historical causes which were eco- 
nomically beneficial to both races. Werblowsky writes: 

The biblical prohibition against usury reflects the simple 
econor.iy of an agricultural society where loans were needed 
to provide immediate relief in moments of distress (e.g. 
failure of crops). 'vJith. the devclopiaent of a money economy, 
indxistry and trade, the ancient prohibitions becarae eco- 
nomically obsolete and (in part) morall}/' irrelevant. Unable 
to disregard a plain biblical prohibition, JewisVi practice 


Signior Antonio, many a time and oft 
In the Rial to you have rated me 
About my moneys and my usances: 

". Well then, it vow appears you need my help I . . . 
'Shylock, we would have moneys,' you say so: 
You that did void your rheum upon my beard. 
And foot me as jrou spurn a stranger cur 
O/er your threshold. 

(I.iii.101-3, 109-13) 

Nor do Antonio and Bassanio look upon Shylock as a friend but as a stranger 

and an enemy who exacts interest without mercy. Eassanio admits to Portia: 

"I have engaged myself to a dear friend. Engaged my friend to his mere 

enemy" (III. ii. 260-61) . And Antonio demands that Shylock lend the three 

thousand ducats "to thnie enemy," "for when did friendship take A breed 

for barren metal of his friend?" (I. iii. 128-30) 

Again, this diGtinction in The F.archrnt between leading to friends 

and lending to stranger^^ has a Biblical basis. For both Jewish law and 

the Old Testament make sucl a distinction betv.'een lending to aliens and 

lending to countr^rmen. The lesson from Deuteronomy ^;hich was assigned for 

morning prayers on March 23, reads: 

evo]ved--again3t long resistance- -the legal fiction knoxm as 
better iska by ^^7hich a loan is contracted in the form of a 
partnership. Although this procedure is considered legitimate 
for business transactions and investments, loans to a fellow 
man in need should be free of interest (C-emilut Hesed). The 
Catholic Church in the Middle Ages enforced a sijnilar prohibi- 
tion between Christians, and hence the Jevjs , being outside 
Christian society and its laws, V7hen debarred from other oc- 
cupations, were often forced into the role of moneylenders 
and usurers. 

T he En cyclopedia of the Je wish Religjion, ed . R. J. Zvri Werblowsky (New 

York, 1965),' p. 394. 


Herbert Loewe notes that according to Deuteronomy 23:19-20, 

usury or nashek "is prohibited between Jew and Jew, but allowed to be used 
by a Jev7 to a" But according to lovi.ticus 25:36-7, both usury 
and interest (tarbir -in:, marbit) "are forbidden to be used by Jev; to Jew." 
A Rabbinic An tholo,-;y (New York, 1360), p. 450. 

^"""Index & Calendarium," Prayer Book (1559), p. 318. 


Thou slialt not hurt thy brother by usurie of money, nor 
by usurie of corne, nor by usurie of any thing that he 
may be hurt withall. Unto a stranger thou mayest lend 
upon usurie, but not unto thy brother: that the Lord 
thy God may b]csse thee in all that thou settest thine 
hand to, in the land v.hither thou goest to possesse it. 

(Deut. 23:19-20) 

The Bishops' Bible observes that this double standard existed for Jews in 

the Old Testament because they had not yet become kind-hearted and open 

to disinterested generosity: "Because they were a hard hearted people, 

therefore was this libertie given them for a time."" 

In his conversation vjith Eassanio in Trie Merch ant, Shy lock has 
already given a number of signals which indicate that the "good Antonio" 
is not his friend but a competitor who is ruining him and his business, a 
prodigal who has many "ventures . . . squand'red abroad," and a gentile 
whose "suf f icien-:y" does not come as God's providential reward but is in 
perilous ''suppcsitior.. " Bassanio, novrever, seems to be :.mpressed with 
only the last few words of Shylock: ". . . the man is notwithstanding 
sufficient-- three thousand ducats,--! think I may take his bond" (I.iii. 
23--4) . Thus Bassanio--apparently feeling gracious-- invites Shylock to 
make the final arrangements for the loan tonight, "If it please you to 
dine with us" (I.iii.2S). Shylock, however, answers with a tirade of Bib- 
lically oriented abuse: 

Yes, to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your 

prophet the Kaaarite conjured the devil into: I will buy 

with you, sell with you, talk v/ith you, walk with you, 

and so followins: But I will not eat with you, drink v/ith 
you, nor pray xvitn you.^"^ 

^^Gioss to Deuteronomy 23:20. 


I.iii. 29-33. Possibly, this may be an aoice, for as Dover 

Wilson notes, "It v;0uld be unlike the Jew to reveal his hate openly al 


HerOj Sliy]ock's diction is again indicative of his re;.igiouSj 
racial, and social contempt for Bassanio, Antonio, and the Christians 
of Venice. Even his non-Biblical diction is indicative of his scorn, 
for pork is represented not as a roasted pig or as food but as a thing, 
a "habitation" suitable for the devil to live in. 

According to the Mosaic la\7 and Talmudic tradition, the Lord 
directed Israelites to dissociate themselves from gentiles socially so 
that they v/ould not be influenced by the idolatrous and unclean prac- 
tices of foreigners. Chapter twenty of Leviticus, read at evening 
prayers on February 11, commands the Israelites: 

Ye shall not walke in the uaners of this nation, 

VJhich I cast out before you: for they committed 

all these things, and therefore I abhore them. , . . 

And therefore shall ye put difference belwsene 
cleane beasts and uncleane. . , . Therefore shall 
ye be holy unio me: for I the Lorde am holy, and have 
severed you from other nations, that ye should be mine. 

(Lev. 20:23-26) 

Shylock's reference to pork is based on an explicit dietary prohibition 

in Deuteronomy, read at evening prayers on March fourth: ^ 

Tliou shalt eate no manner of abom.ination. . . . 
And also the swine, though he divideth the hoofe, 
yet he chewetb not cud, therefore is ha uncleane 
unto you: ye shall not eate of the flesh of such. 

;(Deut. 14:3,8) 

this stage," Ihe Wo rks of Shakespeare, ed. Arthur Ouiller-Ccuch and 
John Dover Wilson (Cambridge, England, 1953). Subsequently, I refer 
to this edition as the N.C.S . Shylock, hov/evcr, has already given 
Bassanio m.any subtle indications of his contempt, and later in this 
saiae scene his hatred is undisguised when he talks to Antonio in 
I. iii. 101-12^'^, 


"ITie Kew Cnri.-,tii:,n Calend-:-.r, 1561," Prayer Look (1559) ,p.445. 

"'^Pray-etr Book (1559), p. 43. 

Thus, Shy lock recognizes the invitation to dine v/ith Antonio as an La- 
plicit invitation to disregard the traditional Jewish law regarding 
pork. The Elizabetlian audience would also recognize the Biblical over- 
tones of Shylock's contempt and would be familiar v/ith this prohibition 
of pork because of their readings from the Old Testament and the litur- 
gy of the Prayer Bo ok. 

Besides his indignation about the dietary law. Shy lock also sho\»s 
contempt in his reference to the pork which Jesus "conjured the devil 
into." The Biblical passage that Shy lock here alludes to is recorded 
in all three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, 8:28-34; Mark, 5:1-17: and 
Luke, 8:26-37. Elizabethans would be familiar V7ith the Matthean ac- 
count since it was read publicly to them on the fourth Sunday after the 
Epiphany. The Prayer Book version of this Gospel reads: 

And when he was come to the other side into the coantry of 
the Gergesites, there met vjith him .ii. possessed of devils, 
which came out of the graves, and were out of measure fierce, 
so that no might go by that way. And behold, they cried 
out saying: Jesu, thou Son of God, V7hat have we to do with 
thee? art thou come hither to toruient us before the time? 
And there was a good way off from them a herd of swine, 
feeding. So the devils besought hiiu, saying: If thou cast 
us out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine. And he said 
unto them: Go your ways. Then went they out, and departed 
into the herd of swine. And behold, the v/hole herd of swine 
was carried headlong into the sea, and perished in the 
waters. '-- 

Apparently, Shylock considers this casting of the devil into the swine 
as the Naz.'.rite Prophet's tacit acknowledgment of the traditional pro- 
hibition against pork. And so he is contemptuous because Christians 
eat the food v/hich even their o'.m "prophet" despised when he "conjured 


Prayer Book (1559), p. 92. 


the devil inCo" it".. A? Shylock sees it, Bassanio and the Christians 
acknowledge neither tlie Old Testament prohibition, a Jew's traditional 
contempt for swine, the contempt Jesus had for pork, nor the fact that 
their "prophet" was a Jew. 

Although the word prophet is not generally a derogatory word when 
used in reference to Jesus, 28 Shylock seems to be suggesting that Jesus 
is merely one of the many prophets who happened to be a conjurer of 
devils. Moreover, for him, this prophet is not "my" or "our" prophet 
but "your" prophet. He is neither a major prophet like Isaiah, Jerei.iiah, 
or Ezekiel, nor a minor prophet like Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, or Malachi, 

but an unnamed "Nazarite." The distinction between Na^ar^ite and Naza- 

rene would not indicate Shylock' s contempt since Jesu.? is called a 

"Nazarite" in all of the English translations before the King James vcr- 

sion in 1611. But Shylock' s contemptuous use of the wore! is accurate, 


Thus, Jesus refers to himself as a prophet: "And when he came 

into his owne countrey, he taught them in their Synagogue. . . . And they 

were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A Prophet is not without 

honour, save in his owne countrey" (Matthev.' 13:57). 


Furncss notes that "The use of this word instead of Eazarene is 

at first sight puzzling. . . . San'son was a Maz£/,rite, and is always cor- 
rectly so called by Milton in his S amson A gonistes . And John the Baptist 
was a Nazarite. Shylock must have known perfectly v?ell that the Prophet 
who conjured the devil into the swine was not a Nazarite, but a Nazarcne" 
(Fum es s V arioruai ; 36n) . By Naza rite Shylock means a person from Naza- 
reth. But the primary meaning of N azarite in the Old Testament (Amos 
2:11; Judges 13:5, 7; 16:17; Numbers 6:1-27; 1 Maccabees 3:49-53) is that 
of one consecrated to God by special vows to drink no wine, to leave the 
hair uncut, to avoid contact with the dead, and to eat no unclean foods. 
See Dictionary of the Bible , ed . James Hastings, revised by Frederick C. 
Grant and' H. H. pCowley (New York, 1963), p. 691. 

"^She phrase, "He shall be called a Nazarite" QAazt . 2:23), ap- 
pears in Tyndale's version (1534), Mylcs Coverdale's (1534), l<latthews' 
(1537), Taverner's (1539),'s (1539), the Bishops' Bible (1585), 
the Geneva Bible (1587), and the Rheim s New Tcstan-ent (1582). See the 
Furness Variorum, 36n. 

for simply being an inhabitanl: of the insignif icanc tovm of Nazareth 

carries Biblical overtones of contempt. The clearest example of this is 

in the Gospel according to St. John: 

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him. We have 
founde him of v.'home Moses in the lawe and the Prophets 
did \^7rite, Jesus of Nazareth the sonne of Joseph. And 
Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come 
out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 

(John l:45--6) 

The Biblical concordance appended to the Gen eva Bible, 1583, also notes 

that it was the "devill" who "confesseth Christ to be oL" Nazaret," while 

"The inhabitants regarded not their Prophete Jesus, but would have cast 


him headlong from their hill." 

Wnen Shylock says "I will not eat with you, drink XJith you, nor 
pray with you" (X .iii .32-33) , he is alluding not only to the dietary law 
regarding pork but also to the traditional Kosaic lav which forLids Jews 
to associate v^ith gentiles. He eventually says, "I'll go in hate, to 
feed upon the prodigal" (II .v. 14-5), but here in the first act, he makes 

I a distinction between his vdllingness to do business, i.e. to "buy . . . 

- sell . . . ta-lk . . . and walk" (I. iii. 31) with the Christians and his 
unwillingness to socialize, that is, to eat, drink, and pray with them. 
The Biblical passage from Deuteronomy (7:2-4) is one of of the key pas- 
sages w;:ich Rabbinic literature traditionally cites to demonstrate the 
barriers that Israelites should erect in order to prevent socializing 
which could lead to intermarriage with gentiles and to Idolatry. This 
passage, re:id at evening pravers on the fourth Sunday after Easter and 

-'•"Geneva Bible, 1583, "The Second Alphabet" under the word 


agi\in at evening prayers on the seventeenth day of February,-'^ reads as 

follows : 

Wlien the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the lande 
whither thou goest to posses se it, and hath cast out many 
nations before thee . . . make no covenant with them, nor 
have any compassion on them. Thou shalt make no marriages 
with them. ... Ye shall overthrowe their altars, and 
breake do\me tlieir pillars, and cut do^Tue their groves, 
and burne their graven images with fire. For thou art an 
holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lorde thy God hath 
chosen thee to be a speciall people unto himselfe, above all 
nations that are upon the earth. 

(Deuteronomy 7:1-7) 


Originally, this law of separation from gentiles (Hukkat Ha- Hoyyim) 

extended to the seven Canaanite nations; but as the Jews dispersed to 
other nations, Rabbinic interpretations extended the ban to include all 
non-Jewish peoples and their morally "unclean" practices. 

The Talmudic interpretation of the Old Testament is filled with 
prohibitions against uriclern foods, and in some cases the law \-i?s so 
stringent that eating with gentiles was forbidden even when it did not 
infringe on the dietary laws. For example, the Mishaa, Abodah Zarah ex- 
plains simply "That the cooked foods of heathens are prohibited" by Deu- 
teronomy 2:28: ^' 

^^"The New Calendar, 1561," Praye r Book (15.59), pp. 437, 445. 

"Statute of the Gentile." See "Gentiles" in The Evic vc lop ed J.a 
o f t lic Jev7ish Religion, ed . R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, p. 155; and "Assimila- 
tion," p. 46. The Talmudic tract Avo dah Zar ab. (on idol vjorship) in the 
Mishnah order of Nezikin specifically regulates the religious, social, 
and ccmm.ercial intercourse between Jews and heathens. But as Werblov;sky 
notes: "many authorities classified Christianity as idolatry (because 
of its doctrines of the incarnation and tlie eucharist, and its use of 
images)," (p. 193). Even the Hebrew "w-ord for nation, which designated 
any nation in the Bible including Israel, eventually "came to mean the 
non-Jewish nations in general and finally a member of any such nation, 
i.e., the non-Jew" (p. 162). 

R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R.. Johanan; Scripture 
states, Thou shali : sell me food for moi.'ey i^bat I_ rn?.'^/__eat_j 
and ^ivc me wa ter fo r money that I rik .y drink. A comparison 
is to be drawn with water--as only V7ater V7hich has undergone 
no change [is permitted to Jevi/s] so also must the food have 
undergone no change [at the hand of heathens] .... 

R. Assi said in the name of Rab : Small fish when salted 
[by heathens] do not come within [the law of v.'hat is prohibited] 
. . . If, however , a heathen made them into a pie of fish-hash 
it is prohibited. This is obvious! . . . 

R. Berona said in the name of Rab: If a heathen set fire 
to uncleared ground, all the [roasted] locusts found in the 
uncleared ground are prohibited. Eov; is this to be understood? 
. . . [the true reason was] certainly because he could not dis- 
tinguish between the clean and unclean species, and the incident 
actually happened wit:h a heathen.-'^ 

Drinking wine with gentiles was strictly forbidden because wine 

was closely associated with the idolatrous rituals of heathens. The 

Talmud reads : 

Gemara . Whence do we deduce [tl^e prohibition of] wins?-- 
Rabbah b. Abbuha said: From the scriptural verse which says, 

V7ho did e at the fat of their sacrifices, and dra nk the_ v?:" ne 

of their dri nk- o lferingg (Deuv. . 32:38); as [heathens'] sacri- 
fice is forbidden as to deriving any benefit, so also their wine 
is forbidden. 35 

Werblowsky comments on this Talmudic tradition: 

As a result of the ancient link between V7[ine] and idolatrous 
ritual, a strict prohibition has been enforced against par- 
taking of w[ine] prepared by Gentiles (y^i^.._ne.iekh ) ; when the 
original reason became obsolete the prohibition was maintained 
(^setam yeinam) in order to prevent conviviality-'-leadiii^ to 
intermarriage--bei;ween Jews and gentiles .-^'^ 

Thus, the indignity of Shylock's daughter marrying a Christian and Shy- 
lock's confused anguish when he utters, "Ky daughter'. my ducats'." 

The Ba bylonian Talmud, ed. Babbi Br . I , Epstein (London, 1935), 
Abodah Zarah, 37b and 38a, pp. 183-5. The phrases in brackets are those 
of the Talmud editor . 

^^rne Babylonian Talmud, Abodah Zarah, 29b, p. 147. 

Th e Encyclop edia of the Jewish Religicn, p. 403. 


(II .viii . 15), are more understandable, then, in the light cf the Old 
Testament and Talmudic prohibitions and safeguards against marrying 
gentiles. Moreover, the Pentateuch, in the name of God, explicitly re- 
inforces these prohi.bitions with material rewards and punishm.ents . The 

Book of Joshua, read at evening prayers on the first Sunday after Trin- 

..37 1 . 
ity, explains: 

Behold, I have devided unto you by lot, these nations 
that remaine, to be an inheritance for your tribes. . . . 
Be ye therefore of good courage, that ye keepe &■ do all 
that is written in the booke of the lawe of Moses, that 
ye bowc not aside therefroni, to the right hand, nor to 
the left. Neither companie with these nations, that is, 
with them that are left with you, neither make mention cf 
the name of their goddes, nor cause to svreare by them, 
neither serve them, nor bowe your S'?lves unto them. . . . 
Els, if ye goe backe. . . and shal ni?ke marriages with them, 
and goe in unto them, end they to you: Be ye sure that the 
Lorde your Cod will no more cast out all these nations from 
before you: but they shal be snares and trappes unto you, 
and scourges in your sides, and troines in your eyes, untill 
ye perish. 

(Joshua 23:4, 6-7, 12-13) 

Shy lock's apprehensions about pork, eatjug and drinking v;ith gcnriles, 
praying with them, and marrying a gentile are, then, supported by Tal- 
mudic tradition; but they are also thoughts that an audience o." Chris- 
tians would recognize and associate with a Jew because of their readings 
from the Old Testament. 

Our Sacred Nation and the Fawning Publican 

Shylock's contempt for Christians is also based on his belief 
that God favors him as a chosen descendent of a sacred nation, whereas 
Antonio resembles a farming publican. V.'hen Shylock is about to m.eet 

^^"The New Calfiidar, 1561," Prayer Book (1559), p. 314, 


Antonio on the stage for the first time, his true feelings about Antonio 
are undisguised as he addresses the audience in an aside: 

How like a fa\vming publican he looks'. 

I hate hin for he is a Christian: 

But more, for that in lov; simplicity 

He lends out money gratis, and brings dov-m 

The rate of usance here v;ith us in Venice, 
j If I can catch him once upon the hip, 

I V7i.ll feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. 
', He hates our sacred nation, and he rails 
^ (Even there wliere merchants most do congregate) 

On me, my bargains, and my v7ell-v;on thrift, 

Wliich he calls interest: cursed be my tribe 

If I forgive him'. 


Again, Shy lock's language reflects a highly emotional montage of scrip- 
tural, religious, racial, and economic images and allusions. Econoni- 
cally, Shylock claims that Antonio has been destroying hi:; market by 
lending money "gratis" and bringing dovm che "rate of usarce." He has 
also been taking av/ay his prospective clients by berating his "bargains" 
and well-earned "thrift" in the Rialto. The Scriptural, religious, and 
racial aspects of Shylock' s aside are made up of the following words and 

phrases : fawnin g publican, T ha te him . . . a Chri stian, Jj^w._si_mpli_citrv, 

feed fat the^ a ncie nt trudge, our sacred nation, thrift, and c ursed be my 
tribe if I for^'^ive him . 

When Shylock refers to "our sacred nation" he is alluding to his 
special claim on God's providentiaJ blessings and to the Old Testament 
"covenant," or promise, given to Abraham and his descendents. In the 
Bible the Israelites are called a holy people because Gou singled out 
Abraham as the "father of many nations" (Genesis 17:4). Kci promised to 
make him and his descendents numerous and powerful: 

I will multiplie thy secde as the starres of heaven, 
and as the sand which is upon the sea side, and cl;y 


seede shall possess the gates of his enemies, 

(Genesis 22:17) 

And he v/ill give them the land of the Canaanite nations for their in- 
heritance : 

Behold, 1 have devided unto you by lot, these nations 
that, to be an inheritance for your tribes. 

(Joshua 23:4) 

Although scripture promises only the land of Canaan, "Jev.'ish theology 

had explained this prOiHise as containing an assurance of God that his 

elect people viould have world dominion in the Messianic end-time." 

Thus, in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul 
refers to "the proraise" given to "our fathar Abraham" "that he should be 
the heire of the vorld" (Romans 4:12-13). 

Shylock, ho';evei, looks upon the premise as his claim to material 
blessings to be received in this life, in Venice, and through his business 
of usury. For ivhcn he thiukc of hir. tribe and his sacreo nation, he im- 
mediately thinks of his rate of usance and the ancient grudge he bears 
for one who rails on bis bargains and well won thrift. Here Sh.ylock is 
making the kind of logical connection that is often done in Old Testa.T.en.t 
descriptions of the traffic between Jew and Gentile. Much of his hope 

for material blessings and financial success is epitomized by Deuteronomy, 


read at evening prayers on February t\7enty-eighth : 

For the Lorde thy God hath blessed thee, as he hatli 

prom.ised thee, and thou shalt lend unto many nations, 

but thou thy selfe shalt not borowe: and thou sha].t 

r eigne over many nations, and they shall not r eigne over 


(Deut. 15:6) 

''A Theolo3;ical Wor d Book of the Bible, ed. Alan Richardson (New 

York, 1935), p. 177. 

The New Calendar, 1561," Prayer Book (1559), p. 445. 


Shylock's references to "our sacred nation," "my tribe," "Father 
Abram" (I.iii.l55), and "this Jacob from our liol.y Abram" (I.iii.67), 
then, iB^.ply his perbonal ambition and his tribal expectations of success 
over Antonio and the Christians. Domination over Antonio is the fulfill- 
ment of the promise given to "Father Abram" and "our sacred nation": 
" . . thou shalt lend unto many nations . . . thou shalt reigne over 
many nations, and they shall not reigne over thee." Shylock expects 
material blessings from God through usury. 

As Shylock sees it, Antonio's "low simplicity" is the deceitful 
ruse of a "favming publican" who is intentionally trying to ruin him, 
his business, and his "sacred nation." In "low simplicity" Antonio 
feigns co'-apassion so that ethers will gratefully and readily accept his 
loans thinking that he understands their needs and loves them. But ac- 
tually, Antonio's "lo\.' simplicity" is a disguised hatred, claims Shylock, 
for "Ke hates our sacred nation" and lends money gratis in order to bring 
down the rate of usance "here with us in Venice." 

Some critics'^''^ have identified Shylock's "fatming publican" with 

See, for example. Fumes s Variorum, pp. 37n and 3Sn; also, 

Dover Wilson, liiC^,J_-. Karl Elze notes that, 

bei Lucas IS, 10-1 4 da s "farming" d es Zollner s nich t den 
Flenschen, sondern Got.t_3£gen_uber__S£a£t_f ijj.det_._ Eine Demuthi- 
gung unu Zerk nirschung vo r Goct, v±e sie dort der sich a n 
dTe~Brus't' sen 1 agend e Zo 1 In cr mit dem A usru fe: Gott s ei mir 
S under ~gna dig' \ T rT d" e n Tag legt, kenn t un c be grei ft Shylock — 

ja'der MosaiTIaos. u berhaupt---nicht . . . . Von diesem Standpunkte 

aus l^tT'der vor~Gott kriechende und urn Gnade bette lnde Zollner 
Shyiock zuwider. 

TlrTLuke'TsTiO-lA the "favming" publican humbles himself be- 
fore God, not man. Neither Shylock nor even the Mosaic law 
itself can understand such hum.ility aiid contrition before God. 
. . . From this point of viex^/ the publican fawTiing on God and 
begging for mercy was very repugnant to Shylock.] 

Karl Elze, Shakesn ear e^ buch , XI (1876), 275. 


the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican because the publican humbled 


And the Publicane standing a farre off, woulde not. lift 
up his eyes to heaven: but smote upon his breast, saying, 
God be mercifull to me a sinner. 

(Luke 18:13) 

It is true that Elizabethans were familiar with this parable since it was 
read as the Gospel for the eleventh Sunday after TriniLy. -'■ But the 
whole purpose of this parable is to show that the repentant publican is 
justified, while the scribes and pharisees who "trusted in themselves 
. . . and despised others" were not justified. Jesus concludes by prais- 
ing the humbled publican: 

I tel you, this man departed honie to his house justified 
rather then the other: for every on>^ that exalteth him 
selfe shalbe brought lowe : and he that humbleth him selfe, 
shalbe exalted. (Luke 18:14) 

Since Shylock looks upon as a prodigal, he would be will- 
ing to call him a sinner, but he would hardly be willing to associate 
Antonio with the humbled man who "shalbe exalted." On the contrary, 
Shylock repeatedly demands his rights and expects himself to be exalted 
not only before man but before God: 

\Jhat judgment shall I dread doing no wrong? 


My deeds upon my head! (IV.i.?02) 

I'll have my bond, speak not against my bond . . . 
The duke shall grant me justice. 

(III.iii.4, 8) 

A Daniel coir.e to judgment: yea a Daniel I 
wise young judge how I do honour thee I 

(IV. i. 219-20) 

^^Pray_er Book (1559), p. 148. 


Other critics have explained p ublica n in its primary sense as 
a tax collector during the Roman occupation of Israel. According to 
Biblical scholars, the Jewish contempt for a publican in the New Testa- 
ment is "partly due to his being a servant of the liated Roiaan government" 
and partly due to his representing a system V7hich was "a direct incen- 
tive to dishonesty," especially in a neglected and ill-governed 

province." In this sense, then, Shylock would be calling Antonio a 

"publican" because, like the hated tax collectors who robbed the Jev.'s of 
their lawful gains during Roman occupation, Antonio also is a hated gen- 
tile trying to rob him of his "well-won thrift." 

This explanation of pub lie an is plausible because it reflects Shy- 
lock's fear of being robbed and his antagonism toward the gentiles. But 
it does not account for the fact that Shylock calls Antonio a "fawning" 
publican rather than a powerful representative of a foreign government. 
Moreover, the moaning of fawnin>^ is clear, for in che plays of Shakespeare 
it is always associated with base, cringing, smiling submission and usu- 
ally vjith a dog image and with intentions of deceit. Some examples from 
the early plays are those written about the same tim.e as The Merchan t are; 

Clarendon (Variorum edition of The Merchant, 1883) suggests that 
Shylock might have in mind "The Publicani, or farmers of caxes, under the 
Roman government" but notes that the Roman tax collectors "were much more 
likely to creat the Jews with insolence than servility" (F urne ss Vari oru m, 
p. 37n). John Russell Bro^-rn suggest.=? that this "primsry sense of publican 
may be correct, for Antonio would beg a favoiir as one unused to it" 
(ArJen_Edition, p . 23n) . 

A Dictionary^ of the Bible , ed . James Hastings (London, 1902), p. 
172. The revised editor notes that "In one particular yea-r the provin- 
cials of Asia had to pay the taxes three times over" (A Di ction ary of 
the_ Bible, ed . James Hastings, revised by Frederick C. Grant and H. H. 
Rowley [New York, l9o2-], p. 824). 


Buckingham, take heed of yonder dogl 
Look, wlien he fawns, he bites. 

(Richard IIT I . i i i . 2 9 0- 1 ) 

Yet, spaniel-like the more she spurns my love. 
The more it groves, and fa\.meth on her still. 

(IVo Gentlemen IV . i i . 14- 5 ) 

Go, base intruder', overweening slave'. 
Bestow thy fawning smiles on equal mates. 

(T wo Gentleme n III.i.l57-S) 

. . . and wilt thou, pupil- like, 
Take thy correction mildly, kiss the rod. 
And fawTi on rage with base humility? 

(Ric hard II V.i.31-3) 

This fawning greyhound then did proffer mc'. 

(I Henry IV I.iii.252) 

1 am you?' spaniel; and, Demetrius, 

The more you beat me, I will fawn on ycu . 

(MiO 11. i. 204-5) 

If thou dost bend and pray and fawn for him, 
I spurn thee like a cur. 

(Caesar III . i . 45 ) 

You show'd your teeth like apes, and fawn'd like hounds. 

(Caesar V.i.44) 

In comparing Antonio to a "fawning publican," it would seem that 
Shylock is alluding to a New Testament type and using words that have 
specific connotations of contempt familiar to Elizabethans who read the 
Bible and heard it in the liturgy daily. A publican in the New Testa- 
ment is a man who was regarded with by all the Scribes, Phari- 
sees, and upright Jews. The Gospel for the th.ird Sunday after Trinity 
in the Pr ayer Book (1559) reads : 

Then resorted unto him all the Publicans and sinners, for 
to hear him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, say- 
ing: He receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. 

(Luke 15:1) 

Throughout the Gospels the v;ord puj^lican is habitually coupled with 


heathen , si nner , and h-ir_lo_t- -wor d s of the deepest contempt: 

. . . let him bee unto thee as an heathen man and a 
publicane. (Matt. 18:17) 

. . . beh.old, many publicanes also and sinners came, 
and sate dovme with Jesus and his disciples. 

(Matt. 9:10; also Luke 5:30, 
Mark 2:15) 

Behold a man gluttonous, and a wine bibber, and a 
friende unto Publicanes and sinners. 

(Matt. 11:19; also Luke 7:34) 

Jesus said . . . the Publicanes and the harlots go into 
the kingdome of God before you. 

(Matt. 21:31) 

. . . the publicanes and harlots beleeved him. 

(Matt. 21:32) 

As Shylock sees him, then, Antonio is "favming" because, like the 

cur that will "kis;. the rod and fawn on rage with base humility, " Antonic 

has "squandered" his money abroad and throughout Venice on prodigals like 

himself and nov7 comes bankrupt, begging money, and trying to ingratiate 

himself with a wealthy and pox^erful enemy. And Shylock call.s Antonio a 

"publican" because he sees him as one with the contemptible sinners and 

harlots of the New Testctment who-- now smiling and fawning before this 

chosen descendeut of "our holy Abram"--would yet rob him and "our sacred 

nation" of their well-won thrift. 

"The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose" 

For Antonio, usury is not thrift but theft; a man does not steal 

from his friend. Angrily Antonio tells Shylock: 

If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not 

As to thy friends, for when did friendship take 

A breed for barren metal of his friend? 

But lend it rather to thine enemy. 


\Tno if he break, thou may'st with better face 
Exact the penalty. 

(l.iii. 127-32) 

From the first, Antonio makes his opposition clear by alluding to Aris- 
totle's argument against usury: 

Shylock, albeit I neither lend nor borrow 
By taking nor giving of excess. 
Yet to supply the ripe wants of my friend 
I'll break that custom/^^ 

Antonio's reference to taking and giving "excess" of money con- 
stitutes one of the principal arguments against usury in the Renaissance, 
comes ultimately from Aristotle, and can be found in nearly every Eliza- 
bethan sermon and pamphlet against usury. For, next to the Bible and the 
Church Fathers, the authoricy of Aristor.le was so highly esteemed that 
his proof from reason was one of the first to be quoted . In 1578, for 
example, Phillippus Caetar writes that usury is "ill encrease, because 
Usurers make that to fructifie vjhiche is fruitles, which by the witnes 
of Fthnikes is contrarie to nature." Ihe whole passage has overtones of 
the exchange between Antonio and Shylock: 

Now consider how greate is the blindenesse, or rather the 
madnesse of men in these dotyng dales of this woride, that 
to a thyng fruitlesse, barren, without seede, without life, 
will ascribe generation: and contrary too n>^.ture and common 
sense, will make thf.t to engender vhich being without 


The Merchant I .i ii .56-9 . Aristotle contends that "There are 

two sorts of wealth getting. . . . The most hated sort, and with the 

greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and 

not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used 

in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, 

vhich means the birth of money from money, is applied to tlie breeding 

of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of all 

modes of getting v;ealch this is the mosc unnati-ral" (Aristotle, Great 

Books of t he Western World, "Politics," trans, by Benjamin Jovjett 

[Chicago, 1952fr'l258b", 1-7) . 


by no waie can encrease. And therefore Aristotle in Ethnike; 
and without all knov7ledge of Christianity, for this cause 
dooeth pronounce Usurie to bee a thing detestable, and to be 
abhorred. His wordes are these: "By good reason hath Usurie 
come into the hatred of man, because money is only reaped, and 
is not referred to the exchaunge of thynges, for whiche cause 
it was first invented. For contrarie to the course of nature, 
Usurie doeth augment and increase money, from whiche it is so 
called. ^5 

According to this argument, then, usury is immoral because it takes "ex- 
cess" or increase of money from money which is contrary to the lavj of 
natural generation established by God. Money cannot "breed" or "fructi- 

Shylock, however, is fully confident about the righteousness of 
his lending and borrowing "Upon advantage" (i.iii.65), anticipates suc- 
cess and dominion over the prodigal Christians, and defends usury by 
Scriptural argument. For him usury is not theft but thrift. When An- 
tonio alludes to the Aristotelian argument against usury, "I neither 
lend nor borrow / By taking nor giving of excess," Shylock--f irst mus- 
ing and then speaking like a teacher schooling his errant pupil in the 
inadequacies of proofs taken from r to Scripture: 

Shy. Me thoughts you said, you neither lend nor borrow 

Upon advantage . 
Ant. I do never use it. 

Shy. When Jacob graz 'd his uncle Laban's sheep, -- 

(I .iii .64-6) 

Shylock' s version of Jacob outv/itting Laban is a fitting climax 

to Act One, for it exemplifies his views on usury, theft, deceit, oxmer- 

ship, justice, God's blessing, thrift, foreigners, and revenge. Jacob 


Phil lip pus Caesar, A General Discourse Against the D amna ble Se ct 

of Us ure rs, 1578 (University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, 1950), ree]. 413, pp. 



is Shylock's exemplar, ard Fsalm 146, read at evening prayers on the 
thirtieth day of each month, ■" speaks accurately for his feelings at t'tiis 
point: "Blessed is he unto whom the God of Jacob is an ayce." 

In the Bible Jacob is not merely the descendent of Abrahara and 
Isaac, he is also the "r.upplanter , " *' or trickster, who robbed his first- 
born twin brother of his birthright and thereby received the blessings 
promised to Abraham and his seed. Shylock gleefully prefaces his story 
by calling Antonio's attention to Jacob's thefr of tho paternal 

When Jacob graz'd his uncle Laban's sheep,-- 
This Jacob from our holy Abram was 
(As his wise mother wrought in bis behalf) 
The third possessor: Ay, he was thu third. 

(I.iii .66-9) 

Shylock is referring to Chapters twenty-five ano twcn;_y-seven of the Book 
of Genesis . 

Even Jacob's name is symbolic of his ambition to supplanr. the 
prodigal Esau. According to Genesis, Chapter twenty- five, read at morn- 
ing prayers each year on January fourteenth,'^" Jacob's ambition is first 

suggested by the fact that he vais born v:ith "his hand holding Essau by 

the heele, and his name was called Jacob." Rebecca is told: 

And the Lorde saide unto her. There are tv;o m.aner of 
people in thy womb, and two nations shalbe dsvided cut 
of thy bowels: and the one nation shalbe mightier than 
the other: and the elder shalbe servant unto the younger. 

(Genesis 25:23) 


Index & Calendarium," Praver^ Book (1559), p. 311. 

'^'^"The First Table" appended to the Geueya Bible (15S3) notis that 
"Jaakob" means "a supplaater, or deceiver." 

■^^'■Index 6c Calcadariun, " ?IiXf-L.P:i%.':i (-559), p. 317. 

Genesis 25:26. Esau later exclaims, "Is not he rightly name J 
Jacob? for he hath undermined me nowe tv70 times" (Genesis 27:36), 


The same chapter gives another eManiple of Jacob's ambition and his re.-^.di- 

ness to take advantage of his brother wh.en he sv.'indles Esau into selling 

his birthright for some "pottage": 

. . . and Easau came from th.e fielde, and was faint. And 
Esau said to Jacob, feede me, I pray thee, v/ith that same 
red pottage: for I am faint. . . . And Jacob sayd. Sell me 
this day thy byrthright. Esau said, Loe, I am at the point 
to die, and what profite shall this byrthright doe m.e? Jacob 
answered, svjeare to me then this day. And he swarc to hira, 
and sold his byrthright unto Jacob. 

(Genesis 25:29-33) 

Shylock's choice of vTacob as his Biblical exemplar is fitting, for he 
also expects supremacy. 

In the Book of Genesis, the next example of Jacob's ambition and 
cunning is the one that Shylock notes with admiration. With the assis- 
tance of "his wise mother," Jacob decGi\es his blind father on his death- 
bed, claims to be Esau, obtains Isaac's blessing for the first born, and 
thus becomes "The third possessor: Ay, he was the third." Chapter twenty- 
seven of Genesis, read at morning prayers each year on the fifteenth of 

January, gives the following account: 

And Isaac asked hiiri. Art thou m.y sonne Esau? And he said, 
That I am. Then saide he. Bring me, and let me eate of my 
sones venison, that my soule may blesse thee. And hee brought 
him, and he ate: and hee brought hira wine also, and he dranke. 
And his father, Isaac said unto him, come neere, and kisse me, 
my sonne. And he vent unto him, and kissed him: and he 
smelled the savour of his raiment, and blessed him, and saide. 
See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the 
Lord hath blessed. God give thee of the dewe of heaven, and 
of the fatness of the earth, and plcntie of corn and wine. 
People be thy servantes, and nations bowe to thee: be Lorde 
over thy brethren, and thy mothers children stoupe xvith rever- 
ence unto thee: cursed be he that curseth thee, and blessed 
bo he that blesseth thee. 

(Genesis 27:24-28) 


"Index & Calendarium," Prayer Book (1559;, p. 317 


In the Book of Genesis, Jacob's deceit and theft of the first 
born's inheritance is always referred to as his obtaining the paccrnal 
blessing: "X pray thee, sit and eate of my venison, that thy soule may 
bless me" (Genesis 27:19; also see 27:10, 13, 27, 30, 32, 33, and 35). 
But Shylock's emphatic substitution of the x-;ord possessor for the BiMi- 
cal vrord blessing suggests his hierarchy of values, for he evaluates 
blessings only by the material wealth that he can possess. As Siiylock 
sees and emulates him, then, Jacob is the Biblical type for the shrewd 
and deceitful man v7ho takes advantage of the ignorant and thrives on 
gulls, prodigals, and impoverished aristocrats. 

After his prefacing remark about Jacob's being a "possessor," 
Shylock develops the story of Jacob's out\7ittiug his uncle Laban. This 
story is particularly appropriate as a Biblical defense of Shylock's piflr • 
ticc of usury and of secret intOiitLons toward Antonio. According to 
Genesis Jacob had finally met an equal competitor in Laban. Laban de- 
ceived him into marrying Lc?h before Rachel, and he tricked him into 
working fourteen years without wages. But Jacob takes his revenge by 
bargaining to v;ork an additional seven years, during which time he changed 
the fleece of the lambs born of his uncle's "fulsome ev7es," Genesis, 
read at morning prayers each year on the seventeenth of January^ gives 
the following account of Jacob using his skill in breeding sheep to take 
advantage of Labaa : 

And he saide, what shall I chen give thee? And Jacob 
answered. Thou shalt give mee nothing at all: if thou 
wilt doe this thing for mee. then will 1 turne againe, 
feede thy sheepe, and keep them. 

^^ "Index e-c Caleadariu.-n," J.r^_er_Book (1559), p. 317. 


I will go about all thy flockes this day, separate from 
them all the cattel that are spotted and of divers colours: 
and all the black amoung the sheepe. and the partie and the 
spotted among the kiddes, the same shalbe my reward. 

So shall my righteousnesse answere for me in time to come: 
for it shall come for my rev7ard before thy face. And every- 
one that is not specked and party amongst the goates, and 
blacke amongst the sheepe, let it be counted theft in me. 

And Laban said, Goe to, would God it might be according to 
thy saying. 

Therefore he took out the same day the hce goates that were 
ringstrakcd, and of diverse colours, and all the shee goates 
that were spotted and coloured, and al that had white in them, 
and all the black amongst the sheepe, and put them in the 
keeping of his sonnes . . . . 

Jacob took rods of greene popular, hasell, and chessenut 
trees, and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white 
appeare in the roddes, 

And put the roddes which he had pilied, before the sheepe, 
in the gutters and watering troughes when the sheepe came co 
drinke, that they should conceive when they came, to drinka. 

And the Sheepe conceived before the rods, and brought foorth 
lambes rings traked, spotted; and partie. 

And Jacob did separate these lambs, and turned the faces of 
the sheepe, which were in the flocke of Laban, tov.'ard these 
ringstraked, and all m.anner of blacke: and so put his owne 
flockes by themselves, and puc them not with Laban' s cattell. 

And in every conceiving time of the stronger cattel, Jacob 
layde the rods before the eyes of the cattell in the gutters, 
namely that they conceive before the rods. 

But when the cattell v; feeble he put them not in: and so 
the feebler were Labans and the stronger Jacobs. 

And the man iiicreascd exceedingly, and had much cattell, and 
mayde servants, and men servants, and camels and asse:;. 

And he heard the wordes of Laban' s sonnes, saying Jacob hath 
taken av/ay all that was our fathers, and of our fathers goods 
hath hec gotten all his glorie. 

And Jacob behelde the cGu;itenance of Laban, and beholde, it 
was not towards him as it was wont to be. 

And the Lorde sayde unto Jacob, turne againe into the lande 
of thy fathers, and to thy kindred and I will be with thee. 

(Genesis 30:31-43, 31:1-3) 

Although this passage is lengthy, it is important to see it in full. 

For Shylock, liVce Jacob, intends to come to an agreement ^.'ith Antonio 

and so demoascrats his righteousness: "I would be frierids with you, and 

have your love," says Shylock (I .iii . 13^^!) • Moreover, Shylock sees this 

Biblical story as the precedent and defense of usury. 


Shylcck argues tliat Jacob v;as blessed by God because he used his 

skill in sheep breeding to take advantage of Laban. First, there is the 

agreement in which Jacob and I.aban, 

wer e c ompr omi s ' d 
That all the eanlings which were stresk'd and pied 
Should fall as Jacob's hire. 


Then "The Skilful shepherd" (I.iii.79) sets out, not to take interest-- 
"No, not take interest, not as you would say Directly int'rest" (I.iii. 
71-2)--but to exact occult corr.peusation, or "recompense of iuiurie" as 
the note in the Bishops' Bible calls it. Nor is this theft, argues 
Shylock, for Jacob is "The skilful shepherd" x;ho kncv; how and when to 
put the "certain wands" before the conceiving ewes. And just as he, Shy- 
lock, uses his skill with money "Upon advantage" (I.iii. 05), so did Jacob, 
to his owr advantage, use his sk:ill and superior knowledge of sheep breed- 
ing to change thie fleece cf the lambs. j.'hus, neither his owri skill at 
taking interest nor the "venture" of this "skilful shepherd" should be 
called theft. They arc thrift, concludes Shylock: 

This was a way to thrive, and he was blest: 
And Lhrift is blessing if men steal it not. 

(I.iii. 84-5) 

At this point, however, Antonio objects. The generation of sheep 
is a natural process and therefore lies in God's power. Admittedly, Jacob 
is not a thief. But be is not a thief for the reasons that Shylock has 
presented, for Shylock has not given the complete Biblical explanation. 
As the gloss in the Bish ops ' B ible notes. 

It is not lawfull by fraude to sceke recompense of 


The Bishop;:' Bible, gloss to Genesis 30:37, "Jacob took rods." 


iniurie: therefore Moses sheweth afterwarde that God 
thus instructed Jacob. ^-^ 

Thus, Antonio contends that, 

This was a venture sir that Jacob serv'd for, 
A thing not in his pox>7er to bring to pass 
But sv;ay'd and fashion 'd by the hand of heaven. 


The Biblical passage that Antonio is alluding to comes only a feu verses 

after Shylock's passage. In this passage Jacob tells the angry sons of 

Laban : 

The Lorde has taken thy fathers cattel and given 
them to me. (Genesis 31:9) 

Thus, argues Antonio (and as the glosses to the Bishops' Bible repeatedly 
point out), this "venture" of Jacob was not his doing but was "sway'd 
and fashion' d by the hand of heaven." 

Moreover, argues Antonio, Shylock's gold and silver do not increase 
by the natural generation proper to animals, sc why has Shylock introduced 
into uheir discussion of lending and borrowing "Upon advantage" a Bibli- 
cal story about Jacob and the workings of Divine Providence? 

Was this inserted to make interest good? 
Or is your go].d and silver ewes and rams? 


Shylock replies: "I cannot tell, I make it breed as fast" (I.iii.91). 


' The Bishops' Bible, gloss to Genesis 30:3/. 


Coiimienting on Jacob's lies to his dying father and his theft of 

the paternal blessing and birthright, the Bis hops '^ Bible says that "This 
subtill dealing of Rebecca and Jacob with Isaac considered by itself, is 
blameworthy: but if it be referred to the will of God and the setting 
foorth of his decree, it is commendable" (gloss to Genesis 27:19). 
Several verses later, the gloss reads, "We must not so much beholde the 
outwarde doings here, as the providence of God, who would by such weak- 
nesses have his election declared" (Genesis 27:26). 


Beneath this reply is Shylock's subtle rhetorical argument: who am I 
to say that God blessec the ev;es and rams of "'The skilful shepherd" but 
not "my moneys and ray usances" (I.iii.l03) vhen both shov; equal increase? 
Here Shylock gives expression to one of the fundamental differences be- 
tween him and Antonio. For Shylock, increase and thrift are the only 
signs of God's blessing and God's approval. While for Antonio, who 
ultimately thrives and increases, it is giving and receiving out of love 
and friendship that are worthy of God's blessing and God's approval, 
Antonio answers Shylock witli a Biblical allusion adapted a_d persona m: 

Mark you this Bassanlc, 
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose, -- 
An evil soul producing holy witness 
Is like a villain with a smiling check, 
A goodly apple rotten at the heart. 
what a goodly outside falsehood hath'. 


Like the devil who quoted Psaln 9i and te:::pted Jesus with Scrip- 
tural arguments to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple, Shylcck 
is "an evil soul producing witness" in support of "falsehood."' In the 

^^This doctrine, among other things, has led som.e critics to a 
consideration of Shylock as a Puritan or as one of the many aliens living 
in London, "French and Dutch refugees, who, strong Huguenots, lived under 
the influence of the Old Testament" (Andrew; Tretiak, "The Merchant of 
Venice and the 'Alien' Question," Reyiav of Engli sh S tud ies, V [1929], 
404). Paul Siegel speaks of these Puritans: 

Like the Old Testamant Jev/s, they thought of themselves as an 
elect, a chosen people, and looked upon the Anglican Church as 
idolatrous. They in turn were regarded as a minority of for- 
eigners, who had imported their religion from Geneva and 
adopted a strange attire and strange manners. Such similari- 
ties made it possible for Shakespeare to suggest that Jewish 
money-lenders and Puritan usurers; were kindred spirits in their 
villainy and in their comical grotesqueness . 
(Paul N. Siegel, "Shylock the Puritan," Columbia Uni vers ity Forum, V 
[Fall, 1962], 15). Thomas Wilson calls these Puritans "dissembling gos- 
pellers" because they often defended usury from Biblical texts: "and 
touching this sin of usury none do more openly offend in this behalf th?n 
do these counterfeit professors of this pure religion" (A Discourse U ppon 
Usurye, 1572). 

second temptation of Jesus in the desert, read as the Gospel for the 

liturgy of the first Sunday in Lent, Saint MatLheu tells hov, 

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy citie, 
and setteth him on a pinacle of the holy temple, And 
sayeth unto him. If thou be the sonue of God, cast 
thyself downe: For it is written, that he shall give 
his angels charge over thea, and V7irh their handes they 
shal lift thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foote 
against a stone. Jesus sayde unto him.. It is written 
againe, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 

(Matt. 4:5-7) 

Expor-ed as a falsifier of Scripture, Shylock first defends him- 
self by berating Antonio and then, feigning friendship, agrees to con- 
tract a "merry bond" (I.iii.l69). Nevertheless, Shylock has made it very 
clear to the audience that just as Jacob tricked ^'aban out of his ewes 
and lambs with the Lord's blessings, so v;ill he, Shylock contends, get 
the better of Antonio with the Lord's approval. And if Antonio objects 
to Shylock' s "bargains" and his "well-wcu thrift, which he calls interest" 
(I.iii.4.5), then Shylock will contract a m.erry bond out of f riendsliip-- 
like Jacob, without pay--and let the "hand of heaven" bless him with his 
competitor's misfortunes at sea. After all, 

. . . ships are but boards, sailors but men, there be 
land-rats, and water-rats, water-thieves, and land-thieves, 
(I mean pirates), and then there is the peril of waters, 
winds, and rocks. 



Prater _Book (1559), p. 98 



Characteristic of Shylock's twisting of Scriuturn to fit his be- 
liefs is his use of the form Abram for Abra ham. Although I have not 
been able to locate any critical comments on Shylock's use of this form, 
it would seem to be a significant indication of his convictions and in- 
tentions. P'or in Shakespeare's other plays the form used is Abraham: 

Sweet peace conduct his sweet soul to the boscm 
Of good old Abraham'. 

(Richard II IV . i . 103 - A ) 

The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham's bosom. • 

(Richard III IV . i i i. . 3 8 ) 

And in Henry V, Mrs. Quzckly gives her version of Abraham's boson: 

Nay, sure, he's iioc in hell: he's in Arthur's 
Bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's boscm. 


In The Merchan t, hov.'sver, the form is alvjays Abram : 

This Jacob from our holy Abra.m v;as . 


father Abram, what these Christians are! 


The distinction between these two forms of the same narae is ex- 
plained in Genesis : 

It is I, behold, my convenanc is with thee, and thou 
shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy 
name anymore bee called Abram, but thy name shalbe called 
Abraham: for a father of many nations have I made thee. 

(Genesis 17:4~5) 

As the Bishops' Mble notes here, "The changing of his name is a seale of 

Gods promise." And as Saint Paul notes, th.e "promise" to be as numerous 

Bishop s' B ible (1585), gloss to Genesis 17:5. 


"as the sLarres of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea side" 

was given to "Abrahau" because of his faith that God, not Abraham, would 

bring all to pass. ° It is the Lord vjho says: 

I will multipli.e thy secdc as the staires of heaven, 
and as the sand which is upon the sea side, and thy 
seede shall possess the gates of his enemies. 

(Genesis 22:17) 

The Bishojj£_'_Bib_le, by comni.enting on these lines, emphasizes the distinc- 
tion between God's power v7orking freely and man's merit: "God giveth his 

free benefites the name of reward, to provoke men to godliness: not for 


the meritc of the worke." 

Throughout The Merchan t, then, when Shylock calls Abraham "Abram, " 
he is reflecting his unwillingness to acknowledge that faith in Provi- 
dence which the Biblical change of name symbolizes. He recognizes and 
anticipates obtaining the promised blessings, but he does not rely on God 
for their fulfillment nor for his sufficiency. He relies on his cvm cal- 
culations, skill, and "'well-won thrift." 

In Act One of The Kor chant, then, Shylock introduces the audience 
to the central conflict of the play--a longstanding antagonism between 
him.sclf and Antonio, betv/een the willing bonds of loving friendship and 
the unwilling bondage of ambitious and vindictive usury. With Biblical 
allusions he defends his righteousness, to be especially chosen 
by God as a descendsnt of Abram to whom the promise was made. And he 
claims that he will be blessed and rewarded like Jacob for his skill in 

^\omans 4:12-13. 


Gloss to Genesis 22:17 


breeding money. For since he does not offend against the law ("Wliat 
judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?" IV.i.89), he will be blessed 
V7ith wealth, power, and success over the prodigal Christians of Venice, 



In the first twenty-two lines of the concluding act of The Mer- 
chant , beneath the surface of a playful lovers' quarrel clothed in clas- 
sical and liturgical allusions, with memories of love, dece;:tion, loss, 
death, redemption, resurrection, and union, Lorenzo and Jessica offer a 
beautiful but paradoxical resolution of The Merchan t of Venice . In keep- 
ing V7ith the antogonistic movement initiated in Act One by Shylock and 
Antonio, this resolution takes the form of a quarrel. But this time tb.e 
quarrel is a mock quarrel arising not from deceit, hate, and the bond of 
usury but from the feeling of being freed from, bondage and from the ac- 
ceptance of the bonds of love "./ith its demands for sacrifice, suffering, 
and death. In this chapter I will trace the Biblical, liturgical, and 
classical allusions of the opening lovers' quarrel and show how Lorenzo 
and Jessica offer this paradoxical resolution to the theme of bondage in 
The Merchant by accepting the new bonds. 

Troilus, Cressid, and the Problem of Trusting People 

The fifth act of The Merchant of Venic e sounds a noue of joy, love, 
and seemingly harmonious resolution quite different from the earlier op- 
pressiveness of Venice wich its "v/ant-wit sadness" (X.i.6), its frivolous 
"mirth and laughter" (I.i.80), its insidiously "merry bond" (I.i1i.l68), 
and its merciless demand for justice voiced by Shylock: "I stand here 
for law" (IV. i. 142). This final act presents Belmont as a refuge from 
bondage and a land of plenty dropping "m.anna in the v;ay / Of starved 



people" (V.i. 294-5). It pictures Lorenzo and Jessica sitting in the 

idyllic garden at Belmont talking of love v.liile the moon shines but "a 

little paler" than the day (V.i. 125). It opens with Lorenzo speaking: 

The moon shines bright. In such a night as this. 
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, 
And they did make no noise, in such a night 
Troilus methinks mounted the Trojan walls. 
And sigh'd his soul toward the Giecian tents 
Where Cressid lay that night. 

(V.i. 1-6) 

In these lines Lorenzo sets the basic antiphonal pattern for the 
lovers' quarrel bet\;een himself and Jessica, a quarrel which typifies the 
allusive harmony and the paradoxical resolution of Act Five. Both lovers 
follow a patterned response, ansv;ering each other antiphonally with the 
phrase, "In such a night. . . ." Beth assume an attitude of playful cele- 
bration for the releases from, unwilling bondage and for the acceptance of 
the bonds of love. Both seek clas?ical c'liusion after classical allusion 
with the moon for a setting. Both try to answer the charges of the ether 
with a counter attack. And both lovers hide the relevant issue? behind 
an allusion until the disguise becomes so thin that Lorenzo finally breaks 
out with a gentle and playfully ironic direct attack: 

In such a night 
Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew, 
And v/ith an unthrift love did run from Venice 
As far as Belrnont. 

(V.i. 14-17) 

Not only did Jessica "steal" away, puns Lorenzo, but she also "did 

steal" two bags of ducats (II .vii i, 18) , a diaiacnd valued at "two thousand 

ducats (III. i. 77), and a turquoise ring which Leah gave Shylock as a 

bachelor (III. 1.111). Moreover, she demonstrates "an unthrift love" by 

discontinuing her life as the daughter of "the v/ealthy Jew," by trading 


her father's turquoise ring "for a monkey" (III. i. 109), and by spending 

in "Genoa . . . one night forscore ducats" (III . i .98-9) . 

Although Lorenzo's first statement in the lovers' quarrel is 

clothed with pleasant associations, beneath the surface of his images 

and poetry, Lorenzo is playfully questioning Jessica's trustworthiness. 

As critics generally recognize, the source for Lorenzo's allusion to 

Troilus is Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyd c; and it is from Chaucer that 

much of the charm of Lorenzo's lines comes. Troilus and Crisey de reads 

as follows: 

And every nyght, as was his wone to doone, 
He stood the brighte moone to byholde. 
And al his sorwe he to the moonc tolde. 

Upon the walles fastc ek wolde he walke. 

And en the Grekis oost he wolde sc. 

And to hyraself right thus he wolde talke: 

"Lo, yonder is myn owene lady free, 

Or ellis yonder, ther the tentes be. 

And thennes corr.eth this air that is so soote. 

That in my soule I fele it doth me bocte.2 

The charm of Chaucer's version, which extends to six stanzas, is cap- 
tured by Lorenzo in six lines. Lorenzo does this by selecting all the 
basic images: at "nyght" under a "brighte moone," all his "sorwe he to 
the moone tolde" as he walked upon the "walles" overlooking the Grecian 
"tentes" and breathed the "air that is so soote" for his "soul." 

Ostensibly, as he sits v/ith Jessica in the idyllic garden of Bel- 

The Plays and Poem s of William Shak espeare, ed . Edmund Malone 
(London, 1790), note to V.i.4 (subsequently referred teas the Malone 
Shakespeare) . Sec also Joseph Hunter, New Illustrations of the Life , 
Stu dies ^ an.i Writings o f Shake?peare (London, 1845), X, 312; Furncss 
Variorum : and Brcivu, Arden edition. 

T>ie Complete Works of Geoffrey Ch aucer , ed . F. N. Robinson 
(Bootcn,~'l9'33), Book V, lines 647--9, 566-72. Unless noted otherwise, 
all quotations will be from this edition. 


mont, Lorenzo is recalling the pleasant images. But he is also unavoid- 
ably recalling the submerged, pertinent, unpleasant facts about Troilus 
and Cressid. Once beyond the "Trojan walls," Cressid accepted a new 
lover in the "Grecian tents / ^•Jhere Cressid lay that niglit." Moreover, 
the whole war between the Greeks and the Trojans took its inspiration 

from that kind of love which in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida 


Ulysses calls 'appetite, an universal vjolf ." 

Thus, despite the beauty of the poetry and the harmony of the 
garden at Belmont, Lorenzo's allusion to Troilus has ironic undertones — 
not only in the light of Shakespeare's Chaucerian source but also in the 
light of his ovm version vnritten about six years later. For even w'.iile 
Troiluf was sighing out his soul for his beloved Cressid "In such a 
night . . . When the s\7eet wind did gently kiss the trees," she was be- 
ing unfaithful. In Shakespeare's version the later anguish of Troilus is 
memorable: "0 false Cressid'. False, false, false'." cries Troilus. "0 
beauty', where is thy faith?" "If beauty have a soul, this is not she" 
(V.ii.l78, 167, 138). Lorenzo's allusion to Troilus is then playfully 
appropriate. For although he has no grounds for questioning Jessica's 
fidelity in conjugal love, he does have grounds for questioning her 
fidelity in parental love, obedience, and justice. 

Lorenzo's allusion also recalls the danger of trusting anyone, 
for throughout The Mer chant agreements, contracts, and bonds of trust 


Shakespeare, Tro ilu s and Cre ssida, I.iii.l21. Vergil K. VJhitaker 

develops this idea and argues that Troilus a nd Cre s sida views life through 
an Augustinian ethics in which "Love at sight must rest upon sense and 
therefore appetite; and it must be a triumph of passion in defiance of 
reason, a sin." Shakespeare's Use of L earning , (San Marino, California, 
1953), p. 211. 


have been lightly regarded or intentionally deceptive from the start. 
Repeatedly, someone puts his faith in someone or something only to be 
disappointed. Antonio puts his faith in Bassanio by entrusting his 
money to him even though Bassanio is a self -acknowledged bad risk. 
Bassanio has never paid his debts to Antonio, and this time his debt 
nearly costs Antonio his life. 

Also, in contracting the loan with Shylock, Antonio puts his 
faith in his ships which are to return "with thrice three times the 
value of this bond" a ironth before the bond expires (I .iii . 153-5) . But 
Antonio's ships do not return on tim>3. Again, when Shylock protests: 
"I would be friends with you, and have your love . . . and take no doit 
/ Of usance for my moneys" (I.iii.l3A, 6, 7), Antonio accepts his word; 
"Content in faith, I'll seal to sucli a bond, And say there is much kind- 
ness in the Jew" (T .iii . 148-9) . Even when Antonio hears about the 
pound of flesh and hears Bassanio 's warning, "I like not fair terms in a 
villain's mind" (I. iii. 175), he accepts Shylock' s "fair terms" and "merry 
bond" (I. iii. 169) and tells Bassanio; "The Hebrew will turn Christian, 
he grows kind" (I. iii. 174). But Shylock' s "merry bond" turns out to be 
a murderous plot against the life of his competitor and, according to 
Jessica, a plot with premeditated malice: 

When I was with him, I have heard him swear 
To Tubal and to Chus, his countrymen. 
That he vjould rather have Antonio's flesh 
Thau twenty times the value of the sum 
That he did owe him. 

(III. ii. 283-7) 

Again, when Shylock tells Jessica, "There are n.y keys . . . 

Jessica my girl, Look to my house" (II. v. 12, 15-6), he puts his faith 

in his daughter, only to have her run off with his money and family 


jewels. Even Portia's obedience to her father's will is in question if 


we suppose she gave Bassanic a clue in his choice cf the right casket. 

And then Portia and Nerissa entrust their rings to their husbands as a 
sign of marital fidelity. But these husbands give av7ay their rings at 
the first pressing instance. Thus, in the lovers' quarrel between Lor- 
enzo and Jessica the playful consideration of Jessica's fidelity belongs 
to an exten.'^ive series. 

As critics generally view her, Jessica is hardly an example of 
loyalty, integrity, or mature love. At her worst, according to Sir 
Arthur Quiller-Couch, 

Jessica is bad and disloyal, unfilial, a thief; frivolous, 
greedy, without any more conscience than a cat and without 
even a cat's redeeming love of home. Quite without heart, 
or worse than an animal instinct--pilf ering to be carnal-- 
she betrays her father to be a light-cf- lucre carefully 
weighted v/ith her sire's ducats.^ 

Henry N. Hudson observes: "This song is very artfully conceived 
and carries something enigmatical or riddle- like in its face, as if on 
purpose to suggest or hint darkly the way to che right choice. . . . The 
riddle evidently has some effect in starting Bassanio on the right track, 
by causing him to distrust such shows as catch the fancy or the eye" 
(Sh akespear e' s Merchant o f Venic e, ed . Henry N. Hudson [Boston, 1879], 
p. 58n). Richmond Noble explains further that the song warns Bassanio 
to "beware of that which is pleasing to the sight, for it has no sub- 
stance and at best its superficial glory is transient. . . . for almost 
without waiting for the last strains of the song to fade away, he 
[Bassanio] observes very abruptly. 

So may the outward shows be least theraselves; 

The world is still deceiv'd with ornament. 
A coruiTient clearly enough inspired by the song" (Shak espeare's Use of 
Spiicr^ [Oxford, 1923], p. 45). And Austin K. Gray notes that "This song 
is an Echo Song" in which the final rhymes "bred," "head," "nourished," 
and "fed" rhyme with "lead." Thus, "after the soloist's injunction 
'Reply, reply'.'. . . The song dying away on the sound Led , Bassanio 
takes the hint" ("The Song in The Merchant of Venice, "_ Kr.N, 1927, XLII, 

" M . C . S . , p . XX . 

H. B. Charlton and T. M. Parrott look upon Jessica as a minx vjho causes 
Shylock to harden his heart against Antonio and the Christians of Venice. 
She "is clearly a girl whose revolt will strike to her father's heart. 
She flippantly desecrates all that Shylock holds sacred." 

These critics, however, disregard the whole draraatic statement, 
for Lorenzo and all the Christians of Venice and Belmont sympathize with 
Jessica and look upon her as a beautiful young girl who has escaped the 
bondage of a miserly, devilish, old father and now embraces the obliga- 
tions of Christianity and married love. As John R.ussell Bro\jn. demonstrates. 
Jessica claims the sympathy of the Elizabethan audience not only because 
she is "the daughter of an old man who escapes from duress," but also 
because "the miserly fathers in Elizabethan and classical comedies" are 
"only fit to be the dupes of their children." As in Romeo and Juliet 
and A Mid s ummer Hi^ht ' s Drea m when it co.nes to o choice between marriage 
for love and m.arriage iu obedience to one's parents, sympathy usually 
favors the young impetuous lovers who elope. Moreover, the audience 
will remem.ber that Jessica's theft is very similar to the occult compensa- 
tion that Shylock approved of in his story of Jacob and Laban. Besides, 
there is the accepted custom of the bride bringing her own dowry. 

Thomas Marc Parrott, Shakespearean Comedy (New York, 1962), p. 

Henry Buckley Charlton, S hakespearian Com. edy (New York, 1938), 
p. 158. 


Erovm bases his argument on Anthony Munday's Zala uto (1580) and 
Masuccio di Salerno's fourteenth Novella (c . 1500), two possible sources 
for Jessica's escapade. In both of these romances, a prodigal daughter 
makes off with a miserly father's money, and yet all is condoned. Ardeu 
edition, "Introduction," p. xli . 


The Merchant , then, glosses over Jessica's disloyalty, disobedi- 
ence, theft, and apostacy. In fact, the citizens of Venice, who clas- 
sify better as Elizabethans than as Venetians, see Jessica's elopement 
not only as an escape from bondage but as an actual triumph over the 
Jewish "misbeliever, cut-throat dog" (I.iii.l06). ^Tien Shylock cries 
for law and justice after discovering Jessica's elopement and theft, the 
Christians of Venice rejoice in her liberation and in Shylock' s misfor- 
tune. Salanio is exuberant in telling his friends about Shylock: 

I never heard a passion so confused, 
So strange, outrageous, and so variable. 
As the dog Jcxv did utter in the streets: 
"My daughter'. Oh, my ducats'. Oh, my daughter'. 
Fled with a Christian'. Oh, my Christian ducats'. 
Justice'. The !!av;'. My ducats, and my daughter'. 

(Il.viii. 12-17) 

Here all Salanio' s sympathy is for Jessica. For by the standards of 
Salanio and his friends, Jessica is not. abandoning the faith but rather 
escaping the liraitations of Judaism and choosing the higher loyalties of 
Christianity and married love. Ke no longer sees her as an infidel but 
as one of the Faithful. 

This introduces one of the significant complications of the total 
dramatic action, namely Jessica's conversion to Christianity; for The 
Merchant presents Jessica's apostacy as a conversion. Also, by her con- 
version Jessica solicits the sympathy cf the Christian audience and im- 
plies that she is worthy of trust. Early in the play Jessica speaks about 
the "strife" of feeling as a daughter and thinking as a Christian: 

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me 

To be ashamed to be my father's child'. 

But though I am a daughter to his blood 

I am not to his manners: Lorenzo, 

If thou keep promise I shall end this strife, 

Become a Christian and thy loving wife'. 

(II. iii. 16-21) 


Here the issues in conflict are love and loyalty to her lather versus 
love of Lorenzo and loyalty to her religious ideas. Jessica wants to 
love and admire Shylock because he is her father, and yet she cannot be 
a "child" "to his manners" because she judges them according to the 
standards held by the Christians of Venice. Shylock' s ethics are in 
conflict with the Christian coiriaunity which Jessica accepts. 

But Jessica's trustv;orthincss is not merely a question of reject- 
ing Shylock' s "mannerSj" for the ethical manners of the Christians of 
Venice are just as questionable and harsh as Shylock' s. But by becoming 
a Christian the implications are that Jessica is becoming one of the 
faithful and is therefore more trustworthy than an infidel. 0ns element 
of the total conflict of The Merchant and of Jessica's "strife" is the 
Christian view of salvarion. For according- to the Christians in The 
M erchan t, Jews are infidels and ChristiafS are the Faithful. Thus, 
Gratiano taunts Shylock by calling him an infidel: "Now infidel I have 
you on the hip" (JV.i.330). And he refers to Jessica in the same termi- 
nology: "But who comes hers? Lorenzo and his infidel!" (Ill . ii . 217) . 
Launcelot Gobo similarly teases Jessica v.'hen he addresses her: "most 
beautiful pagan, most sweet Jew'." (II .iii . 10-11) . Launcelot continues, 
and in his clownish way alludes to the serious Renaissance view on the 
dichotomy between natural paternity and the regeneration of grace: 

Yes, truly, for look you, the sins of the father arc to be 
laid upon the children, therefore (I promise you), I fear 
you,--I was alv.'ays plain with you, and so now I speak my 
agitation of the matter: therefore be o' good cheer, for 
truly I think you are damii'd. 

(Ill .V. 1-5) 

Tncre is a doctrine, says Launcelot parodying the role of a theolcgianj 

which claims that you cannot be saved because your father is a pagan. 


an infidel, one of the unredeemed. 

In speaking his "agitation of the ir'attcr," L^uncelot bolsters 
his pseudo argument V7ith tv.'O allusions to the liturgy. "... the sins 
of the father are to be laid upon the children" is a passage from, the 
Ten Coinmandmsnts which is read aloud at every Communion Service in the 
Book of Common Prayer : "... for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, 
and visit the sin of the fathers upon the children unto the third and 
•iiii. generation." In the context of the Ten Commandments this con- 
demnation refers to the worship of false gods. Launcelot, then, is im- 
plying that Shylock worships a false god and that Jessica will be in- 
cluded in his dannaticii. 

A second passage which is more relevant to the anti-somitis:a of 
Launcelot' s pose is a Gospel passage read on the Sunday before Easter. 
In this passage the Jevjs absolve Pilate of responsibility for the cru- 
cifixion and call do\m upon themselves and their children the blood of 
Christ : 

Pilate said unto them: what shall I do then with Jesus, 
Which is called Christ? They all said unto him: Let him 
be crucified. The deputy said: what evil hath he done? 
But they cried more saying: Let him be crucified. ^iJhen 
Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that more 
business was made, he took v/ater, and washed his hands 
before the people, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this 
just person, see ye. Then answered all the people, and said. 
His blood be on us and on cur children.^^ 


Prayer Book (1559), p. 181. As Richmond Ncble observes, "Wo 

Biblical version reads 'sins'" (Shakespeare's Biblica l Knowledge , p. 155) 

Prayer Book (1559), p. 106; from Matt. 27:22-25. Later, when 
Portia exhorts Shylock to have mercy, Shylock alludes to this passage, 
saying, "My deeds upon my head" (IV. i. 202). 


Thus when Launcelot offers his theologized "agitation" of the doctrine 
of salvation for Jews, he offers only damnation for the daughter of Shy- 
lock, a descendant of the crucifiers. And Jessica derisively concludes; 
"there's no mercy for me in heaven, because I am a Jew's daughter" 
(III .V. 28-30). 

In answering Launcelot, Jessica responds with the same kind of 
theologizing that condemns her, and she likev/ise bolsters her argument 
with Biblical and liturgical allusions. According to the scriptures, 
the liturgy, and the Christian tradition, argues Jessica, there is only 
one solution available, she must become a Christian. The Good Friday 
liturgy suggests this view, for on this day the liturgy has a series of 
solemn orations for the conversion of hereLicL-_. schisiivtics, Jews, and 
pagans. The Pra yer Book reads: 

Merciful God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing 
that thou hast made, nor v.'ouldest the death of a sinner, 
but rather that he should be converted and live: have mercy 
upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics, and take from 
them all ignorance, hardness of hearc, and contempt of thy 
word. And so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, 
that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Isrcal- 
ites, and be made one fold under one shepherd Jesus Christ 
our Lor d. 11- 

Prayer Book (1559), p. 119. This Good Friday oration in the 
Prayer Book v;as modeled on the Good Friday orations of the Latin liturgy 
The Prayer Book eliminates the adjective in the phrase perfidio us Jew s 
and groups the Jews with the Turks, infidels, and heretics in a single 
oration. The availability and influence of the Latin liturgy v.'ill be 
discussed in the following chapter. The oration for Jewo on Good Fri- 
day in the Latin liturgy reads: 

Or emus et pr o perfidis Judaei s; ut Dou3 et Dominu s 

noster auf er^t velamen de cordibus corum, u t et ipsi 

ag nosca nt Jesuia Christuni Doraiaum nos Lrum . 

SiDJiijiPJ:.?. iL?_^QM'.i£.Si^)i£-Ii?Ji§ j__£y.k _§tiaui_ Ji'-daicain 

a tua miserjcordia non rapellis; exaudi prec es ^ n ostras, 

quas pr o il lius populj obcaacatione def, ut agnita 


Jessica, then, who knows that Launcelot is twitting her, ansv;ers: "I 
shall be saved by my husband: he hath made me a Christian" (III .v . 17-8) . 
Jessica is here alluding to two well-known scriptural passages. 
The first appears in the Prayer Book in the ceremony for marriage: "For 

this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall be joined unto 


his wife, and they two shall be one flesh." This passage, from St. 

Paul's Letter to the Ephesians (5:31), explains the lines in the Book 
of Genesis (2:24), expressing the Jewish and Christian tradition that 
the bond of loyalty between husband and wife takes preference over the 
bond of loyalty between child and parent . The second scriptural passage 
which Jessica musters to her cause answc;rs Launcelot 's viev/s on justifi- 
cation: "I shall be saved by my husband" (III. v. 17). Jessica is alluding 

to St. Paul's statement that "the unbeleeving wife is sanctified by the 


husbande." Thus, she argues, the faith of the unbelieving spoL'.se (her 

own) in a mixed marriage is supplied by the fa.ith of the believing spouse 
(Lorenzo' s) . 

yeri tatis tuae lu ce, quae Christus est, a suis te nebri s 
eruantur . 

[Let us also pray for the perfidious Jews, that the 
Lord our God may tear away the veil from their hearts 
so that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ. 

[Almighty and everlasting God, you do not refuse your 
mercy to even the perfidious Jews. Hear the prayers v-'hich 
we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may 
acknov/ledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and 
be delivered from their darkness.] 
Salisbur y T-i.issa_l , 1515, University Microfilms (Ann Arbor, 1948), reel 
482, "In Die Veneris Sancta." All English translations are mine. 

■"""^IfiiPXl^oiS (1559), p. 223. 


Richmond Noble notes this Biblical allusion and gives this 

version of I Cor. 7:14 from the Bishops ' Piblo as the version used by 
Shakespeare.. Shakespeare's Biblic a l Kno wledge, p. 166. 

Consequently, when Jessica says she is going to "end this strife" 
by becoming Lorenzo's "loving wife," she claims chat the important thing 
is not that she is abandoning her father but that she is follovjing the 
will of God as it is made known in the Old Testament, the New Testament, 
and the liturgical ceremony of marriage in the Frayer Book. In this vjay, 
then, Jessica wins the syrapathy of the Venetians, solicits the s>mpathy 
of the Christian audience, and claims to be worthy of trust. And when 
Lorenzo pleasantly alludes to Troilus in the lovers' quarrel, he is 
ironically teasing Jessica about the unpleasant, questionable aspects 
of her trustworthiness--abandoning her Jewish heritage--f aith, father, 
and manners"--eloping, marrying, and converting to Christianity. 

Another pattern of the Lorenzo-Jessica dialogue which sheds sig- 
nificant light on the total dramatic action is the phrase "In such a 
night," which occurs at the beginning o:: each of the antiphonally re- 
cited allusions. Critics have always found this phrase appropriate for 
the peaceful setting and idyllic atmosphere of Belmont. They have also 
noted that Shakespeare's contemporaries thought so too since at least 
one of them saw fit to imitate it in a similar love scene in W ily B e- 
guiled. ■'•^ And although critics have not recognized it as a liturgical 

Wil y , B eguiled, written in 1601, imitated The Mer chant in the 
following lines : 

Sophos. See how the twinckling Starres do hide their 
borrowed shine 
As halfe asham'd their luster so is stain 'd. 
By Leila's beautious eyes that -nine more bright, 
Then twinkling Starres do in a winters night: 
In such a night did Paris Xizin his love. 

Lelia. In such a night, Aeneas prov'd unkind. 
Sophos. In such a night did Troilus court his deare. 
Lelia. In such a night, faire Phyllis was betraid. 
Sophos. lie prove as true as ever Troilus was. 


allusion, this plirase does appear in the "Exultet," a liturgical hymn 
for the vigil of Easter. The context of this hymn is quite similar to 
the context in The Merchant , and so it adds another ].evel of meaning to 
the loverrs' quarrel and reinforces some of the themes and motifs of the 
whole play. In the garden of Belmont, just as Lorcn?,o and Jessica make 
use of c]assical events which took place at night in the light of the 
moon, so do they make use of liturgical phrases, images, and motifs 
which have overtones of events from Jewish and Christian salvation his- 
tory which occurred in the light of the moon on such a night as this. 
Before examining the relationship of the Easter \igil to The Merc hant, 
however, it will be necessary to examine the history of the liturgy and 
in particular the availability of tlie "Exultet" and the Easter vigil 
service of the P.oman liturgy in Reformation England. 

The Liturgy in Sixteenth-Century England 

Although Shal-.espoare tvas more familiar v/ith the Prayer Boo k and 
the official liturgy of the Church of England, he also seems to have 
been familiar with the Easter vigil "Exultet" and the Roraan Liturgy. In 
the sixteenth century the avowed policy of both the Church of Rome and 
the Tudor kings and councillors was to bring about ritual uniformity 
evervv.'here. The Preface to che first edition of the Prayer Book (1549) 
stated : 

Lelia. And I as constant as Penelope. 
Sophos. Then let us solace, and in loves delight 
And sweet inbracings spend the live-long night. 
And whilst lo^-'a mounts her on her wanton wings, 
Let Descant run on Masicks silver strings. 
Wily Beguiled, ed . W. W. Greg (London, 1912), p. 64-65. For the Correct 
dating of this play see Baldv;in Maxwell, "Wily Bep/jiled," S tudi es in 
Philolo gy, xix (1922), 2C6--237. 

And where lieietofore there hath been great diversity 
in saying and singing in churches within this realm: 
some following Salisbury use, some Herford use, some 
the use from Bangor, some of York, and some of Lincoln: 
Now from henceforth, all the whole realm shall have but 
one use. 15 

In accordance with this, Edward VI issued an injunction in 15''4 9 abolish- 
ing all Catholic "antiphoners, missales, grayles, processionalles, manu- 
elles, legendes, pies, portasses, jornalles, and ordinalles after the 

use of S arum , Lincolae , Yorke, or any other private use, and all other 

1 f\ 
bokes of service" differing from the Prayer Book . Before this injunc- 
tion every bishop had been free, according to the jus liturffic um (church 
law for liturgical use), to establish his own rites and ceremonies in 
his diocese after consulting his chapter. But with Edward's injunction 
this jus lit urgicum was limited at least in thecry. 

In practice, however, the bishops often continued to exercise 
their jus l iturgic um even up to 1504 when the Puritan bishops and clergy 
of Lincoln signed a protest against a parliamentary attempt to enforce 
ritual uniformity. These ministers felt that the revisers had not purged 
enough Roman accretions from the Pra yer Book , and they took the following 
"Exception" : 

. . . we are perswaded that both the Booke of Common 
prayer and the other bookes to be subscribed by this 
Canon (of which yet in some respects we reverently es- 
teem) containe in them sondry things which are not 
agreeable but contrary to the word of God.-*-' 

^^The Two Liturgie s, A. P. 1549 and 1552, ed . Joseph Ketley (Cam- 
bridge, 1844), p. 19. The word u_se designates the liturgical practices 
peculiar to a diocese or archdiocese, 

■^^Henry Gee and William John Hardy, DocuF^n ts__I I^jsn- aj; i^ 
Engl ish Chu rch Hi s tory (London, 1921), p. 358. 

•"■^"An abridgment of that booke. . . ," 1605, University Micro- 
films (Ann Arbor, 1952), real 843, ''E:-;ception I," p. 2. 


Many Catholi.c and Anglican clergymen, hovever, felt that too much had 
been omitted from the Prayer Boo k, and they were concerned with the 
practical problems that arose when something desirable was missing from 
the Prayer Bo ck and not expressly abrogated. In such cases thoy turned 
to tradition and the customary usage prior to the Reformation. G. W. 0. 
Addleshaw notes that the book called the "ceremonial" in particular 
"was based primarily on the age-long customary ceremonial usages of the 


Church, much of it not mentioned in the Prayer Book ." This use of 
the ancient liturgies was thought preferable to having no ceremony or to 
creating a new one. Thus, in practice, the actual liturgical customs of 
the day vjere often much wider than those defined in the Prayer Boo k. 

The "Exultet" from the Easter vigil service is one of those PvOman 
ceremonies V7hich was, according to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, "devi?ed 
b> men's fantasies," and tended to "idolatry and superstition." At 
first the reforincrs of the liturgy did not specifically condemn the 
Easter vigil liturgy but simply excluded it from the first edition of 
the Prayer B ook . Subsequent editions (1552, 1559, 1561), however, those 
that would be affecting Shakespeare, took a stronger stand and included 
Edward VI' s "Act for the Uniformity of Conimon Prayer" which required all 
to use only those rites contained in the Prayer Boo k. 

But again it is clear that the clergy continued to use various 
elements cf the old liturgy, including the Eascer vigil service, because 
the list of liturgica] items called abuses and checked annually by the 

}^G. W. 0. Addleshaw, The Hi gh Chu rch Tradition^ A Stud y in the 
Liturg ical Thou ghc of t he S eve nteenth Century (London, 1941), p. 149. 

1 9 

Thomas Cranjner, I-Iiscellansou s Writi ngs and Letters, ed . John 

Edmund Cox (Cambridge, 1S4&), p. 490. 

bishops always included the Easter vigil service. Cranmer's "Articles 
to be Inquired of in the Diocese of Canterbury" reads: 

I ten, ^fhether they upon Easter-even last past hallowed 
the font, fire, or paschal, or^had any paschal set up, 
or burning in tlieir churches,' 


And Nicholas Ridley, during his first year as bishop, inquired in all 

the churches of London, "whether any useth . . . the font of Easter-even, 

fire on paschal, or whether there was any scpulcre on Good Friday." 

But not even episcopal visitation v;as able to bring about uni- 
formity. Since the official policy v/as iriconsistent, the resistance of 
Catholics was encouraged v/hen Mary burned the P rayer Book, and the re- 
sistance of Protestants was encouraged when Elizabeth burned the Missal . 
As a result, the actual liturgical practice becarae a matter of conscience, 
or consistency, and therefore less subject to official scrutiny. A. F. 
Pollard conjectures that "Often the same priest read the Anglican serv- 
ice in public to satisfy the law and then said Mass in secret to satisfy 
his conscience." And Bisiiop John Jewel of Salisbury, setting out m 
1559 on a "long and troublesome commission for the establishment of re- 
ligion, through Reading Abingdon, Gloucester, Bristol, Bath, Wells, 
Exeter, Cornvjall, Dorset, and Salisbury," com.p Jains: 

The bishops, rather than abandon the pope, whom they have 
so often abjured before, are willing to submit to every- 
thing. Not, however, that they do so for the sake of re- 
ligion, of which they have none; but for the sake of 

p. 532, 


Cranraer, Misc el lan e ous Wr itings, p. 158. 

9 1 

Nicholas Ridley, W orks , ed . Henry Christmas (Cambridge, 1841), 

^^Alan Faraday Pollard, Political History, 1547-1603 (London, 
1929), p. 280. 


consistency, which the miserable knaves now choose to 
call their con science . Now that religion is every\v'here 
changed, the mass-priests absent themselves altogether 
from public worship. ^3 

It was under these conditions, then, that the Roman liturgy continued 
to be available for those who wished to remain Catholics. And there is 
always the possibility that Shakespeare encountered the Roman liturgy 
and the Easter vigil liturgy v;hen his Company was on tour during the 
plague , 

In the 1580' s and 1590' s the use of the Roman liturgy was tanta- 
mount to treason and in 1585 the m.ere presence of a priest on English 
soil constituted a capital offence. In 1593 Quean Elizabeth issued an 
injunction against 

. , . sundry wicked and seditious persons, who, terming 
them.selves Catholics, and being indeed spies and intel- 
ligencers . . . under a false pretext of religion and 
conscience, do secretly wander and shift from place to 
place within this realm to corrupt and seduce her majesty's 
subjects .24 

Tlie Roman liturgy at this tin^e was, then, so dangerous and secret that 

evidence for its use is meager and consists of searches made for priests 

and their mass books, fines imposed for recusancy, charges of conspiracy, 

and trials. By the end of Elizabeth's reign nearly tv70 hundred priests 

had been executed and nearly twice this number had died in prison. 

Nevertheless, in 1595 William Holt S. J. claimed that there were between 


John Jewel to Peter Martyr, dated London, Aug. 1, 1559, Zurich 

Le_tt_crs_, I (1558-79), ed . Hastings Robinson (Cambridge, 1842), No. 16, 
p. 39'. 

•Gee, Document s Il lustra tiv e of Engl ish Chu rch Hist ory, p. 499. 


H. Mutschmann and K. Wentecsdorf, Shake spe a re and Catholicism 

(New York, 1952), p. 15. 


forty and fifty of the old Marian clergy still active in England. 

Besides the general practice of Catholics and priests, which 
would have made the Catholic liturgy &veA.lahle in Reformation England, 
there is evidence that within Shakespeare's family and his circle of ac- 
quaintances there were Catholic recusants.^' And their use of the liturgy 
was a possible source for Shakespeare's acquaintance with both the 
liturgical text and with the Easter vigil service. 

Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, his father-in-law, Edward Arden, 
Sheriff of Warwickshire, his cousin- In- lav;, John Somcrville, and the 
Catholic pricsc, Hugh Hall, were all publicly arraigned as Catholics 
conspiring against the life of the Queen. On October 25, 1583, Arden' s 
son-in-law, John Som.erville, set off from Park Hall for London proclaim- 
ing along the way that he was going to assassinate Queen Elir^abeth for 
oppressing Catholics. Somerville was apprehended and the Ardens cf Park 
Hall were implicated. In November Edward Arden, his wife, Somerville, 
and the priest Hugh Hall were arraigned on charges cf conspiracy. Evi- 
dence, however, was difficult to establish as Thomas Wilkes, Clerk of 
the Privy Council, suggests in his letter to Sir Francis Walsingham, 
Secretary of State: 

Unless you can make Scmcrville, Arden, Hall the priest, 
Somerville' 3 wife and his sister to speak directly to 
those things which you desire to have discovered, it will 
not be possible for us here to find out more than is al- 


Quoted by Carl S. Meyer, Elizabeth I and t he R eligious Settle- 
ment of 15 59 (Saint Louis, 1960), p. 129. 


.See Mutschmann's discussion of Catholics and Catholic sympa- 
thizers in Shakespeare's faiuily and circle of friends. Shakespea re and 
Catho licism, pp. 35-205. 


ready found, for the papists in this country greatly do 
work upon the advantage of clearing their houses of all 
sliow of suspicion. 28 

By December, hcvjcver, all v;ere found guilty of high treason and cou- 
deraned to death. Incidents such as this forcefully suggest why recus- 
ants valued secrecy and left little evidence of their liturgical prac- 
tices for historians. 

Another person who was under suspicion of being a Catholic and 
who had a great influence on Shakespeare is Henry Wriothecley, third 
Earl of Southampton (1573-1624). Southampton was the patron of an am- 
bitious and admiring young Shakespeare. When the second Earl of South- 
ampton died in 1581, the Countess of Southampton wrote Leicester explain- 
ing that it was not her fault that her eight-year-old son refused to 
attend the Prayer Rook services; it was the late second Earl who taught 
him that. The Countess writes in Octc-ber : 

That my little son refused to hear service is not my 
fault that hath rot seen him olr'.ost thi.*^ two years. 
I trust your lordship esteems me to have some more dis- 
cretion than to forbid hiir. that which his fe;; years can 
not judge of. Truly, my lord, if myself had kept him, he 
should in this house have com.e to it as my lord, my father, 
and all his doth. I pray your lordship let her Majesty 
understand this much from me, to pat her out of doubt I was 
not guilty of that folly. 29 

In spite of her explanation, however, the Acts of the Pri vy Council for 

December 20, 1581, notes that the Southampton house was searched for 

evidence of Catholic s3rvices: 

A letter unto Mr. Recorder of London by the v^7hich he is 
required to resorte unto the Earle of Southampton's howse 


Quoted by Mutschmann, Shakespeare and^ Ca tholicism, p, 52. 

'■Quoted by A. L. Rovse, Shakespeare' s Sou thampcon (New York, 

1965), pp. 44-45, 


in Kolborne, and there to make scarche for the appre- 
hending of one William Spencer . . . and, furder, he 
is required to searche the said Viowse for bookes, letters 
and ornamentes for Massinge.-^^ 

Although Southampton ca^ne frorr. a Catholic family and was brought up 

Catholic, his sympathies gradually inclined to Protestantism, and it 

was his colleague in the vjork of colonial organization. Sir Edwin Sandys, 


who claimed finally to have converted him. 

Although it is difficult to find external evidence of 
Shakespeare's acquaintance with the Catholic liturgy, an examination of 
internal evidence is more rewarding. For, although many of Shakespeare's 
allusions to the liturgy can be traced to the Praver Book , some of them 
cannot be found in any of the Prayer Book editions (1549, 1552, 1559, 
1561), but only in the r>.orcan liturgical books. Foi example, ^ Launce- 
lot's pun on rep roach (II,v,20) can be taken as a pun on approach, or in 
the context of Launcelot's antipathy for Shylock the Jew it can be taken 
as an allusion to the Good Friday "Reproaches" of the Latin Rite (eli- 
minated from the Prayer Book ) . Also, Portia's image of m.ercy dropping 
down like gentle rain from heaven is an image found in the "Ro rate Caeli " 
of the Roman liturgy. 

From this brief historical survey it is clear, then, that texts 
of the Catholic liturgy were available although they were often searched 
out and destroyed by officers of the Privy Council. It is also clear 


Acts of the Privy Council of England, A. D., 1581- 15S2, ed , 

John Roche Dasent (London, 1896), p. 298. 

^Dictionary of Natio nal B i ograp hy (London, 1917), ILXI, 1059. 


Later these examples will be discussed in detail. 


that the Easter vigil service was one of the more popular ceremonies 
of the ancient liturgy and was not easily suppressed by episcopal visi- 
tation. It is also clear that v/ithin Shakespeare's family and circle of 
acquaintances there v;ere Catholics who inay have celebrated the Easter 
vigil when he was present. And in particular, since the "Exultet" does 
not exist in the Prayer Book , the likelihood is strong that sometime be- 
fore he wrote his allusion to the "Exultet" in The Merchan t , Shakespeare 
witnessed the Easter vigil service. This service--one of the most beau- 
tiful, musical, thematic, symbolic, and impressionistic ceremonies of the 
ancient liturgy-was very likely to make a deep impression on anyone who 
had an eye open for dramatic and esthetic expression. 

Occasionally, references to the Easter vigil liturgy can be found 
in non-episcopal and unofficial literature of the period. One of these 
references, which actually sounds like au eyewitness description, is that 
of Barnabe Googe: in The P opis h Kin>,dom, a translation of Thomas Naogeorgus 
Writing in 1570 Earnabe Googe, a devout Puritan, was impressed (although 
rather negatively) with the ceremonies of the Easter vigil and published 
the follov7ing description of the "idolatrous and hcathenlike" liturgy 
practiced in his day. Although his account is a fierce denunciation of 
Roman ceremonies, it gives an excellent, detailed picture of the dramatic 
setting of the Easter vigil service of the sixteenth century. Barnabe 
Googe vrrites : — ^ 

In Eastereve the fire all, is quencht in every place 

And fresh againc from out the flint, is fetcht with solemne grace: 

A taper great, the paschall namde, with musicke then they blesse. 
And f ranckensence herein they pricke, for greater holinesse: 
This burnetb night and day as signe, of Christ that conquerde 


As if so be this foolish toye, suffiseth this to tell. 

Then doth the Bishop or the Priest, the water halow straight, 

That for their baptisme is reservdc: 

With wondrous pompe and furniture, amid the Church they go, 

With candles, crosses, banners. Chrisms, and oylc appoynted tho : 

Nine times about the font they marche, and on the saintet; doe 

Then still at length they standc, and straight the Priest begins 

And thrise the water doth he touche, and crosses thereon make, 
. Here bigge and barbrous wordes he speakes, to make the devill 

quake : 

In some place solemn sightes and shov/es, & Pageants fayre are 

When sundrie sortes of maskers brave, in straungc attire arayd. 
As where the Maries three doe meete, the sepulcre to see, 
And John with Peter swiftly runnes, before him there to bee. 
These things are done with jestures such and with so pleasaunt 

That even the gravest men that live, woulde laugh to see the 

Barnabe Googe's association of the Easter vigil with the cycle plays sug- 
gests another reason for the popularity and availability of this cere- 
mony. The Easter vigii service marks the end of the penitential season 
of Lent and so it is traditionally knovra as the day on which soletrm serv- 
ices and festivities are resumed. 

Googe's initial description cf the fire at night, the "paschall" 
candle, and the "musicke" make up that part of the ceremony which 
Shakespeare seems to have had in mind when he created the setting for 
act five of The Merchant . As Googe notes, the liturgical ceremony begins 
when the lights are "queue th in every place," and all is darkness except 
the candle light kindled "from out the flint" (a liturgical symbol of 


The Popish Kinp.dome, Thomas Naogeorgus, "Englyshed by Earnabe 

Googe, 1570," ed . Robert Charles Hope (London, 1880), pp. 52-53. 


Christ as the light who "shines in the darkness, and the darkness has 

not overcome it" (John 1:5). On returning to Belrr.out Portia exclaims : 

That light we see is burning in my hall: 
How far that little candle throv7s his b3ams'. 
So shines a good deed in a naughty world. 


The " Exultet" ; Sacrificial Love Leads to Life 

From the beginning of the Easter vigil ceremony, the nighttime 
and ruusical settings, the images of candle and moon, the symbolic flicker 
of light, and the then.e of sacrificial love are parallel v;ith the garden 
scene at Belmont, According to the Salifburv Pro cessional , ^^ after the 
lighting of the "new fire" and the Easter candle, the people form a pre- 
cession and follow the Easter candle into the darkened church while 
singing the follov7ing hymn: 

Inven tor rutili dux bene l uminis , 
fii.i i cert is vecibu s ten:por a dividis , 
Merso sole Chaos ingr uit h o rridum . 
Lumen redde tuis Christe fidelibus. 

In choosing the Sarum (or Salisbury) use for my study, I have 
considered the availability and the distinctive features of the three 
main uses: Sarum, York, and Hereford. The Sarum use was followed in 
London and in South England including Southampton. This is the liturgical 
use that Shakespeare would be most likely to encounter during his early 
career after he left Stratford and sought the patronage of the Earl of 
Southampton. The liturgical use of the Stratford area is called the 
Herefore use which would also be the use of the Arden family at Wilmcote 
near Stratford. If Shakespeare encountered the Easter vigil liturgy when 
his Company was on tour of the North during the plague, it would have 
been the York use. The verbal text of the Easter vigil is the same in 
these three uses. The rubrics and ceremonial directives are slightly 
different according to the local church customs and facilities. And the 
musical notation has the same basic melodic line but in varying degrees 
of ornateness. The Sali sbury Process ional, 1544, is of the Sarujn use 
and is comparatively ornate. 


Salisb ur y Pro ces signal , 1544 (University Microf, Ann Arbor, 

1948), reel 482, folio l>rxxvi. Appendix I, p. 167' Subsequent quotations 


[Good Creator and master uf the golden light. 
You divided the seasons into precise periods; 
Now as the sun sets, hideous chaos threatens us. 
Restore light to your faithful ones, Christ.] 

After this the congregation stands in the darkened church with only 

the Easter Candle lighted and listens to the deacon sing the cl.imactic 

" Exulte t" hymn. The imagery is again primarily that of light: 


<Vaidrt_<7 — : 

Haec noK est de qua scrip tum 

(This is the night of which it is written: 

est: Et n 


10X ut d ies^ i lluminabit ur^ ^et __nox 

"The night shall be illumined like day," and 

illu minatio n ea in deTiciis me is . 
"My night shall be illuniined by my rejoicing.") 

(fo. xci, 180) 

In subsequent lines the introductory motif repeats seven times that on 

such a night as this Jewish and Christian salvation history took place. 

Thus, it is the light, candles, and moon that constitute the setting for 

these memorable nights. 

Connected with this light Imagery is the fact that the Easter 

vigil is the only liturgical ceremony which always talces place at night 

in the light of che full moon. For according to the Prayer Book, "Easte: 

Day, on which the rest depend, is al\;ays the first Sunday after the Full 

will be from this edition and the paginal citations will refer to Appen- 
dix y. v.'here a photostat of the Easter vigil service is given. 


Moon"" of the vernal equinox. Nighttime, mcon, candle, song, and the 
symbolic restoration of light, then, constitute the basic setting for 
the Easter vigil. 

The garden scene at Belmont also has the same tone and setting 
that is found in the " Exultet ." Against a background of candle light 
CV.i.90, 92, 220), moonlight (V, i . 1, 54, 92, 109, 142) , and music (V . i . 
53, 55, 68, 69, 76, 82, 83, 97, 106) Lorenzo and Jessica reminisce that 
she "did run from Venice As far as Belmont" (V.i.16-7) and escaped the 
"hell" (II.iii.2) of Shylock's house. 

Against this background, then, identical with the opening scene 
of act five of The Mer chant , the deacon introduces the first theme that 
is parallel with one of the themes of The Merchant ; 


Haec nox est , in qua pr imum pa t res 
(This is the night in which you led our 

>t ir ^- =: 

r-ostros filios Isra el eductos de Aegyptc 
forefathers, the children of Israel, out of 

rubrum mare sicc o ve sti gio transire fccisti. 
Egypt through the ?ved Sea with dry feet.) 

(fo. xc, 178) 


"Calendar Rules," Prayer Book (1559), p. 16, 

The "Exul'cet" here refers to the Biblical account of the night on 

which the Jev7S escaped from the bonriage of Egypt: 

It is a night to be observed unto the Lorde, in the 
which hee brought them out of the land of Egypt: This 
is that night of the Lorde, which all the children of 
Israel must keepe throughout their generations .37 

(Exodus 12:^1 2) 

Elizabethans were familiar with this event because they also heard it as 

the first Scriptural lesson read at morning prayers ca Easter in the 

liturgy of the Pr ayer Book . 

It should be noted here that the fifth act of The Mercha nt is not 
an allegory modeled on the exodus motif or on the various motifs and 
imagery of the "Exultet^." The "Exult et" does, however, contain Biblical 
and liturgical motifs, themes, and images vhich explain soir.s of the pat- 
terns already in The Merchan c and present trem in a light v."'hich is not 
always sufficiently acknov/ledged . One of these patterns is the bondag2- 
exodus m.otif . According to the Book of Exodus, God delivered his chosen 
people on such a night from the bondage of wealthy, powerful, and cruel 
Egypt, marvelously led them through the Red Sea and the desert, dropped 
manna in the way of starving people, and brought them into the prom.ised 
land . 

Here the ambivalence of Venice in The Merchant and of Egypt in 
the Old Testament invites comparison; the similarity between Belmont and 
the promised land also invites comparison. According to the Book of 
Genesis (chapters thirty-nine through fifty), God used the wealth and 
grain of Egypt to sa\^e Jacob and his twelve sons, the tribe of Israel. 


Prayer Book (1559), p. 437, 


But according to the Book of Exodus (chapters one through twelve) Egypt 

became the land of bondage, cruel masters, flesh pots, and golden calves. 

For Elizabethans the city of Venice apparently evoked much of the same 

emotional response as a Babylon of Egypt did for the Jews. Thus, Thomas 

Coryate saw Venice as the "incomparable city," the "rich diadem and most 

flourishing garland of Christendom."-^" But Thomas Nashe felc that the 

Italian city had an unambiguous corrupting irfluence over the English 

traveler : 

From thence he brings the art of atheism, the art of epi- 
curizing, the art of v/horing, the art of poisoning, the 
art of sodimitry. The only probable good thing they have 
to keep us from utterly conderrining it is that it maketh a 
man an excellent courtier, a curious carpet knight; which 
is, by interpretation, a fine close lecher, a glorious 
hypocrite. It is now a privy note amongst the better sort 
of men, when they v7ould set a singular mark or brand on a 
notorious villain, to say he hath Leon in Italy. '^O 

^^ Th e Me r chant Venice is also ::i.ibivalent . It is the city of 

wealthy merchants, ready loans, gay dinners, eveaing masques, law and 

order. But it is also the place of bondage, usury, debt, inhospitable. 

dinners, forgotten masques, deceitful business deals, and cruel lav/s . 


At the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Israelites molded a calf with the 

golden earrings they had pilfered from the Egyptians and then worshipped 

it saying, "These be thy gods, Israel, which brought thee out of the 

land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4). From this incident and especially from I 

Kings 12:23-9), where Jeroboam returns from Egypt and sets up bulls for 

worship, "It has generally been supposed that the Israelites borrowed 

calf-worship from the Egyptians" (The Schaf f- Her zog En c yclo pedia^ of 

Rel igious K nowledge, ed. Samuel M. Jackson [New York, 1908], II, 345). 


Thomas Coryate, C^or ya t ' s Cr ud, 1611 edition (New York, 

1905), II, 427. 

^^Thomas Nashe, Selected Writ ings, The Unfortunate Tra veller , ed. 
Stanley Wells (Cambridg", Mass., 1965), p. 259. 

Belmont, ou the other hand, stands in contrast with these harsh reali- 
ties of the city. It is a promised land of resolution and harmony fol- 
lov7ing a journey of turbulence and discord. At Belmont all are rejoic- 
ing in Antonio's escape from the cruel bond of Shyloek. And all the 
main characters except Shyloek are grateful for their blessings--"manna" 
dropped "in the way of starving people" (V.i. 293-4). 
When Lorenzo exclaims, 

Fair ladies, you drop manna in the way 
Of starved people 

(V.i. 294-5) 

he recalls the themes of exodus, suffering, trial, death, and new life. 
(Antonio's exclamation, "Sweet lady, you have given me life and living," 
V.i. 286, is substantially the same.) Lorenzo is alluding to that memo- 
rable event recorded in Exodus when God miraculously preserved his chosen 
people in the desert after thiir escape from the bondage of Egypt and 
before their entry into the promised land. Exodus reads: 

And the children of Israel sayde unto them. Would to God 
we had dyed by the hand of the Lorde in the Land of Egypt, 
when we sate by uhe flesh pots, and when we did eate bread 
our bellies full: for ye have brought us out into this 
wildernes to kill this whole multitude with hunger. . .. 
behold, upon the ground in the wilderness there lay a small 
round thing, as small as the hoare frost on the ground. And 
when the children of Israel sav; it, they said every one to 
his neighbor, It is Manna, . . . This is the bread which the 
Lorde hach given you to eate. . . . and so they did eate 
Manna, until they came into the borders of the land of Chanaan. 

(16:3, 14, 15, 35) 

Elizabethans were also familiar with this passage read at morning 

prayers on February fourth in the liturgy of the Prayer Book. ^ 

The exodus motif in The Merchant constitutes one of the basic 

^ ^Praye r Book (1559), p. 445, 


movements of the play. Antcnio, Fassanio^ Jessica, Lorenzo, and Launce- 
lot Gobbo all move av/ay from a type of bondage associated with Venice 
and with Shj'lock and move tov;ard a type of deliverance and rei^olution 
found at Belmont. And v/e have already seen in the previous section that 
Jessica and the Venetians look upon her conversion to Christianity as a 
type of exodus from the bonds of infidelity and Judaism. 

Associated with the n.otifs of bondage and exodus and parallel with 
another theme in The Merchant is the death motif in the "Exu ltet . " Sing- 
ing the " Exu ltet, " the deacon repeats the melodic Haec nox est ; 


Haec ^ nox_ est 

"(This is t)!e night 


i n qua destructi s vinculis mortis 

in which Christ destroyed the bonds of 


Christuq ab inferis victor ascen dit. 
death and came forth a victor from hell.) 

This passage unites three themes: the bondage of death, the power of 
sacrificial love, and the triumph of Christ over death. Since all m.en 


Folio xc. Appendix I, p. 178. In Medieval Latin the word in - 

ferus is the word for hell; see Mediae T.atinitatis L exicon Mi. nus, ed. 

J. F. Nierriieyer (Leiden, Netherlands, 1958). In trie Bishops' Bible , 

1585, the verse "ex inf<?.rno inieriori." for ex;:mple, is translated: 

"from the lowest part of hell" (Psalm 86:13). 

die, death holds all in bondage. But the debt which brings about this 
bondage, according to St. Paul and the Christian tradition, is paid 
when Christ dies. For by his love, Christ pays all men's 
debt; and by his resurrection--whon he comes forth " ab inferis victor ," 
a victor from hell--Christ releases men and breaks the bonds of death. 

Moreover, Christ's sacrificial love brings new life, for all bap- 
tized believers benefit from Christ's triumphant resurrection when they 
imitate his death and resurrection in their lives. St. Paul writes: 

Know ye not, that all we which have been baptized into 
Jesus Christ, have been baptized into his death. We 
are buried then with him by baptism into his death, that 
likewise as Christ was raised up from the dead by the 
glory of the father: even so, we also should walke in 
ne^vnesse of life. For if we be grafted together by the 
likeness of his death: even so shall we bee partakers 
of the resurrection. 

(Ron,. 6:3-5) 

This Nev7 Testament description of resurrection aiid liberation from the 
bondage of death is the second Scriptural reading for morning prayers on 
Easter in the liturgy of the Prayer Book.^-^ 

These motifs of death bondage, sacrificial love, resurrection, and 
new life run through every act of The Mer chant . In fact, one of the basic 
themes of The Merchant is that willingness to die for love brings new- 
life. Thus, Shylock's pound of flesh which is vindictive and deadly 
figuratively leads to his outi death; while Antonio's willingness to die 
for his friend is a sacrificial love whic'u leads both him and his friend 
to new life. Others, also, move on as Antonio does toward an experience 
of willing, free, sacrificial love and nev; life. 

^-Prayer Book (1559), p. 437.- And as xve sav/ earlier, chapter six- 
teen of Exodus, which describes the liberation of God's chosen people from 
the bondage of Egypt, is the first lesson for morning prayers on Easter. 


In Act One Portia tells Nerissa that she is bound by the last 

will and testament of a dead father: 

me, the word "choose"'. I may neither 
Choose who I would, nor refuse who I dis- 
like, so is the will of a livin;; daughter 
curb'd by the will of a dead father. 


In a sense, here death holds Portia's power to love in bondage until 

Bassanio releases her to a new life by choosing the right casket. 

In Act Two Morocco experiences a form of bondage unto death and 

without resurrection when he chooses the golden casket. In choosing 

gold, his love is not "as v;ise as bold" (II.vii.70), and so the casket 

he opens is tomb- like: 

hell', what have we here? 

A carrion Death, within whose empty eye 

There is a written scroll, --I' 11 read the vrriting. 

All that glisters is not gold. 

Often have you heard tnat told-- 

Many e. man, his life hath sold 

But ny outside to behold, -- 

Gilded tombs do worms infold. 


Here Morocco discovers not love but hell and death; for, guided by ap- 
pearances, he thinks to "thrive" (II.vii.60) by choosing gold, and so he 
judges by the "glistering" outside and finds but "worms" within. Love 
then for Morocco is "Cold indeed cind labour lost" (II.vii.74). And 
since those suitors who "fail / Of the right casket" are "enjoined by 
oath" never "to woo a maid in way of marriage" (II . ix. 9-13), Morocco is 
bound till death without love. 

It is important here to note the contrasts between the lead and 
gold caskets and hov; they run parallel with the themes of death, sacri- 
ficial love, and resurrection found in the "Exu ltet ." Paradoxically, 


it is Bassanio's choice of the lead casket, a symbol of death and losing 

one's life, which brings him and Portia to nev" life and love. Thus, 

Bassanio'3 choice is similar to the central theme celebrated at Easter 

time in the "Exult et" ; the willingness to lose one's life for love is 

the choice that, paradoxically, gives life. At the Last Supper Jesus 

reminded his disciples: "This is my commandement, that ye love together, 

as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man then this that a man 

bestowe his life for his friendes" (John 15:12-13). 

In contrast, however, when Morocco, the Moor, is confronted with 

the same paradoxic choice he chooses gold and consequently a "Gilded 

tomb." For Morocco's value system is sinilar to Shylock's. Just as 

Shylock evaluates himself and Antonio by the gold standard, namely, by 

the appearances of sufficiency, so Morocco in trying to v.'in Portia's love 

judges by the gold standard: 

A golden mind stoops not to shows of dross. 

(II. .vii.20) 

They have in England 
A coin that bears the figure of an angel 
Stam'd in gold, but that's insculp'd upon: 
But here an angel in a golden bed 
Lies all within. Deliver nie the key: 
Here do I chioose. and thrive I as I may. 

(II. vii. 55-50) 

The death-resurrection motif enters into Act Three when Antonio 

sees himself as a debtor who has forfeited his life and is bound to die 

at the hands of Shylock. Antonio writes to Bassanio: 

Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, 
my creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, 
my bond to the Jaw is forfeit and (since in paying 
it, it is impossible I should live), all debts 
are clear 'd between you and I, if I might but see 
you at my death: notwithstanding, use your plea.sure, 
-"if your love do not persuade you to come, let 
not my letter. (Ill . ii .31'i-2C) 


Here Antonio Diakcs it clear that he is willing to accept; death "since ir. 
paying" Bassanio's debt, says Antcnio, "it is impossible I should live." 
But he is willing to accept this death only out of love for his friend, 
and he confronts Bassanio with the willing obligation of a similar love: 
"if your love do not persuade you to come, let not my letter." In ac- 
cepting Antonio's love Bassanio must be generous, for he must acknowledge 
that his friend is v/illing to die for him. And Bassanio does return a 
similar willingness to sacrifice himself for his friend: 

Antonio, I am married to a wife 

Wliich is as dear to me as life itself. 

But life itself, my wife, and all the world 

Are not v/ith me esteem' d above thy life. 

I would lose all, ay sacrifice them all 

Here to this devrl, to deliver you. 

(IV. i. 278-83) 

Apparently both Antcnio ^.nd Bassanio evaluate their love by the same 

paradoxic standards celebrated in the "Exaltet " and on Easter. Because 

they are willing to die for love they expect to triumph over the bondage 

of Shylock's deadly hate. 

According to Antonio the bonds of love are the only debt to be 

contracted by Christians. Thus he rejects usury and wants Bassanio to be 

present and witness the willingness of his sacrifice. Antonio tells 

Bassanio : 

Repent but you that you shall lose your friend 
And he repents not that he pays your debt. 
For if the Jew do cut but deep enough, 
I'll pay it instantly with all ny heart. 

(IV. i .274-7) 

Although Bassanio's monetary debt is going to cost Antonio his life, 

Antonio does not want to be obliga.ted to die for money but for love and 

friendship. Antonio is suggesting, then, that love's bond is greater 

than death and more bi.nding than Shylock' s hate and ir.oney--an idea that 

runs parallel with the First Epistle of Saint Peter. Speaking of the 

love of Christ which brought new life into the world, St. Peter says that 

Christ paid mankind's debt not i-ilth money but with his blood: 

For as much as ye know, how that ye were not redeemed 
with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from 
your vayne conversation, which ye received by the 
' tradition of the fathers: But with the precious blood 
of Christ. 

(I Peter 1:18-19) 

Act Five particularly contains examples of the dcath-bondage- 

sacrificiai Icve motif. In the ring quarrels, the true love of Bassanio 

for Portia and Gratiano for Nerissa is supposed to bind them till death. 

Nerissa reminds Gratiano: 

You swore to me ;\fhen I did give it you. 
That you would wear it till your hour of death. 

(V.i. 152-3) 

Again, it is sacrificial love that binds till death and gives new life, 

for the ring is symbolic of Portia's vjilling gift of herself: 

This house, these servants, and this same m.yself 
Are yours, --my lord's'. ~-I give them with this ring 
Which when you part from, lose, or give away. 
Let it presage the ruin of your love. 

(III. ii. 170-3) 

Also in Act Five Lorenzo and Jessica focus on love, death, and 
bondage in each of their classical allusions. "In such a night," Troilus, 
Thisbe, Dido, and Medea transcended the bondage of death out of love. 
(These classical allusions will be discussed in detail later.) 

Shakespeare, of course^ did not have to go to the "Exultet" for 
the idea of death's bond being broken by sacrificial love since the idea 
is well incorporated in Christian literature and is current in much of 
the liturgical and religious thoi.ight of Elizabethan England. Meverthe- 


less, in T he Merchant , as in the "Exultet ," self-sacrificing love tri- 
umphs over the bondage of hate and death. Moreover, this theme occurs 
in a similar setting in both T he Merchant and the "Exultet." For in Act 
Five when Lorenzo and Jessica notice "How s\.'eet the moonlight sleeps 
upon the bank" and ho■,^7 the "sounds of music Creep in our ears," they 
recall that "In such a niglit" as this the bonds of death were broken 
by love. Troilus, Thisbe, Dido, Medea, Antonio, and Jessica, all in 
various ways, were triumphant martyrs for lo^'c.^^ 

Another theme of the " Exultet ," which is parallel to the justice 
theme in The Merchant , is that of the Jews robbing the Egyptians of their 
jewels before they left Egypt. In the " Exultet " the deacon sings about 
the night on which this took place. 


bea t a nox, quae ex poliavit Aegyptios , 

(0 happy night, which despoiled the Egyptians 

l^+ajL^^^-ppW' tJL^p, 


ditavit Hebraeos , 

and enriched the Jews.) (fo. xcii, 182) 

The " Exulte t" is referring here to Jewish history as it is recorded in 
the Book of Exodus : 

■Later I disciiss Chaucer's classification of Thisbe, Dido, and 
Medea as mari:yrs for love in the Legend o f Go od Uoraen, the recognized 
source for Shakespeare's classica.1 allusions inV.i.7-14. 

And they borrov;ed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, 
and jewels of golds, and rayment . And the Lorde 
gave the people, favour in the light of the 
Egyptians, so that they graunted such thinges as 
they required: and they robbed the Egyptians .'^^ 

There seems to be no question here about the justice of the Jews 
despoiling the Egyptians. For the "Ex ulta t" celebrates the event; and 
the Book of Exodus proclaims that the Jews are to thauk the Lord annu- 

It is a night to be observed unto the Lorde, in the 
which hee brought them out of the Land of Egypt: 
this is that night of the Lorde, which all the children 
of Israel must keepe throughouc their generations. 

(Exodus 12:42) 

Moreover, as we saw earlier, in the Old Testament the Jews are God's 

chosen people: 

For thou art an holy people unto the Lorde thy God: 
the Lorde thy God hath chosen thee to be a special 
people unto himself, above all nations that are upon 
the earth. 

(Deut, 7:6) 

And so they are blessed with the Lord's as y is Lance and providence. In 

was the Lord who struck the Egyptians with plagues and delivered his 

chosen people with his mighty hand: 

, . . because the Lorde loved you . . . therefore hath 
the Lorde brought you out through a mighty hand, and 
delivered you out of the house of bondage, from the hand 
of Pharao king of Egypt. 

(Deut. 7:8) 

Since the Bible and the liturgy v;ere authoritative sanctions fo- 

Christians in the Renaissance, this despoiling of the Egyptians sheds 

^^Exodus 12:35--6. According to the "New Calendar" in the Prayer 
Eook (1559), this chapter of Exodus is the first lesson for morning 
prayers en Easter, These morning prayers, in Cranmei's revision of the 
liturgy, take the place of the Easter vigil service. 


significant light on Shy lock's taking interest from Christians and Jes- 
sica's despoiling Shylock \;hen she fled from Venice. There are already 
enough overtones of the exoduG in The Merchant to justify considering 
The M ercha nt in terms of it . 

Although it is Shylock who considers himself one of the Lord's 
chosen people with a right to take interest from the Christians, it is 
Jessica turned Christian who actually despoils Shylock and seeins to 
share the same approval that Exodus attributej to the chosen people when 
they "robbed" the EgypLians. For although Shylock considers himself as 
one of the Lord's chosen people, he seems to b^ the only one in The Mer - 
chant v^7ho does so . 

When Shylock thinks of himself in this way he usually incroduces 

an element of tension between himself as a Jew and others as Christians. 

As we saw in chapter one. he refers to his "tribe," "our sacred nation," 

and the "ancient grudge" he bears against the despised Gentiles while he 

meditates revenge against Antonio: "I hate him for he is a Christian" 

(I.iii.37). Also, Shylock' s opinion of himself as one of the Lord's 

chosen people is based on a careful distinction between thrift, theft, 

advantage, and prodigality. Shylock specifically rejects theft, but 

with Biblical quotations he defends his right to occult compensation and 

taking advantage of those who are prodigal. For him usury is thrift not 


This was a way to thrive, and he [Jacob! was blest: 
And thrift is blessing if men steal it not. 


However, thrift does not thrive; theft does, risk does, prodigal- 
ity does, and sacrificial love does. If Shylock is correct in thinking 

that increase is a sign of God's blessing to his chosen people, then 
it is the Christians--generous with love and prodigal with money-- who 
are blessed. Moreover, just as Jacob tricked Laban out of his ewes and 
lambs with what Shylock considers the Lord's blessing when he fled his 
uncle's domination, and just as the Jews despoiled the Egyptians of their 
silver and jewels when the Lord "brought them out of the land of Egypt 
with great power, and with a mightie hand" (Exodus 32:11), so Jessica 
runs from her father taking his ducats and jewels. 

Thus, Shylock' s argu-.v-ent that increase be recognized as a sign of 
God's approval and blessing ironically becomes a sign of contradiction. 
For Antonio does not have to pay even the principal on his loan (IV. i. 
332-5) but receives instead one half of Shylock' s wealth (T.V.i.365) 
which he keeps "in use, to render it Upon [Shylock' s] death unto the 
gentleman," Lorenzo (IV . i .379-80) . And Lorenzo and Jessica become bene- 
ficiaries to Shylock' s will: "a gift ... of all he dies possess' d/ 
Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter" (IV .i .384-6) . To use the words 
of Shylock--"This was a way to thrive, and . . . [they were] blest" (I. 
iii.84). Moreover, the "hand of heaven" which brings about the los.s of 
Antonio's argosies just long enough for him to forfeit his bond to Shy- 
lock also returns his ships. Shakespeare, then, permits us to watch 
not the "hand of heaven" but Jessica and the Christians of Venice despoil 
Shylock. In contrast with the paradoxical Christian choice of death 
which leads to life, Shylock chooses increase and profit through the 
legal destruction of his coiTipetitor but actually finds a type of death: 
"you take my life / V.Tnen you do take the tieans Xvhcreby I live (IV. i. 


Another parallel betv;een the " Exultet " and The Merchant is the 
escape from bondage through Baptism. Although Shylock considers him- 
self one of the Lord's chosen people, a desccndent of the promise, and 
an heir to the promised land, Jessica and the Venetians feel that she 
is one of the new elect when she escapes from the hell of Shylock' s house 
and becomes a Christian. For Jessica and the Venetians, the old covenant 
promise and election are replaced by the nevj covenant. 

The liturgy also reflects this idea V7hen it prays that the Je'.;s 

be converted and so become the truly chosen Israelites: 

And so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy fleck, that, 
they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israel- 
ites, and^be made one fold under one shepherd Jesus Christ 
our Lord , 


The "E xultet " in the Roman liturgy explains further that baptism is the 

New Testament equivalent to liberation from bondage, passage through the 

Red Sea, and initiation into the ccmnunion cf saints--the Christian term 

for Shylock' s "sacred nation." The text of the " Exult et" reads: 

H aec nox es t, quae hod i e per universum mund um. in christu m 
credentes, a vi t iis s a eculi segrega tos et c aligine p ecca - 
tor u m, reddit gratiae, sociat sanctitati . 

[This is the night which returns to grace those throughout 
the whole world now believing in Christ, and unites those 
separated from worldly vices and the darkness of sin to 
the communion of saints.] 

(fo. xc, 177-178) 

Lorenzo's version of this doctrine of Gcd's chosen people re- 
flects his own prejudice and that of his Venetian friends. Speaking to 
Gratiano, Lorenrro explains that Jessica, 

^^ Pra yer Book (1559), Collect for Good Friday, p. 119. 


hath directed 
How I shall take her from her father's house, 
What gold and jewels she is furnish 'd with 
What page's suit she hath in readiness, -- 
If e'er the Jew her father coma to heaven, 
It will be for his gentle daughter's sake, 
And never dare misfortune cross her foot. 
Unless she do it under this excuse. 
That she is issue to a faithless Jew. 

(II. iv. 29-37) 

Lorenzo's pun on gentile ("the words were not completely distinguished 
in spelling at this time"^') is significant here because, as he sees it, 
Jessica.' s becoming a "gentle" is the only claim Shylock can make to 
"come to heaven"; while her being "issue, to a faithless Jet?" is the only 
"excuse" available for "misfortune [to] cross her fooc." Lorenzo liter- 
ally claims God's approval of Christians v;itb a vengeance. 

Later, the sam.e pun on gentile leads to another image from Exodus. 
Portia, pleading mercy as opposed to strict justice, tells Shylock: "VJe 
all expect a gentle ans'.;er Jew'." (Iv'.i.34). But when SViylock insists 
that his bond be executed to t?ie letter of the law, Antonio laments : 

You may as well do any thing most hard 

As seek to soften that-- than wliich what's harder ?-- 

Kis Jewish heart'. 

(IV. i. 78-80) 

The image, again, is that of Exodus. For Pharao was punished with ten 

successive plagues and finally despoiled by the chosen people because he 

"hardened his heart" (Exodus 1:32; the phrase is used as a Biblical motif, 

see, for example, 7:13, 7:14, 7:22, 8:15, and 8:19). For the Venetians 

the identification of Shylock is cor.iplete; he is not a member of the 

chosen, "sacred nation," but a hard-hearted Pharao holding Christians 


Arden edition, p. 49. Gratiano m.akes the same pun later: 

"Now (by my hood) a gentle, and no Je.-i" (ll.vii.Sl). 


like Antonio, Launcelot, and Jessica in bondage and \;ho, like Laban and 
Pharao, deserves to be despoiled. 

In the fifth act of The Merchant , then, the phrase In such a ni ght 
gives many indications of being modeled on the same phrase in the Easter 
vigil "Exult et ." In both the " Exultet" and the garden scene at Belmont 
there is a nighttime setting with moonlight, song, and candle. In both 
there is an atm.osphere of meditative joy and quiet celebration. There 
is a sense of being delivered from bondage. And in both there is an ex- 
tended consideration of the standard Christian paradox: willingness to 
lose one's life is the condition for finding it. In his reference to 
Troilus and Cresfid, Lorenzo initiates this consideration. 

Jessica as " Tesbe Babilonie, Martiris " 

By alluding to Troilvs and Cressid in the lovers' quarrel of Act 
Five, Lorenp^o playfully suggests that Jessica's love m.ight not be as un- 
troubled and trustvrorthy as the lovely, idyllic, moonlit setting of Bel- 
mont might suggest. In response to this Jessica clothes her allusion to 
Thisbe in equally delicate and beautiful poetry: 

In such a night 
Did Thisbe fearfully o'er trip the dew. 
And saw the lion's shadow ere him.self, 
And ran dismayed away. 


Following the lead of Lorenzo, Jessica associates the brightness of the 

moon with another classical example of young IovciTS, Pyramus and Thisbe. 

But her use of such v;ords as fearfully , o' ertrip, shadow, d isma yed, and 

ran av7ay indicate a shift in tone. Instead of the pleasant imagery which 

Lorenzo uses with irony, Jessica uses imagery which suggests fear and 


apprehension, for she wants to create the impression that she is like 
Thisbe — alone and waiting for her tardy lover with no one to protect her, 

Jessica's allusion is also more pertinent and relevant to her 
situation since it recalls elopement, parental conflict, mortal danger, 
and love until death. Jessica is suggesting that although Troilus had 
little to do with Cressid's going over to the enemy camp, Pyramus had 
much to do with Thisbe' s problems with her father and with her running 
away from home, and Lorenzo, in turn, had also had much to do with Jes- 
sica's theft and running from home. Besides, Lorenzo is the one who is 
not trustworthy for he came late for their tryst, as Salerio observed 
earlier : 

Gra. This is the penthouse under which Lorenzo 

Desired us to make stand. 
Sal. His hour is almost past. 

Gra. And it is marvel he out-dwells his hours. 

For lovers ever run before the clock. 
Sal. ten times faster Venus' pigeons fly 

To seal love's bonds new-made, than they are wont 

To keep obliged faith unf orf eitedl 

Here comes Lorenzo. . . . 
Lor. Sweet friends, your patience for my long abode 
(Not I but my affairs have made you wait). 

( 1-7, 20-22) 

Perhaps the implications of Jessica's response will be more obvi- 
ous if we see her allusion in the light of its source, vdiich most edi- 
tors and critics feel was Chaucer's Legend of Good Women (796-812). 

Joseph Hunter was the first to note that for Jessica's allusion 
"Shakespeare was also indebted to Chaucer; that, in fact, the old folio 
of Chaucer was lying open before him when he wrote this dialogue, and 
that there he found Thisbe, Dido, and Medea, as well as Troilus. It is 
at least certain that Thisbe, Dido, and Medea do occur together in 
Chaucer's Legend of Good Women , which in the folio immediately follows 
the "Troilus" (New Illustrations of the Life, Studies and Writings of 
Shakespeare [London, 1845 J, I, 313). 


The story in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women reads as follows (this selec- 
tion is necessarily lengthy because Shakespeare borro\;s scattered images 
and captures the tone of the whole passage): 

Tyl on a day, V7han Phebus gan to cleere-- 

Aurora v;ith the strernes of hire hete 

Hadde dreyed up the dew of herbes wete-- 

Unto this clyft, as it was vjont to be. 

Com Pirainus, and after com Thysbe, 

And plyghten trouche fully in here fey 

That like same nyght to stele away. 

And to begile here wardeyns everichon. 

And forth out of the cite for to goon; (773-781) 

This Tisbe hath so grec affeccioun 

And so gret haste Piramus to se, 

That whan she say hire tyma myghte be. 

At nyght she stal awey ful pryvyly. 

With hire face y^.-yiapled subcyly; (793-979) 

For alle hire frendes--for to save hiro trouthe-- 

She hath forsake; alias', and that is roughe 

That evere woman v;olde ben so tre'-;e 

To truste Eian, but she the bet hyu knewel (798-801) 

Alias', than cometh a wilde lyonesse 

Out of the wode. withoute more arest. 

With blody mouth, of strangelynge of a best. 

To drynken of the v;elle there as she sat. 

And whan that Tisbe hadde espyed that 

She rist hire up, with a ful drery heret, 

And in a cave v;ith dredful fot she sterte, 

For by the mone she say it wel withalle. 

And as she ran, hire wympel let she falle. (305-813) 

The mone shon, and he myghte wel yse. . . (825) 

"Alias," quod he, "the day that I was born'. 

This o nyght v7ol us lovers bothe sle'. 

How shulde I axe mercy of Tisbe, 

Whan I am he that have yow slayn, alias'. 

My biddyng hath yov: slayn, as in this cas . 

Alias', to bidde a woman gon by nyghte 

In place there as peril falle myghte'. 

And I so slow'.". .' . . (833-840) 

Nov7 Tisbe, which that wiste nat of this. 

But sittynge in hire drcde, she thoughte thus 

"If it so falle that my Pramus 

Be comen hider, and may ir.e not yfynde. 

He may me holde fals and ek unkynde." 

And out she cometh and after hym gan espien, 

Bothe vjith hire herte and with hire yen. 

And thoughte, "I vjol tiym tellen of my drede, 

Bothe of the lyonesse and al my deede." (853-860) 

"I wol thee folwe ded, and I wol be 

Felawe and cause ek of thy deth," quod she. 

"And thogh that nothing, save the deth only, 

Mighte thee from me departe now fro me 

Than fro the deth, for I wol go with thee. 

And now, ye wrechede jelos fadres oure, 

We that whilom were children youre, 

We preyen yow, withouten more envye, 

That in o grave yfere we moten lye, 

Sith love hath brought us to this pitous ende. 

And ryghtwis God to every lovere sende, 

That loveth trewely, more prosperite 

Than evere yit had Piramus and Tisbe'." (894-907) 

Again, as in Lorenzo's allusion to Troilus, Shakespeare has selected 
the basic images--the dew, the lovers' plighted "trouthe," Thisbe's 
haste in coning to meet Pyramus, the lion, the moon, Thisbe's running, 
and her dread. Joseph Hunter, v;ho was the first to note that Shakespeare 
used Chaucer's version of the Thisbe legend, felt safe in saying that "the 
old folio of Chaucer was lying open before him when he ^•Trote this dia- 
logue, and that there he found Thisbe, Dido, and Medea, as well as 

Troilus." Dover Wilson, however, concludes that Shakespeare had only 

a general recollection of the Thisbe story as he was \vTiting: "As for 

Thisbe, thereby hangs a tale of blended memories, memories of Chaucer-- 

this time of his Le gend of Good Women- - on the one hand, and of Golding's 

Book B', 67-201, on the other. "^^ in any case, Chaucer was the one v.ho 

^^Joseph Eunter, New Illustrations, I, 313. 

Dover Wilson, "Shakespeare's 'small Latin' — how much?" Shake- 
sp eare Survey, X (1957), 21. 


emphasized the all-for-love devotion of Thisbe which appears in all ver- 
sions. And the important thing to note is that Shakespeare has adapted 
this theme and his source to the speaker's needs and to the context of 
the lovers' quarrel. 

Through the beauty of their poetry and the objectivity of their 
allusions, Lorenzo and Jessica preserve the appearance of taking tran- 
quil delight in the moonlit garden of Bslmont. But in their playful 
lovers' quarrel they hide their arguments behind a feigned seriousness. 
Jessica acknowledges the beauty of the quiet garden, the bright moon, 
and the soft breeze "In such a night," but she also claims to be a woman 
auite unlike Cressid. Jessica argues that she is not like the unfaith- 
ful Cressid bat like Thisbe, one of the saints and martyrs on Cupid's 
calendar, as in Chaucer's Le,qend of G ood Wom.en . According to the central 
fiction of the "Prologue" of the Legend, Chaucer was commissioned by the 
god of love to spend his remaining days. 

In makyng of a glorious legende. 

Of goode wymmen, m.aydenes and v/yves, 

That weren trewe in lovyng al hire lyves; 

And telle of false men that hem bytraien.^^ 

"Tisbe, that hast for love swich peyne" (261), is one of those good women 
of antiquity "That weren trewe in lovyng al hire lyves." 

Jessica, then, is answering Lorenzo's charges by playfully sug- 
gesting that she is not like Cressid but ratlier like the good, faithful, 
loving "Tesbe Babilonie, martiris , "^-^ who left her father and home in 

^^ ''Prologue" to The L egend of Good Women , lines 4S2-4S6. 

^^Chaucer's legend of Thisbe is subtitled: "Incipit Legenda 
Tesb e Babilonie, mar tir is , " the usual form used to introduce the life 
of a saint and martyr in the Martyrology. 


the city and ran fearfully to the country, ready to eKpose herself to 
the wild beasts as a martyr for true love. 

Jessica's allusion to Thisbe is also relevant to many of the 
events that have transpired in The Merchan t . In both The Mer chant and 
the story of Pyramus and Thisbe there are elements of secret love, dis- 
obedience to the father, and elopement. Pyramus and Thisbe, as Chaucer 
notes, "plyghten troughte fully in here fey" and planned "that like some 
nyghte to stele away," escaping from the "wrechede jelos fadres oure." 
Then when "The mone shon" so bright that they "myghte wel yse" they 
"begile here wardeyns everichon" and went "forth out of the cite." 
Moreover, Thisbe' s sacrifice for love v/as great, for she chose to "for- 
sake" "all hire frende3--for to save hire trouthe."^ 

An part of Jessica's argument is her allusion to the 

irresponsibility of Pyramus in contract with Thisbe' s trustworthiness. 

Thisbe, the good woman, came en time, kept her word, "save Id] hire 

trouthe," when she did "fearfully o'ertrip the dew." And like a martyr 

she found only a "lion's shadow ere himself," "ran dismayed away," and 

returned again only to meet death. Jessica is covertly reminding Lorenzo 

of his o\ni responsibility, for in The Legend of Good Women Pyramus holds 

himself responsible for Thisbe' s death: 

My biddying hath yow slayn, as in this cas. 
Alias'. to bidde a woman gon by nyghte 
In place there peril falle myghte'. 


Thisbe vras anxious to be with her lover, but Pyramus was tardy; Thisbe 

was courageous in going into the vjoods at night unprotected, but Pyramus 


Trouthe means faithifiilness, honesty, solemji promise. OED . 


was imprudent In asking her to do so. 

One of the problems editors have encountered in the Thisbe allu- 
sion is the meaning of Jessica's phrase, "And saw the lion's shadow ere 
himself" (V.i.8). Henry Hudson explains chat Thisbe saw the lion's 
shadow "ere she saw the lion himself.' Malone suggests that "Thisbe 
may be supposed to have seen the lion's shadow by moon-light in the 
water of the fountain near the tomb of Ninus." And Browa adds that 
" shadow can mean reflection." Brovm also notes that Chaucer speaks 
of a lioness: "Alias". than cometh a wilde lyone.sse." In the sources 
Ovid, Gower, and Golding refer to a lioness frightening Thisbe. But, as 
Kenneth Muir points ouL,^^ Elizabethan versions were divided about the 
sex of the lion, and Shakespeare was obviously av/are of this when he had 
Snug the joiner in A Ilidsummer Ni g ht's Dream apprehensively explain that 
he was neither a lion nor a lion's dam: 

You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear 

The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor, 

May now perchance both quake and tremble here. 

When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar. 

Then know that I, one Snug the joiner, am 

A lion fell, nor else no lion's dam. 

(V.i. 222-7) 

Shak espe are' s M erchant of Ven ice, ed . Henry N. Hudson (Boston, 

1900), p. 182n. 

Malone Shakespeare, 17 90, K, 533. 

^° Arde n edition, 125n. 

The Le p;end of Good Women, 805. 

^^Kerineth Muir, " and Thisbe: A Study in Shakespeare's 
Method," S. Q., V, Spring (1954), 150. 

Ill the context of the lovers' quarrel and in view cf the subtle 
thrusts of Lorenzo and Jessica at one another, I feel that Jessica's 
phrase "the lion's shadow ere himself" is functionally ambiguous. There 
is always the probability that a possible explanation m.ay contain an in- 
tended meaning. And in the context Jessica is clearly trying to emphasize 
the "trouthe" and goodness of Thisbe and the irresponsibility of Pyramus . 
The Pyramus she has in mind not only allowed Thisbe to enter the forest 
at night without father, husband, lover, or servant to protect her, but 
he even came late--after the lion had already frightened Thisbe away. True, 
both had given their word to meet at Ninus' tomb; true, Thisbe was not 
there when Pyramus arrived. But it is also true that Thisbe' s ardent love 
and fidelity to her word brought her to the appointed place on time, and 
true it is that a fell lion arrived before the sluggish Pyramus. It is 
possible, then, that Jessica is saying that in such a night Thisbe fear- 
fully ran to meet her love, but slic saw a lion's shadow "ere" she saw her 
lover "himself" and so was forced to flae. Thus, Jessica is covertly ex- 
onerating herself: when Lorenzo suggests that Cressid ran out on Troilus, 
Jessica suggests that Pyramus was to blame when Thisbe was forced to run. 

If these explanations of the Thisbe allusion are accurate reflec- 
tions of what is going on betv/een Jessica and Lorenzo, their playful 
quarrel, up to this point, runs as follows. Lorenzo playfully suggests 
that he is a faithful. Troilus, sighing out his soul for a questionably 
faithful Cressid. Jessica replies that she is more like the faithful 
Thisbe; and Lorenzo, like Pyramus, should take responsibility for the 
part he has had in her alienation from her father, in her abandonment 
of the Jewish faith, and in her elopement. Like Thisbe, a martyr in 


Cupid's calendar, she is ready to sacrifice all for love. 
Dido or Ariadne? Error or Adaptation? 

Lorenzo's response to Jessica is as follows: 

In such a night 
Stood Dido with a willov; in her hand 
Upon the v;ild sea banks and waft her love 
To come again to Carthage. 


Here Shakespeare has introduced a long-standing critical problem, for 

all the commentators on this passage point out that Shakespeare has 

confused Dido with Ariadne. Many critics then go on to use this as a 

prime example of Shakespeare's "small Latine, and lesse Greeke." In 

t'lie third variorum edition of Shakespeare, for example, Steevens re- 

fleets the standard eighteenth-century belief that Shakespeare's clas- 
sical learning was so inadequate that he confused Ariadne and Dido. Ac- 
cording to Steevens, "This passage contains a small instance out of many 
that might be brought to prove that Shakespeare was no reader of the 
classicks." Malone adds: "For the willow the poet must answer, but 
I believe he here recollected Chaucer's description of Ariadne in a simi- 
lar situation." Editors and critics since this have generally found it 
necessary to acknowledge what they consider to be Shakespeare's mistake 
and apologize for it. Thus, Dover Wilson concludes that Shakespeare 


See, also, T. VJ. Baldwin's third chapter, "The Eighteenth Cen- 
tury Canonizer the 'Little Latin' Tradition," in Wi llia m Shakspere's 
S mall Latine & Lesse Greeke (Urbana, 1944), I, 53-74. 

Ma 1 one _Sh ake s p ear e , 1790, III, 91n. 

^ -^Malone Shakes peare , 1790, X, 583. 


has, no doubt unconsciously, gone to the wrong love-lorn 
lady, since it was Ariadne, deserted by Thef;eus and not 
Dido deserted by Aeneas, who stood upon the shore and 
beckoned her lover to return; a confusion first noted by 

The description of Ariadne which llalone and other critics have in 

mind is in Chaucer's The Legend of Good Wo men; 

And to the stronde barefot fast she wente. 
And cryed, "Theseus', myn herte swetcl" 

No man she sav;, and yit shyned the nione. 
And hye upon a rokke she wente sone. 
And sav7 his barge saylynge in the se. 

Hire coverchef on a pole up steked she, 

Ascaunce that he shulde it v/el yse, 

And hyra remcmbre that she was behynde, 

And turne ageyn, and on the stronde hire fynde. 

But al for nought; his wey he is ygon. 


This description of Ariadne, however, is based on Ovid's tenth Epistle 

of the Kero ides . - And so R. K. Root concludes that the Legend of^ Good 

Women is parallel with Shakespeare's version in such a general way that 

it is difficult to tell whe*-her Shaket-peare would have "had Chaucer in 

mind rather than CK'id." And Wilson ventures: "Shakespeare V7as draw- 

ing upon me-iory, and memory alone." Thus, if we assume, with these 

critics, that Shakespeare was only vaguely aware of the Dido legend when 

"Shakespeare's 'small Latin' --how m.uch?" p. 22. Wilson does 
qualify this view of "Shakespeare's wayward dealings with Dido" v^hen he 
says, "It would be ridiculous, however, to suppose that he was ignorant 
of her story," p. 23. 

° See Walter W. Skeat, The C omplete Works o f Geoffrey Chaucer 
(Oxford, 1894), III, 339. 

° Robert Kilburn Root, Cl assical Mytho logy in Shakespear e (New 
York, 1965), p. 57. 


Dover Wilson, "Shakespeare's 'small Latin' --how much?" p. 21 


he KTote The Me r cliant , we can disraisr. the problem by saying, first, that 
Shakespeare's source is irrelevant and so there is no reason to exclude 
any of the similar versions of Ariadne available to Elizabethans, and 
second, that there is no reason to exclude the possibility of an original 
composition beginning with Dido as a mere type of the good woman piti- 
fully abandoned. 

It should be noted, however, that the legend of Dido occurs fre- 
quently in Elizabethan literature. Besides Gower ' s Conf essio Amantis, 
Turbeville's translation of the Heroides , and Elizabethan ballads of 
Dido, Shakespeare V70uld have been well acquainted with Marlowe's 

^^For example, Gower ' s Confessio A ma ntis , V, 5436-5CS3, and 
George Turbeville's 1567 version of Ovid's H eroide s, Epistle X. 

'Thomas Percy gives a popular Elizabethan ballad of "Queen Dido" 
which reads as follows for the last two stanzas: 
And, rowling on her carefull bed, 
With sighes and sobbs, these words shee sayd; 
wretched Dido queenel quoth shee, 

I see thy end appioacheth neare; 
For hee is fled av;ay from thee 

Whom thou didst love and hold so deare: 
What is he gone, and passed by? 
hart, prepare thyself e to dye. 
Though reason says, thou shouldst foibeare. 

And stay thy hand from bloudy stroke; 
Yet fancy bids thee not to fear, 

^'Thich fetter 'd thee in Cupids yoke. 
Come death, quoth shee, resolve my smart'. -- 
And with these words shee peerced her hart. 

(Song 22, lines 49-66, p. 194) 
Perc}' notes: "This once popular ballad was entered on the Registers of 
the Stationers Company in 1564-5 as 'a ballet intituled The Wanderynge 
Prince . ' Its great popularity is evidenced by the frequent references 
in literature and the large number of ballads sung to the tune of Queen 
Dido or Tr o y TC'Tt. e . In The Penni less Parl iament o f Th rea dbare Foet s, 
1608, ale-knights are said to 'sing Queen Dido over a cup and tell strange 
news over an ale-pot,' and the same song is referred to in Fletcher's 
CaptOMi (act III, sc . 3) and his Eonduc a (act I, xc . 2)." (Thomas 
Percy, Religues of Ancient English Poetry [London, lS77],Vol. Ill, pp. 


Tragedy of D J-do which was finished by Nashe in 1593 and published in 

1594. The title p^ge indicates that it had been acted by the children 

of her Majesty's Chapel. In the last sensational scene of Marlov/e's play. 

Dido mounts the funeral pyre erected on the banks of the sea and exclaims; 

Now Dido, with these relics burn thyself, 
And make Aeneas famous through the world 

For perjury and slaughter of a queen 


Her dying words are: "Live, false Aeneas'. truest Dido dies'." (V.i.312). 

After examining all of Shakespeare's dramatic allusions to Dido 
and Ariadne, I have come to the conclusion that Shakespeare V7as well 
aware of the difference betwf.en Dido and Ariadne, and that Lorenzo's 
allusion in V.i.9-12 is not an error but an adaptation of the classical 
legends cf Dido and Ariadne to Lorenzo's stance in the levers' quarrel 
and to the theme of choosing death for love. Many scholars have already 

demonstrated Shakespeare's knowledge of the classics and the rather full 

classical knowledge of Elizabethans in general, although they have not 

used Lorenzo's allusion as an example of this knowledge. Thus, before 
seeing Lorcna^o's allusion in the context of the lovers' quarrel, I will 
introduce here an examination of all Shakespeare's Dido and Ariadne al- 
lusions shoT.zing that they are accurate in detail, suited to the speaker's 
character and intentions, and adapted to the context of the play in v.hich 
they occur . 

Christopher Marlowe, The Life of Marlov7e an d the Trag edy of Dido, 
queen of Carthage, ed . C. F. Tucker Brooke (London, 1930), V.i. 292-4. 

^^See, for example, F. K. Root, CJass_ixaJ_J^xtll9i£B:^_ii-_Sh§K£^ 
H. R. D. Anders, Shakespeare' s Books ; J. S. Smar t , . £halc£S£ear_Cj_TrjiHi__an^ 

Tradition; T. W. Baldwin, XJi 1 1 i am Sh a ke s per e ' s Small Latine, g-_ Lesse 

Greeke; ~ and Percy Simpson. "Shakespeare's Use of Latin Authors," Studies 
in Elizabethan Drama. 


Shakespeare alludes to Dido in the following plays: 

2 Hen VI (1591-2) III .ii. 114-120 

Titus (1593-4) II.iii.20--6; V.iii. 79-87 

Shrew" (1593-4) II. i. 157-61 

Romeo (1594-5) II. iv. 40-5 

Dream (1595-6) I. i. 169-178 

Merchant (1595-7) V.i.9-12 

Hamlet (1600-02) II. ii. 466-70 

Antony (1606-7) IV.xiv.53-4 

Tempest (1611-12) II. 1.76, 78, 81, 100, 101. 

He alludes to Ariadne in: 

Two Gent . (1594-5) IVMv.171 
Dream (1595-6) II.i.80 

The first six of the Lido allusions, including Th e Merchant , fall 
within the short span of five years betv/een 1592-1597. In all of them 
except The Me rcha nt the details of the allusion correspond exactly with 
the details of the classicc'l story. In fact, R. K. Root feels that the 
allusions to Dido are so "numerous and substantially accurate" that "The 
story of Dido in Aeneid I-IV must hiive been familiar to Shakespeare from 
his boyhood." If, then, Shakespeare's allusions to Dido in these 
plays are all "substantially accurate," his allusion in T he Merchant , 
written about the same time, can hardly be unintentionally confused. 
Moreover, an analysis of these allusions should demonstrate not only 
Shakespeare's familiarity with the legend of Dido but also his interpre- 
tation of the story and seme of his methods of integrating the allusions 
Into his ov.n plays. 

The earliest allusion to Dido occurs in T he Second P art of King 
Henry the Sixth . In this play Queen Margaret compares herself to Dido, 


R. K. Root, ClaGsical Myt holop.y in Shakes peare, p. 5o . 


Siiffolk to Ascanius (the son of Aeneas) , and King Henry to Aeneas who 

also V7ooGd a queen througli the bewitching tongue of his proxy. Margaret 


How often have I tempted Suffolk's tongue. 

The agent of thy foul inconstancy. 

To sit and witch me, as Ascanius did. 

When he to madding Dido would unfold 

His father's acts commenced in burning Troy.' 

Am I not witched like her? Or thou not false like him? 

Aye me, I can no morel Die, Margaretl 

(III. ii. 114-120) 

This allusion would at first seem to compound our problem since all the 

critics, with the exception of James Boswell (1778-1822), have echoed 

7 7 
Louis Theobald in finding it inaccurate. Theobald notes: 

The poet here is unquestionably alluding to Virgil (Aeneid i) 
but he strangely blends fact with fiction. In the first 
place, it was Cupid in the semblance of Ascanius, who sat 
in Dido's lap, and was fondled by her. But then it was not 
Cupid who related to her the process of Troy's destruction; 
but it was Aeneas himself who related this history,'-' 

Boswell notes: "When Dido v^7as caressing the supposed Ascanius, 
she would naturally speak to him about his father, and would be witched 
by v;hat she learned from him, as well as by the more regular narrative 
which she had heard from Aeneas himself." Malone Shakespeare , 1821, 
2 Henry VI , p. 259n. 

~>Ialone comments: "this mistake was certainly the m.istake of 

Shakespeare, whoever may have been the original author of the first 
sketch of this play; for this long speech of Margaret's is founded on one 
in the quarto, consisting only of seven lines, in v;hich there is no allu- 
sion to Virgil" (Ma lone Shakespear e, 1821, p. 259b). Tucker Brooke, in the 
Yai_e Sha kesp eare, says that "The allusion is new with the reviser, and 
like many of Shakespeare's classical references is not minutely accurate" 
p. 134. Cr.irncross (Arden edition, 1954) quotes Theobald: "It was 'Cupid 
in the semblance of Ascanius . . .'" p. 84n. William Rolfe quotes Theo- 
bald, and dismisses Eoswell's explanation; "The oversight-~for such we have 
no doubt it was--is explained away by Bcs^zell, who says that 'while Dido 
was caressing the supposed Ascanius. ..." (Shakes pr-are' s H istor y of 
King Henry tlie Sixch, Part II, ed, William J. Rolfe [New York, 1882], p. 166n) 

^^Malone Sh akesp eare, 1821, 2 Henry VI, p. 259n. Theobald also 
restored watch of the Folio to read witch. 


In his analysis, "Classical Learning in 'Henry VI'," Dover Wilson 
has been very criuical: 

No one with the slightest 'knowledge of the first tv70 books 
of the Aeneid , either in the original or in translation, 
could have written these lines, seeing that in Virgil it is 
Cupid disguised as Ascanius and not the boy Ascanius himself 
who lies in Dido's bosom, and it is Aeneas and not his son 
who tells her the tale of burning Troy. ^ 

Wilson adds that the passage "clearly derives from a not unnatural mis- 
reading of the Dido story in Chaucer's Legen d of Good Women ." And since 
Chaucer "does not express himself at all clearly," one "m.ignt \<iell have 
gathered from these lines that Dido 'enquered' about 'the dedes' of 
Aeneas from the 'child' Ascanius, mentioned just before, and that 'they 
tweye' were the child and herself." Later, says Wilson, Shakespeare 
"came to know more about Dido after reading Marlowe's play en the subject, 
[but] this was not printed until 1594."'^ 

Although this is the accepted view among critics at the present 
time, I believe that a close comparison of book one of the Aeneid with 
Margaret's allusion and its context in 2 Henr y VI will show (1) that 
Ascanius did bewitch the heart of Dido with his words about Aeneas in 
book one before Aeneas gave his orderly account of Troy in book tv;o , and 
(2) that Margaret's omission of the influence of Cupid suited her ovm de- 
ceptive intentions. 

In book one of the Aeneid , Dido first meets Aeneas in the v;ood5 
and invites him to her palace. Aeneas, who wishes to m.ake a good ir.ipres- 


N . C . S . , 2 Heni-v V I. p. lii. 

^-^ N.C. S. , p. liii. 


sion, sends his son Ascanius before him bearing gifts to Queen Dido. 

Here Virgil adds that Aeneas put all his hope in his son, Omnis in A s- 

c anio cari stat cura parentis , and that he selected the gifts with 

care (648-655). At this point, however, Virgil guarantees the mission 

of Ascanius by adding the classical s^Tiibolism for the powerful god of 

love. Cupid assumes the guise of Ascanius, attends the banquet in his 

place, amazes all with gifts, and charms everyone with the glowing beauty 

of his countenance and words. Virgil writes: 

Mirantur dona Aeneae; m irantur Julum , 
Flagrantcsque dei vul tus , simulataque verba. 


[Everyoiie was amazed by the gifts of Aeneas, by his son 
Julus , and by the glowing countenance and words of the god.] 

The important word here is verba , for critics of 2 Herry VI always feel 

that Queen Margaret is alluding to the tale which Aeneas tells at the end 

of the banquet. But actually, according to the Aeneid, Dido and her 

court Biar-vel at the glowing words of Cupid coming from Ascanius (Cupid 

in disguise). Margaret's allxision. 

To sit and witch me, as Ascanius did. 

When he to madding Dido would unfold 

His father's acts commenced in burning TroyI 

has its justification then in the words: "M irantur . . . Flagran t esque 

dei v-iltu s, sim ulat aque verba." Dido and her court, looking upon Ascanius, 

were amazed at the glo'.?ing countenance and vrords of a god. 

In the Aeneid , Dido is moved, " et pariter puero donesque " (by both 

the boy and the gifts). And gradually, love awakens in Dido feelings of 

^^Publius Vergilius Maro , Vae. Aene i d of Virgil, ed. Charles Anthon 
(New York, 1839), 1.646. All quotations are from this edition; all trans- 
lations are my ovm. 


passion long forgotten: 

Inclpit, et vivo tentat praevert e re amore 
Jampridcm resides an im os, desuetague cords .77 

Then Dido, having inquired about Priam, about Hector, about the armor of 
Memnon, -the horses of Phesus, and the pov7er of Achilles, finally con- 
cludes book one by urging Aeneas to give an orderly account of Troy: 

Immo age, et a prima die, hospes, origine nobis 

Insidias , inquit, Drnaum, casusque tuo'rum , 

Erroresque tuos: ngm te jam septima portat 
" Omnibus errantem t e rris et fluc t ibus aestas . ' ° 

In 2 He nr y VI the context of Margaret's remarks explains her anal- 
ogy between Suffolk and Ascanius. Suffolk had been sent by Henry to France 


as his deputy for marriage and had announced the success of his mission 

in the opening lines of 2 Hen"y VI : 

As by your high imperial Majesty 
I had in charge ac my depart for France, 
As procurator to your Excellence, 
To marry Princess Margaret for your Grace; 
So . . . 

I have perforia'd my task, and vas espous'c. 

(I.i.1-5, 9) 

Thus, Margaret is comparing the love mission of Ascanius to the marriage 
deputation of Suffolk. Just as Ascanius is supposed to have deceived Dido 
by representing Aeneas in a favorable light in the cause of love, so Suf- 
folk is supposed to have deceived Margaret by representing Henry in a 

'Book I, lines 721-6: Love begins anew to turn to living passion 
in a long- since quiet mind and unaccustomed heart. 


Book I. lines 753-6: "Nay, come, my guest," she said, "start 

at the beginning and tell us from che first about the Grecian strategies, 

their misfortunes, and your ovn travels; for this is already the seventh 

suiraner that brings you x^/andering over every land and sea." 


Williarn. Shakespeare, The First Part o f King Henry the Six th 

(Arden edition, ed. Andrew S. Cairncross), V. v. 79-91. 

favorable li^bt in the cause of marriage. 

Margaret makes no mention of Cupid but attributes the power of 
deception to Ascanius. Again, despite the usual explanation that this 
is an error, there is a plausible argument for Shakespeare's adaptation 
of Virgil's machinery of the gods. In the Aeneid the power of Cupid is 
that of inflaming the impassioned Queen ( donisque furentem / Incendat 
reginam , 659-60) and encircling her heart with fire ( atque ossibus im - 
plicet ignem , 660). In 2 Henry VI this power of love is effectively put 
into an Elizabethan psychology of love by the v7ords witched and madding 
(maddening or making mad with love).° Suffolk would "sit and witch" 
Margaret V7ith the praises of Henry "as Ascanius did, / When he to mad- 
ding Dido would unfold" the praises of Aeneas. 

Another plausible reason for Margaret's omission of Cupid is in her 

deceptive stance. She is accusing Henry of deceiving her, but she and 

Suffolk are actually deceiving Henry. Suffolk is her lover and ally 

against Henry and so she does not then want to introduce the revealing 

complication of Ascanius as Cupid. She is obliged to protect Suffolk, 

and so she must minin^ize the deceptive role of Ascanius by putting ail 

the blame on Henry's "foul inconstancy." This reading is supported by 

the earlier distortion of Suffolk alluding to Paris and Helen. At the end 

of I Henry VI Suffolk distorts the classical story in order to compare 

himself favorably to Paris and Margaret to Helen: 

Thus Suffolk hath prevailed, and thus he goes. 
As did the youthful Paris once to Greece, 


OED . See also Sonnet 119 which speaks of "r^uin'd love": 

How have mine eyes out of their Spheres been fitted 
In the distraction of this madding fever. 


With hopes to find the like event in love; 
But prosper better than the Troyan did. 
Margaret shall now be Queen, and rule the King; 
But I will rule both her, the King, and realm. 

(V.v. 103-8) 

Just as Margaret later twists the allusion to fit Vier own designs, so 
Suffolk here twiscs it. And again, those well-known elements of the 
allusion vjhich he omits arc a significant comment on what actually hap- 
pens. In the Aeneid Paris abuses the hospitality of Menelaus by loving 
the Queen, and in 2 Henry VI Suffolk is false to Henry in loving the 
Queen. Moreover, in both stories their love and deception are instrii- 
ments of the ensuing domestic and civil chaos. 

Margaret's allusion, then, has been consistently misread: 

Hov; often have I tempted Suffolk's tongue, 

The agent of thy foul inconstancy, 

To sit and witch me, as Ascanius did. 

When he to madding Dido would unfold 

His father's acts commenced in bv.rning Troy, 

Am I not witched like her? Or thou not false like him? 

Here Margaret does not refer to the tale of Troy told by Aeneas which con- 
stitutes book two of the Aeneid . She refers to the introduction of Aeneas 
to Dido through the alluring gifts and bewitching words of Ascanius which 
take? place at the end of book one. In Queen Margaret's words. Dido is 
"witched" and made mad with passion by the god-like words of Ascanius even 
before Aeneas tells his lengthy tale. Just as Aeneas misrepresents him- 
self from the very beginning through the god-like words of Ascanius, con- 
tends Margaret, so Renry misrepresents himself to her from the beginning 
through Suffolk. Also, just as the power of Cupid v/orking in Ascanius is 
not responsible fcr the later inconstancy of Aeneas, neither is "Suffolk's 
tongue" responsible for Henry's "foul inconstancy." Thus, Queen Margaret, 

by accurately alluding to Virgil's account of deception by proxy, en- 
riches the rhetoric of her accusation--false though it be-- by comparing 
her situation to Dido being "v/itched" by "Ascanius." 

In Titus Andronicus there are tvjo allusions to Dido: both are 
accurate in detail and thematically integrated into the play. The first 
brings up Dido's hunting trip, the thunderstorm, the cave in which she 
and Aeneas took refuge, and their secret exchange of love. In this allu- 
sion Tamora compares herself to Dido and her lover Aaron to Aeneas. She 
and ^aron have managed, like Dido and Aeneas, to become separated from 
their companions on a hunting trip. Then Tamcra tries to get Aaron to 
make love to her as Dido and Aeneas did after taking refuge in a cave 
during a thunderstorm.. Tamora speaks: 

Let us sit dot^nrl and mark their yelping noise, 
And--after conflict such as was supposed 
The wandering Prince and Dido once enjoyed, 
And curtained with a counsel-keeping cave-- 
We may, each wreathed in the other's arms, 
Our pastimes done, possess a golden slumber. 


All the details here correlate v;ith those in the A ene id (IV . 155--172) and 

are essentially the same as those in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women , 

lines 1204-1231. ^^ 

Shakespeare does, however, make a significant change in tone when 

he adapts the allusion to Tamora' s version of it. In her version, Tamora 

misrepresents the Dido and Aeneas story as an idyllic love story. Her 

lines have a natural charm and idyllic tone instead of Virgil's erotic 

flashes of lightning, conspiring heavens, wailing nymphs, and the for- 


P'or a discussion of the authenticity of these two allusions 

see the follovziug footnote, number 82. 


boding: "I lle dies primus leti primusque raalorum / Causa fuit " (IV, 
16S-170), which Chaucer translates: "this was the first morwe / Of her 
gladnesse, and the ginning of her sorwc" (1230-1). Thus, again, as in 
2 Henry VI, Shakespeare's modification of the allusion is a significant 
indication of his method of adapting a classical story to the character 
who makes the allusion. And again, the well-kno^^m element omitted from 
the allusion foreshadows what eventually happens in the play. For, to 
her chagrin, Tanora's intimacies in the "counsel-keeping cave," as the 
intimacies of Dido in the cave incident of the Aene id, initiate the same 
kind of tragedy for her that Dido experienced. 

Although the second allusion tc Dido in Titus Andronicus is of 


doubtful authenticity, it is, nevertheless, reasonable to assume that 

Shakespeare was familiar with it becai &3 Titus Andronicus was regarded 


In Titus Andronicus Marcus introduces Lucius to the people; 

Speak, Rome's dear friend. As erst our ancestor. 
When with his solemn tongue he did discourse 
To love-sick Dido's sad attending ear 
The story of that baleful burning night 
When subtle Greeks surprised King Priam's Troy, 
Tell us what Sinon hath bewitched our ears. 
Or who hath brought the fatal engine in \ 
That gives our Troy, our Rome, the civil wound. 

(V.iii. 79-87) 
George Peele's "The Tale of Troy" (1589) reads: 

^"Jhile Subtle Grecians lurk'd in Tendos. . . . 

And so bewitched King Prian and his court 

That now at last, tc Troyan's fatal hurt. . . . 

They 'greed to hoist this engine of mischance. 

(400, 404-5, 407) 
Modern critics and editors are in agreement that this and other parallel 
passages constitute weighty evidence of Peele's "having revised Titus 
Andronicus about the end of 1593" (T. W. Ealdx7in, On t he Literar y Gene- 
tics of Shakespeare's Plays, 1592-1594 [Urbana, 1959], p. 415). ' See 
also J. M Robertson, Did Sha kespeare Urite "Titus An dron i cus" ? (London, 
1905); J. M. Robertson, An Intro duction to the Study of the Shakespear e 

as his plf-y by Hemingcs and Condell for the First Foiio, it V7as entered 
for publication by Shakespeare's company ir the Stationers' Register on 
January 23, 1594, and it was listed as one of Shakespeare's tragedies in 
1598 by Francis Meres. However, since the passage has been called into 
question, perhaps it is not strong evidence of Shakespeare's memory; but 
neither does it give comfort to those who would ascribe to Shakespeare a 
bad memory for a highly familiar and popular episode. 

The Dido allusion in The Taming of the Shrew brings out yet an- 
other aspect of Shakespeare's knowledge of Dido, namely Dido's habit of 
confiding in her sister, Anna. Lucentio tells his servant Tranio: 

And now in plainness [l] do confess to thee. 
That art to me as secret and as dear 
As Anna to the Queen of Carthage wab . 
Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio, 
If I achieve not this young modest girl. 

(I. i. 157-61) 

This allusion, though playful, is accurate. Anna was Dido's confidante 

and encouraged her to find a way to detain Aeneas at Carthage. But 

Lucentio, who is not trying to be funny, is ridiculous. For all of his 
"plainness" Lucentio sounds like a Caesar getting ready for a conquest, 
and his expression, "I burn, I pine, I perish," qualifies as a good ex- 
ample of elaborate Petrarchan exaggeration and immature love. Moreover, 

C anon (London, 1924); A. M. Witherspoon, The Y ale Shakespeare: The Trag- 
ed y of Titus An droujcus_ (New Kavcn, 1926), p. 136; and J. Dover Wilson, 
Titus Andronicus (Cambridge, 1948), pp. xxv-1) 


Francis Meres, Pall adis Tar nia: Wi t's T reasury, 1598 (New York, 

Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1938), p. 282. 

See the Aeaeid IV.3S--53, v.mere Anna fans the flame and counsels 
Dido in achieving her love; A enei d IV. 416-436, where Anna is confidante 
of Dido's sorro\:'S; and A-eneid IV. 474-498, vheve Dido hides her suicidal 
intentions behind a serene countenance (Consi lium vul tu tegit, acserenat. 
line 477). 

hi-s confession to Tranio v.'ho is "as secret and as dear / As Anna to the 
Queen of Carthage was" is clearly inappropriate. For "dear" Anna's ad- 
vice v/as one of the initial forces behind Dido's misfortunes in love. 
Also, Dido did not always "in plainness . . . confess," for she care- 
fully excluded Anna from her tragic, suicidal plans until it was too 
late. Dido literally could have said with Lucentio: "I burn, I pine, I 
perish" and her pining would have had more feeling for the funeral pyre 
on which she perished was fired with pine: " Taedis atque ilice secta " 
(IV. 504). This Dido allusion, then, like those discussed so far, demon- 
strates Shakespeare's accurate knowledge of the Dido legend and his prac- 
tice of adapting the details to the speaker's character and to the con- 
text of the play. 

In Rom eo and J uliet there is another accurate allusion to Dido. 
Mercutio twits Romeo in Petrarchan hyperboles about the beauty of his 
lady : 

Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in. 
Laura to his lady was but a kitchen wench-- 
Marry, she had a better love to berhyme her-- 
Dido, a dowdy; Cleopatra, a gypse; Helen and 
Hero, hildings and harlots; Thisbc, a gray 
Eye or so, but not to the purpose. 

(II. iv. 40-45) 

Here the allusion to Dido's famed beauty recalls the profuse praise of 

Dido's goddess-like beauty in the Aeneid (I, 325--40, 496 f .) and Legend 

of Good Wo men (9S3-988, 1004-1014, 1035-1043). This reputation of beauty 

gives Dido allusion precisely the effect Mercutio inuends--superlative 


In A Mid sumjper Ni g ht's Dre am, a pl^y composed, we suppose, shortly 

before Jj^SL^^Syi^E':^' ^"^ have evidence that Shakespeare was well aware of 

the difference between the Dido legend and the Ariadne legend, for it 


contains dcjtailed and accurate allusions to both. After making plans to 

elope, Kerinia swears by the fidelity of Dido to meet Lysander : 

I swear to thee . . . 

By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves, 

And by that fire which burned the Carthage Queen 

When the false Troyan under sail was seen-- 

By- all the vows that ever men have broke. 

In number more than ever women spoke. 

In that same place thou hast appointed me, 

Tomorrow truly will I meet with thee. 

(I. i. 169-178) 

Here the references to the fidelity of Dido, to the "Carthage 
Queen," to the "fire which burned" her to death, to the "false Troyan," 
her seeing Aeneas "under sail," and the "vows" V7hich he "broke" are all 
specific details which correspond to Virgil's description of Dido in the 
Aeneid . Moreover, Eermia skilfully adapts all these selected details to 
her situation concentrating on the fidelity of Dido as a model of her own 
fidelity and pointing out the risk she takes when she ventures trust in 
a man . 

The Ariadne allusion in A Midsummer N igh t's Dr eam occurs when 
Oberon and Titania are accusing one another of infidelity. Titania ac- 
cuses Oberon of having had "the bouncing Amazon," Hippolyta, for his 
"buskin' d mistress" and "warrior love." Oberon replies: ^ 

How canst thou thus for shame, Titania, 

Glance at my credit with Hippolyta, 

Knowing I know thy love to Theseus? 

Didst thou not lead him through the glimmering night, 

From Perigenia, whom^ ha ravished? 

And make him. with fair Aegle break his faith, 

With Ariadne and Antiopa? 

(II. i. 74-80) 

The allusion to Ariadne is general and focuses on only the infidelity of 

Theseus. But it (unlike the allusions to the other three womea)^-' is 


See The Lives of the Nobl e Grec ians and Romans, tr . Thomas North, 


accurate. Moreover, there is no confusion of details possible between 

this allusion and the earlier allusion to Dido. Here Ariadne is seen 

as one of the four women abandoned by Theseus who is about to marry 

Hippolyta, the captured Amazon Queen. V.'hile in act one Dido is seen as 

"the Carthage Queen" v7ho mounted a funeral pyre and died in "that fire 

which burned" on the banks of the sea when the "false Troyan," Aeneas, 

"under sail was seen." 

We should also note here that Ariadne is just one of several 

women abandoned by Theseus. This generic view of Ariadne corresponds 

with the view of her in The Two G entlemen of Verona where she is a type 

for the sorrowing and abandoned woman. Julia tells Silvia about a 

pageant in which she acted Ariadne: 

. . . for at Pentecost 
Wnen all our pageants of delight were played. 

And I did play a lamentable part. 
>[adame, 'twas Ariadne passioning 
For Theseus' perjury and unjust flight, 
^'rtiich I so lively acted with my tears 
That my poor mistress, moved therewithal. 
Wept bitterly; and would I might be dead. 
If I in thought felt not her very sorrowl 

(IV. iv. 163-4, 170-7). 

These lines are very infonuative for they suggest that Ariadne and her 

1579 (University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, 1950), Reel 427. Modem editors 
have emended the Quarto and Folio Eagles to read Aeg_le. North gives the loves of Theseus as Ariadne, Perigouna,. Aegles, and Hyppolita: 
" Aegl es the Nymphe, was loved of Tlieseus" (p. 10); "Clidemus the His- 
toriographer . . . calleth the Amazone which Theseus married, Hyppoli ta, 
and not Antiopa" (p. 15); "This Sinnis had a goodly fayer daughter 
named Perigoun a, which fled awaye. . . . But Theseus fynding her, 
called her, and ST;;arc by his faith he would use her gently, and doe 
her no hurte, nor displeasure at all. Upon which promise she came 
out of the bushe, and laye with him, by whom she was conce^'ved of a 
goodly boye" (p. 5). Perigouna, then, was not ravished. North uses 
the form A riad ne frequently on pages nine through tv/elve. 

"passioning" were well kno\<ni to Elizabethans who attended the miracle 
plays and ''pageants of delight" during the festivities of Whitsuntide. 
Julia also suggests that "Ariadne passioning" is the kind of role played 
so freely, "so lively acted with my tears," that actor and audience 
inspired one another with their melancholy sentiments. Such acting 
would quickly turn Ariadne into "a lamentable part," or a type for the 
sorrowing woman. This allusion, then, is more good evidence that 
Shakespeare was v;ell aware of the difference between Dido and Ariadne, 
for Dido has a specific and well-defined legendary, but Ariadne's 
legendary is generic. In fact, Plutarch mentions so many variants of 
Ariadne's life and death that the only details essential to her story 
are her abandonment and her sorrow. 

In H amlet , again, there is evidence that Shakespeare was well 
aware of Dido, Aeneas, and the tale of Aeneas to Dido, that he accu- 
rately selected those aspects of the Aeneid which are relevant to his 
play, and that he adapted the allusion to the speaker and the context 

North's Plutarch reads: 

They reporte many other things also touching this > 
matter, and specially of Ariadne: but there is no 
trothe nor certeintie in it. For some saye, that 
Ariadne honge her selfe for sorwe, when she saws 
that Theseus had caste her of. Other write, that 
she was transported by m.ariners into the lie of Naxos, 
where she was maryed unto Oenarus, the priest of 
Bacchus: and they thincke that Theseus lefte her, 
bicause he was in love with another, as by these 
verses shulde appear. Aegles, the NjTnphe, vzas loved 
of lliescus. . . . Other holde opinion, that Ariadne 
had two children by Theseus. . . . [According to 
Paenon] she dyed notwithstanding in labour, and 
could never be delivered. . . . And yet there are 
of the Naxians , that repcrte this ocherx.'ise: saying, 
there were two Minces, and two Ariaduees. 
See The Lives of the Noble Graciansand Romans, pp. 11-12. 


of the play. When Hsjnlet v/elcomes the players to Elsinore, he says, 

"Come, a passionate speech" (II.ii.452). He then remembers such a 

speech from a play that "pleased not the millions": 

One speech in it I chiefly loved. ' Tt^as Aeneas' 
tale to Dido, and thereabouts of it especially where 
he speaks of Priam's slaughter. 

(II. ii. 466-70) 

Then follov/s sixty lines from the "passionate speech" of Aaieas to Dido. 
When the player comes to the slaughter of Priam and the Queen's agony at 
watching "Pyrrhus make malicious sport / In mincing with his sword her 
husband's limbs," the actor is so moved that he is asked to stop. Ham- 
let later muses : 

Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect, 
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting 
With forms to his conceit. and all for nothing! 
For Hecuba! Wiat's Hecuba to him, or he co Hecuba, 
That he should weep for her? ^"hat would he do. 
Had he the motive end the cue for passion 
That I have? 

(Tl.ii. 581-588) 

Throughout the passage the names and details are all accurate. Moreover, 

the method of handling the allusion is comparable to the method in The 

Merchant . As T. W. Baldwin notes, the Dido allusion both here and in 

The Merchant dem.oiistrates that Shakespeare is not content "with merely 

selecting sensational episodes; he sets to work deliberately to heighten 

the sensationalism." Thus again, this allusion to Dido demonstrates 

Shakespeare's adequate knowledge of the Aeneid , his ability to select 

those aspects of the Aeneid which are relevant to his own play, and in 

this particular case, his predilection for the "passionate" and poten- 

' T . V7 . B a 1 dw in , On the Litera ry Genetics of Shakespeare's Plays 
II. 420. "" 


tially drat^iatic aspects cf "Aeneas' tale to Dido." 

In Anton y and Cleopatra , Antony compares himself and Cleopatra 

to Aeneas and Dido as if they were the paragon of lovers -till-death. He 

feels that hs is even more of an exemplar than Aeneas because he did 

not forsake Cleopatra, as Aeneas did Dido, but followed her in the sea 

battle and gave all for love. Thus, he feels that the t\7o of them vjill 

have a greater throng of admirers in Elysium than ever Dido and Aeneas 


Dido and her Aeneas shall want troops 
And all the haunts be ours. 


lliis allusion is one of the most subtle, ironic, and unsensa- 
tional of the nine dramatic allusions to Dido. Antony suggests that 
Dido and Aeneas shall lack admiring "troops" because few in Elysium, v/il" 
admire Aeneas for listening to Mercury's call to abandon Dido and folic 
his destiny as founder of Rome. Thius, Antony makes a greater claim for 
fame than the founder of Rome. By forsaking everything in order to re- 
main faichfiil to Cleopatra, Antony lays claim to eternal love even ac 
the expense of losing Rome, his military reputation, and his life. In 
contrast with both Aeneas and Dido, who were interested in strengthen- 
ing their respective kingdoms with the military troops cf the other. 
Antony and Cleopatra's "troops" are their followers in love. 

Shakespeare's last allusion to Dido is the subject of witty ban- 
ter in ;n-ie Tempesfc^ (II.i.76, 78, SI, 100, 101). Gonzalo, who is trying 
to comfort the shipv;recked King and his court, says: 

Beseech you, sirs, be merry. . . . 

Me thinks our garments are now as fresh 

As vjhen we put them on first in Afric, 

At the tnarriage of the King's fair daughter 
Claribel to the King of Tunis. 

(Il.i.l, 68-71) 

Adrian observes that Ttmis was never before graced vzith such a beauti- 
ful Queen. But honest Gonzalo takes exception: "Not since Widow 
Dido's time," and is immediately taV;cn to task by Adrian: "She was of 
Carthage, not of Tunis." But Gonzalo, v;ho knows his classical geog- 
raphy as well as his mythology, assures him: "This Tvmis, sir, was 
Carthage." Gonzalo is factually correct; but in his comparison of 
"Widow Dido's time" with the recent marriage of Alonzo's daughter in 
Tunis, his accuracy and simple optimism are hardly calculated to give 
comfort to the King. After more banter about Dido as widow and Aeneas 
as widower, the King finally interrupts: 

You cram these words into my ears against 
The stomach of m.y sen^e. Wovild I had never 
Married iny daughter there I For, coming thence. 
My son is lost and, in my rate, she too 
Who is so far from Italy removed 
I ne'er again shall see her. 

(II. i. 106-111) 

These allusions to Dido, again, are accurate, playful, and functional 
insofar as they polarize the contention between Gonzalo and the others. 
For the elements of the allusion which Gonzalo seems insensitive to-- 
marriage ending in death and bereavement--are the elements which irri- 
tate the king. 

This examination of Shakespeare's allusions to Dido and his methods 
of integrating these allusions into his plays sheds light on the Dido al- 
lusion in T he Me rchant. We can see that Shakespeare was well aware of 
the legend of Dido as it occurs in the Aeneid and in the Le gend of Good 
Wome n . The allusions are detailed, accurate, and occur for the most 

part in plays written at the same time as 'The Merchan t. We can see that 
Shakespeare usually heightens the sensational aspects of the allusion 
which in turn heightens the emotional intensity of the total context. 
He (or the character) often heightens the complexity of the allusion by 
distorting or by omitting aspects of the legend which are obviously 
parallel with the situation and context of the play. And finally, we 
can see that even the same episode can often be adapted differently in 
the different plays. For example, an allusion to Dido's banquet for 
Aeneas can be sad: in Titus Andronicus the tale of Aeneas falls upon 
"Dido's sad attending ears." It can be an insti-umcnt of deception: in 
2 Henry VI Margaret falsely accuses Henry of bewitching her through Suf- 
folk in the same \iay that Aeneas "witched" a "madding Dido" by sending 
his son Ascanius to her. Or it can be rhetorically moving: in Hamlet 
the tale of Aeneas is a "passionate speech." Priam's slaughter, Hecuba's 
grief, and the player's tears all shaiTie Hamlet and move him toward re- 

This great variety in Shakespeare's method of adapting his sources 
together with his accurate knowledge of the Dido legend calls for a re- 
consideration of the Dido allusion in The Merchan t. All the evidence 
suggests that it is very unlikely that Shakespeare was in error or 
confused about Dido and Ariadne. Thus, we can m.ove on to an examina- 
tion of this allusion in the light of Shakespeare's usual methods of 
handling the Dido allusion and in che context of the lovers' quarrel 
in the garden at Bel-moat. 


Dido, Ariadne, and the. Willow 

At the; beginning of Act Five, LorenEo initiates a lovers' quarrel 
by suggesting that he loves Jessica as much as Chaucer's Troilus who 
sighed out his soul for an unfaithful Cressid on a beautiful, moonlit 
night such as this. Jessica defends herself by saying that she loves 
Lorenzo not like Chaucer's Cressid but like one of Chaucer's "Good Women," 
Thisbe, a martyr for love who on such a moonlit night left hei father and 
home and endured perils of the night alone rather than fail to meet her 
lover. Lorenzo, however, feels that by implication this would m.ake him 
an imiprudent lover who v7ould allov? his beloved to go through a dangerous 
woods unprotected in the middle of the night and who would, as he had 
done, come late besides. Moreover, Lorenzo knows that although Troilus 
had little to do V7ith Cressid 's going ovtr to the enemy camp, Pyramus had 
a great deal to do with Thisbe' s problems vrith her father and her running 
from hom.e and he himself had a great deal to do with Jessica's theft and 
elopement . 

In ansv.'er to this Lorenzo shifts grounds, becomes acadeniic, and 
makes the point that not all of Chaucer's "Good Women" were as good, 
faithful, and loving as Chaucer represented them. He does this by com- 
bining the Virgilian legend of Dido, the Chaucerian legend of Ariadne, 
and the Elizabethan symbol of ths forlorn lover, the willow. Playfully, 
he pictures the proud, ambitious, thwarted, angered, abusive, and suici-- 
dal Dido as a good, abused, abandoned, and sorrowing Ariadne calling her 
lover back with a death symbol, the willow: 

In such a night 
Stood Dido with a ^?illow in her hand 
Upon the V7ild sea banks and V7aft her love 

To come again to Carthage. 


If J as we saw earlier, we are to suppose that this association 
of Dido, Ariadne, and the willov; is not haphazard but intentional, we 
have two possibilities. Either Shakespeare is portraying Loren-zo as 
ignorant of a classical allusion that was well known in tlie Renaissance, 
or Lorenzo's alterations are intentional adaptations and so serve his 
purpose in the lovers' quarrel. Actually, the place in context, the ap- 
propriateness, and the subtlety of the allusion depend on its being an 
intentional adaptation. For Lorenzo evokes those details of the Dido 
legend x^jhich support his position in the lovers' quarrel and v/hich are 
uncomfortably pertinent objections to the stance which Jessica assumes. 

Although Lorenzo mentions Dido and her country of Carthage by 

name, he boirows from Chaucer's legend of Ariadne to picture Dido's 

abandonment generically and romantically in a setting of beauty ("In 

such a night"), remote danger ("Upon the wild sea banks"), melancholy 

loneliness ("Stood Dido"), anticipation of death ('with a willow in her 

hand"), and faithful love despite a bleeding heart ("vjaft her love to 

come again"). Thus, although Lorenzo's allusion contains no mention of 

Ariadne, critics are right in pointing out the parallels between Ariadne 

and the abandoned and forlorn woman in Lorenzo's allusion. A sorrowing 

Dido did not stand on the wild sea banks in the moonlight beckoning her 

^iatthew Arnold quotes this Dido allusion to exemplify "the power 
of natural magic in Celtic poetry" which results in a romantic tone and 
point of view. "Magic is just the v;ord for it, --the magic of nature; 
not merely the beauty of nature, --that the Greeks and Latins had; not 
merely an honest smack of the soil, a faithful realism, ---that the Ger- 
mans had; but the intimate life of Nature, her weird power and her fairy 
charm" (On_th_e_Jtud^' j;2l j:el^yc_M-tj£Jj?tj^"^ [London, 1893], pp. 128, 120-1). 


lover's return with a v.'illow branch; Ariadne called Theseus in this way 
although she waved a white kerchief, not a willov;. Moreover, Lorenzo 
intentionally leaves out references to Dido that are v;ell known, sensa- 
tional, relevant to Jessica's situation, and potentially explosive as an 
indictment in the lovers' quarrel. He presents Dido as a mild, sorrov;- 
ing, wrongly injured Ariadne. The Lep.end of Good Womcit describes such an 
Ariadne at the height of her sorrow: 

No man she saw, and yit shyned the mone, 

And hye upon a rokke she wente sone, 

And saw his barge saylynge in the se. 

Cold we.< hire herte, and ryght thus seyde she: 

"Meker than ye finde I the bestes wildel " 

(VI. 2194-98) 

Thus, by using Ariadne as the model fcr his allusion, Lorenzo is osten- 
sibly comparing Jessica with this innocently wronged, patiently suffer- 
ing, forlorn woman. But hi.^ pit> is feigned. The Dido he mentions m.ay 
have been wnronged by Aeneas, but she was not a forlorn Ariadne. She was. 
as v;e will see shortly, a notoriously strong woman capable of cursing, 
witchcraft, and suicide. 

The willow is also an important indication of Lorenzo's intentions. 
For, in the Renaissance, the willow often s>iabolizes the forlorn lover 
who purges his sorrow by singing the burden: "0 willov;, willow, willow'." 
as he laments his betrayal and claim.s that he will die wearing the willow 
as a sign of his loss. The following ballad of the early seventeenth 
century uses this traditional symbolism: 

I am dead to all pleasure, .my tcue-love is gone, 
0' willov;, willow, willow; 

A sign cf her falseness before ne dcth stand 
v7illow, willov;, willow'. 

As here it doth bid to despair and to dye, 

willow, willow, willow'. 
So hang it, friends, o're me in grave where I lye; 

willow, willow, willow'. 89 

■^■^ Othello Desdemona's vjillow song combines the traditional elements as- 
sociated with the willow: sorrow, rejection, false love, loneliness, and 
death of the forlorn lover. "My mother had a maid called Barbara," says 
Desdemona . 

She was in love, and he she loved proved mad 
And did forsake her. She had a song of "willow"-- 
An old thing 'twas, but it expressed her fortune, 
And she died singing it."*^ 

Desdemona then sings the willow song: 

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree. 

Sing all a green willow. 
Ker hand on her bosom, her head on her knee. 

Sing willow, willow, v/.illoxv. 

Sing all a green willov? must be my garland. 

I called my love false love, but what said he then? 

Sing willow, willow, willow. 
If I court moe vjcmen, you'll couch with inoe men. 

(IV.iii.AO-3, 50, 54-6) 

°°Thomas Percy, Reliq u es of Ancient Engl is h Poet ry (London, 1876), 
Vol. I, Bk. 2, Song 8, p. 199. In the Faerie Quoene Spenser refers to 
the symbolic value of various plants and trees, one of which is the willow; 
The Laurell, meed of mightie Conquerours, 
And Poets sage, the Firre that weepech still, 
The Willow worm of forlorne Paramours. (I.i.ix.1-3) 
Similarly, che willow symbolizes the abandoned, fated, and forlorn lover 
in "The Willow Tree," an early seventeenth century pastoral dialogue in 
The Golden Garland o f Princely Deli ghts (Percy, Reliq ues of Ancient En g- 
lish Po etry , Vol. Ill, Bk. 2, Song 9, p. 137); in the song "I am so farre 
from pittyiag thee," composed by Robert Jones in The M uses Gar din f or 
Delights_ (1611), cd. William Barclay Squire (Oxford, 1901), pp. 18-19; and 
in John Heywood's ballad, "For all the" grene wyllow is m.y garland" in The 
Pap ers of the ^ S hake sp eare Soci ety (London, 1853), I, 44-6. 


William Shakespeare, Othello, ed . H. R. Ridley, Ar d en eaition 

(London, 1958), I'v . iii .26-30. 


V/hen Lorenzo pictures Dido, then, as a woman wafting her lover's return 

with a willow, he is reinforcing the Ariadne type by picturing Dido as 

an innocently wronged, helpless, abandoned, and forlorn woman. 

In the Aenoid, hOv;ever, Dido is hardly the model of a patiently 

forlorn and abandoned v7oman. She is rather a spurned, angry woman who 

listens to maddening rumors about Aeneas preparing his fleet for a voyage, 

rages through the city, and then breaks out against him: 

Dissimulare etiam sperast i, perfide, tantum 
posse nefas, t a ctiusque laea dec eder e te rra? 

. ^.^^^^ 305-6) 

[Traitor, did you think you could silently slip av7ay?] 

When she realizes thi^t she is powerless to change his mind, she bitterly 

curses him: 

1 , seque re I t.a liam, ventis pete re^na p er undas, Spcro 
equi d c m n.edi i s j_ _si_ £ui d pia n umina po ss un t. supplic ia 
hausurum scopu lis, et roraine Dido zae.pQ vocaturum. 
Sequa r atri s ig libu s absens, et , cum fri;j;ida mors anirja 
seduxerit artus, omnibus uoora locis adero. Dabis , im- 
p robe, poenas . Audiam, et haec Manis ven i et mihi fama su b 
imos . 

(IV. 381-7) 

[Gol find Italy, look in the wind and the waves. If the 
good gods can do anything, my hope is that you drain the cup 
of vengeance on the rocks calling Dido's name. I will haunt 
you with the fires of hell, and when chill death overtakes 
you I will still follow you everyvjhere. Wretch, you will 
pay the penalty. I will listen and hear rumors of it even 
from the grave . ] 

She resorts to magic and witchcraft, scattering broken timbers on the 

ocean, until Mercury warns the sleeping Aeneas: 

Ilia dolos dirumque nefas in pectore v&rsat , 
c ert a mor i _^ varicqu e iraru m fluc tuat aestu ^ 

"(IV, 553-4) 

[Grimly turning craft and crime in her bosom, fixe:d 
on death, she swells the shifting ocean of X'/rath . ] 

But at dawn seeing the departing sails of Aeneas and realizing that she 


does not have even one ship to send in armed pursuit. Dido reproaches 
herself : 

Fac es in castr a tulissem 
impleusemque foros flarranis, naturaqu e patremque 
cum genera exstinxem, niem et s uper ip s a dedissem . 

(iv7 604-6) 

[I should have carried torches into his camp and 
filled his decks with flame, extinguished father, 
son, and race all at once, and set myself on top 
of all.] 

The spurned and frustrated Dido, pouring out her last breath to- 
gether with her blood ("Haec pre cor, hanc vocem cum. san p,uine 
fundo"), then begs the gods to curse Aeneas so that between his people 
and hers there might be undying hatred and vzarfarc (IV, 621-9). Ker 
rage approaches a burning madness as she mounts the pyre to kill herself 
amid the flames : 

At tr epida et _£oept^s_J^inmanibus effera Di do, sanpiu ineam 
yoly_ens_ac_ieiri, i naculisque tremcntls ipterf usa_genas^___et 
£al 1 i d a_ mprte futu r a, inter ior a demus inrumpij_lj_mjLn_a , 
et a ltos iL-iIILg.g-^AJi^. f-^ribunda ro,eus , ensemqu e reclud it 
Dardanium . 

(IV, 642-7) 

[But panting and fierce in her awful designs, with 
bloodshot, restless gaze, and spots on her quivering 
cheeks burning through the pallor of imminent death. 
Dido bursts into the inner courts of the house, mounts 
in madness the lofty pyre, and unsheathes the sword of 
Aeneas . ] 

This, then, is the Dido of Carthage whom, "In such a night," Lorenzo 
pictures as standing, 

with a willov; in her hand 
Upon the wild sea banks, and wafting her love 
To come again to Carthage. 

In the context of the lovers' quarrel, then, Lorenzo's pity for a 

foreign Dido "with a willow in her hand" is so unworthy of the legendary 

3 3^: 

Queen of Carthage that his position is clearly ironic. He is feigning 
pity for Jessica; for the Dido of Carthage whom he mentions is the oppo- 
site of the forlorn Ariadne that he makes her. In effect, Jessica is 
claiming: "I am a good woman, like the martyr Thisbe; but you are not a 
good pri'tector." Lorenzo responds: "Poor thing'. You see yourself as a 
weeping Ariadne--abandoncd, alone, fated to die, without fatlicr, husband, 
or lover to protect you. But like the willful Dido, you brought it ou 

Medea: Rejuvenation and Moonlight Magic 

So far the levers' quarrel has proceeded along the following line; 
Lorenzi.', thinking about the beauty of the night, recalls a similar night 
during which an ardent Orroilus sighed for his beloved Cressid. So she 
playfully reminds Lorenzo of another tuch night on which a faithful 
Thisbe left father and home and a lion rather than fail to meet her 
love at their appointed tryst. Bu': Lorenzo imraediately recognizes that 
the second half of this comparison would make him a tardy lover wh.o fool- 
ishly allows his beloved to expose herself to the dangers of wild beasts 
in a forest alone at midnight. So Lorenzo teases Jessica by suggesting 
that instead of being like the good and faithful martyr for love, Thisbe^ 
she is more like the thwarted, suicidal Dido, responsible for her o\ra 
fate and beckoning her lover with a death symbol, and who would like to 
appear as an innocent, abandoned Ariadne. 

At this point Jessica recognizes that Didd s power over Aeneas may 
have been ineffectual, but one of Chaucer's other "Good Women," Medea, 
had a pov7er over Jason that was undisputed. So Jessica tries c;gain to 
"outnight" Lorenzo with: 

In such a night 
Medea gathered th' enchanted herbs 
That did renew old Aeson. 


Here Jessica is suggesting several things. In response to Lorenzo's 

Dido allusion, Jessica suggests that she is not a ^^7himpering, forlorn, 

pov;erles3 Dido but a good Medea with enchanting pov;ers for new life. On 

such a beautiful moonlit night, a grateful Medea rejuvenated the aged 

father of a loving Jason after helping him attain the golden fleece. 

Thus, Jessica is again claiming to be faithful and loving because she 

has helped Lorenzo metaphorically attain the golden fleece; and like 

Medea, she can bring ne\i? life to a loving Lorenzo. 

Although Jessica again tries to capture the baauty of the night 
and the enchantment of the moon, she again, as in the previous allusions, 
is playful and contentious; for during the Renaissance Medea has the 
well-defined reputation of being a v/itch. By relying on Medea's reputa- 
tion, Jessica is warning Lorenzo to beware the awful povzers of a spurned 
Medea. For the sorrow and imprecations of an abused Dido liurled at a 
parting Aeneas had little power to turn him back, but "th' enchanted 
herbs" of a Medea, gathered in the light of the moon, were notoriously 
potent . 

In Ovid's Metamorphoses and in most Elizabethan versions of the 
Medea legend, Medea is hardly a Dido mounting her funeral pyre or an 
Ariadne weeping and forlorn in her abandonm.ent . She is rather one of 
the most treacherous and vindictive of women. As Ovid presents her, 
Medea used her incantations and boiling cauldrons net only when she 
gave Aeson back his youth but more frequently when she wanted to further 
her ambition, treachery, and revenge. In fact, the distinction between 


Medea's white magic and her black magic is so slight in the Metamorphoses 
that only the result distinguishes one from the other. 

In preparing for Aeson's rejuvenation, Medea invoked the full 
moon, the stars, Hecate, and a host of gods and goddesses. For nine 
rights she ascended in a chariot dra\^m by flying serpents to gather dis- 
tant herbs and plants. She sacrificed black sheep, poured libations of 
milk and wine, charmed Aeson into a death-like sleep, boiled a cauldron 
of potent herbs, seeds, acrid juices, sand, stones from the east, hoar- 
frost, the head and wings of a screech-owl, the entrails of a vzerewolf, 

a snake skin, a stag's liver, the head of a crow, and a thousand other 

nameless items (" et m ille aliis postquam sine nomine rebus "). She then 

cut A.esun's throat, let out his old blood, and used the boiling contents 

of the cauldron to give him a complete blood change. The results were 

amazing : 

barbar a co m.aoque 
canitie posita nigr u m rapue r e co l orem , 
pulsa fu^it maci e s, abeunt pa l lorque situsque , 
adi ectocue cava e supplentur corpore rugae , 
m embraqu e luxuriant; Aeson miratur et olim 
ante quat3r denos hunc se reminiscitu r annos . 

[Aeson's grey hair and beard turned black; his 
leanness disappeared; his pallor and look of neglect 
were gone; his deep ^•n: inkles becarae smooth; and 
his limbs became strong. Filled with wonder, ^ 
Aeson remembered what he was like forty years ago.] 

(VII. 288- 93) 

^^CK'id, Meta- porphose s, ed . T. E. Page (London, 1928), VII, 275. 

^^Literally, and remem.bered himself once upon a time before forty 
years, Golding translates, "At which he vondring much, / R.emembered that 
at fortie yeares he was the same or such" (Sha k espeare's Ovi d, VII, 378-9), 
Since ante is a preposition governing the accusative case and oli m means 
formerly or cnce upon a time, the phrase is aiublgucus. Most translators 
give the sense of forty years ago. 

Immediately after this Ovid narrates Medea's second adventure in 
the art of rejuvenation. King Pelias, the usurping uncle of Jason, re- 
fused to surrender the throne to Jason ijhen he reached his majority. 
When the daughters of Pelias saw v;hat Medea had done for Aeson, they 
wished the same for their father. So, under the guise of kinship, but 
with her eye on kingship, Medea offers her services. She prepares all 
the herbs as before but substitutes impotent herbs for some of the es- 
sential ingredients. When the daughters find difficulty in draining the 
blood of their sleeping father, Medea upbraids them until, 

Ill e cruore flu ens, cubi ta tamen ad levat artus, 
s emilacerque t oro temp t a f . consurg ere, et inter 
tot medium gladj. os pallenti a bra cchia tendeus 
"quid fac i tis, gnatae? quid vcs in fat a paren tis 

[The old man, half mangled and streaming with blood, 
raised himself on his elbow and tried to get out of 
bed. With swords coming at him from all directions, 
he stretched out his pale arms and cried: "Wliat are 
you doing, my daughters? Why are you killing your 

(VII. 343-47) 

To keep him from saying any more, Medea cuts his throat and plunges his 

mangled body into the boiling v/ater : 

Plura locuturo cum verbis guttura Colchi s 
abstulit et c al idis laniatum mersit in undis . 

(VII, 348-9) 

She then escapes in her chariot drawn by winged snakes. 

Wl-ien Jessica alludes to the rejuvenation of ''old Aeson" she selects 

an example of Medea's love for her husband and her father-in-law; but she 

also inevitably recalls this parallel example of Medea's treachery for it 

comes immediately after the rejuvenation, of Aeson. She also inevitably 

recalls other aspects of Medea's notorious reputation. After murdering 


Pelias, Medea arrives at Corinth in her snake-drawa chariot and finds 
Jason with a new bride, Creusa, the daughter of King Creon. Medea sends 
Creusa a poisoned robe as a bridal gift which bursts into flames, con- 
sumes the v;hole palace, and kills Creusa and King Creon. Medea then 
kills the two children that she had by Jason and again escapes in her 
serpent-drawn chariot. 

Ovid finishes his account of Media by giving one more example of 
her treachery. King Aegeus hospitably receives Media; and " facto da ninan- 
dus in uno " (as if that were not enough to doom him, VII. 4C2), Aegeus then 
marries her. Theseus, his son, returns after many years and is unknowingly 
received as a guest. But Medea knows who he is and feels threatened, so 
she mixes a cup of poison herbs and persuades Aegeus to present it to this 
supposed enemy. Then, 

Sumpserat ignara Theseus data p ocu la dextr a, 
cum pater in capiilo gladi i c ognovit eburno 
si gna sui gener is f ac inusq ue excussit ab or e . 

(VII, 421-3) 

[As Theseus raised the cup, his father recognized 
the family emblem on his sword and knocked the 
poisoned cup from his lips.] 

Medea, however, conjured up a dark cloud and escapes in it. 

This, then, is the Medea which the Elizabethans were familiar with 
both in translation and in the original Latin. And, contends Jessica, 
this is the kind of woman she is rather than a suicidal Dido or a weeping 
Ariadne. V/lien Jason spurned Medea, death ensued; but when he returned 
her love, new life came forth. Medea has an awesome power over life and 
death which Dido and Ariadne did not possess. 

In the context of the lovers' quarrel, however, Jessica is not 
only calling attention to the power of Medea to rejuvenate and to the 

inadequacies of Lorenzo's previous allusion, she is also trying to pre- 
sent herself in a favorable light. Thus it is not enough for her to de- 
pict Medea as one of the martyrs on Cupid's calendar as she had done with 
Thisbe. For Lorenzo discredited this martyr concept, playfully mocking 
it as a persecution complex exemplified by the suicidal Dido and forlorn 
Ariadne, quondam martyrs on Cupid's calendar of saints. In the Medea al- 
lusion, then, Jessica transforms the terrible Medea into a fairyland 
princess who, "In such a night . . . gathered th' enchanted herbs / That 
did renev; old Aeson (V.i. 12-14). And in so doing, by selecting a reputed 
witch for her model in love, Jessica suggests that even the worst of women 
have their male detractors--and admirers. 

Jessica's allusion also benefits from Medea's reputation in Eng- 
lish literature. Here Medea's reputation is ambivalent and often the sub- 
ject matter for a playful battle of the sexes, and, as in the case of 
Golding, the material for an enchanting bit of moonlight magic. Cower, 
for example, vindicaces the treacherous Medea by presenting the legend 
of Medea as an exemplum of the male "vice of perjurie": 

Hou the wommen deceived are. 

Whan thei so tendre herte bere 

Of that thei hieren men so sv;ere; 

Bot what it comth unto thassay, 

Thei finde it fals an other day: 
go ■' 

As Jason dede to Medee. 

^-^Confessio, Am.antis,, V.3225, 3236-41. Steevens suggests that the 
source for Jessica's allusion to Medea is Gov/er's Confessio Amantis (V. 

So, Cower, speaking of Medea: 
Thus it befell upon a night 
Wliann there was nought but sterre light 
She vanished right as hir list, 
That nc wight but herself wist: 


Gower also rainimizes the treacherous machinations of Medea. He leaves 
out Medea's murder of King Pelius and her deceitful attempt to get Aegeus 
to poison his own son, Theseus. He minimizes the vindictiveness of Medea 
when she murdered Creusa with a poisoned rcbe and killed Jason's sons be- 
fore his eyes suggesting that Jason was really getting what he deserved: 

Thus might thou se what sorwe it doth 
To swere an oth which is noght soth, 
In loves cause namely. 

(V. 4223-5) 

In the Legend of Good Women Medea is playfully portrayed as a 

martyr for love. And the only rev;ard she can expect for loving Jason is 

ingratitude : 

This is the mcde of lovynge and guerdoun 
That Medea receyved of Jasoun 

Ryght for hire trouthe and for hire hyndenesse. 
That lovede hym beter than hireself, I gesse, 
And lafte hire fader and hir herycage. 

(Legend of Good Women, 1662-5) 

But Chaucer's sympathy for Medea is feigned, for he wryly observes that 

this good woman gave all for love and in succumbing to Jason loved him 

"beter than hirself, I gesse" (1665). 

And that was at midnight tide, 

The world was still on every side. 
(Mal one Shakespeare , 1790, p. 92n) . But in Th e Merc hant the magic herbs 
were gathered in the light of the moon, which Root observes is the "point 
of the allusion" (Classic al Mythology, p. 40). Gower mentions "noght but 
sterre light." Moreover, in Gower ' s version of the Medea legend, it is 
nine hectic days and nights later that Medea finally boils, rather than 
gathers, her cauldron of herbs "in the ne^;e mone" (V.4115). 

^ As we saw earlier. Hunter felt "that Shakespeare was indebted to 
Chaucer; that in fact, the old folio of Chaucer was lying open before him 
when he wrote this dialogue, and that there he found Thisbe, Dido, and 
Medea, as well as Troilus. It is at least certain that Thisbe, Dido, and 
Medea do occur toget?ier in Chaucer's Lege nd of Good W o.T^.en , which in the 
folio imraediately follows the Troilus" (N o v; 11 1 us t r a t -:. o n s , 1.313). But as 
Furness notes, in the Legend of_ Good Worrca "we have no moon, nor even the 
going out at night to gather herbs" (Varioi^jajTs, p. 239). Moreover, Chaucer 
ccnpietcly omits Medea's renewal of "old Aeson." 


The presentation of Medea in Lydgate is also playful, and this 

time openly in the tradition of the battle of the sexes. In the Troy 

Book , Lydgate presents Medea as a conniving female. Jason is simply an 

adventurous knight looking for the golden fleece, and his affair with 
Medea is only one of the episodes in his quest. With tongue-in-cheek 
Lydgate defends the perfection of ail women and apologizes as a trans- 
lator who cannot be held accountable for another's opinion of women: 

I am right sory in englishe to translate 
Reprcfe of hem, or any evel to seye. 


For women are "gode and parfyte everechon" and should never be blamed for 

taking a new lover, "For ofte tyme thei se men do the same." 

Golding, on the other hand, works wonders in transforming the 
terrible Medea into a fairyland princess. Jessica also does the same, for 
her argument is that even a witch like Medea, who is playfully defended 
by some and defamed by most, can be transformed by either hate or love. 
A vindictive, ambitious, and hateful Medea uses her power to bring death, 
but a loving Medea marvelously resurrects and frees those held in the 
bondage of old age and death. 

In Golding' s description of Medea, Jessica finds the themes, 
images, words, and tone most complimentary to her stance in the lovers' 


"It is T'/orchy of notice that all the allusions to the Argonauts 

in the genuine plays occur in March" (Root, Class ical My th olo gy, p. 39). 
From this we mighc reasonably assume that in writing T he ^ Mercha nt, Shake- 
speare had recently made himself familiar with the legend of Medea, Jason, 
and the golden fleece. The y^£2X^S2h contains a full account. 

" John Lydgate, Lydgate' s Tr oy Book , ed. Henry Bergen (London, 
1906), 1.2100-01, 2105, 2110. 'l have modernized J and b . 


quarrel.'' The inrnediately recognizable parallels bsLweeii Goldlng's Ovid 

and JeEsica's lines are in the references to herbs, to Medea gathering 

them by moonlight, and in the v.'ord rene w. Also, C-olding's sympathetic 

portrayal of Medea is particularly useful to Jessica. For Golding seems 

to be little bothered by the treachery of Medea as it is narrated in the 

Meta mo rphoses and reflected in most E.cnaissance versions. 

Golding emphasizes Medea's sacrifices and her pov/er of love: 

And shall I then leave brother, sister, father, kith and kin. 
And household Gods, and native scyle, and all that is therein. 
And saile I knov/ not whither with a straunger? yea: V7hy not? 
My father surely cruell is, my Countrie rude God wot. 98 

He docs all he can to excuse Medea's "frantick love" (VII. 103): 

. . . but sure it doth behove 
Hir judgement should be borne withall bicause she was in love. 

(VII. 121-2) 

He emphasizes that Jason "made a solernne vow, and sware to take hir to 

his wife" (VII. 135), and that Medea's "father surely cruell is" (VII. 141). 

Thus, Medea opposes her father's will and "str eight way" gives Jason the 

"Enchaunted herbes" QJll.lUl) making it possible for hira to win the golden 


After securing the golden fleece, Jason asks for yet another 

blessing : 

wife to whome I do confesse I owe my life in deede. 

Though al things thou to me hast given, and thy deserts exceede 


Hunter V7as the first to notice the correlation of images and 

diction between The Merc hant and Golding' s Ovi d, a correlation which is 

more significant iu view of the fact that Golding' s version at this point 

"departs widely from the Latin original" according to Root (Class ical 

Mythol ogy, p. 40). See also Joseph Hunter, New Illus tra tio ns, p. 240; 

Dover Wilson. N_.j3^i_S_^, p. 167; and Brown, Arden edition, p. 125. 

Shakespeare's 0-/id, Bein<; Arthur G oldlng's Transl a tion of the 
Metamorp hoses, ed . W. H. D. Rouse (Illinois, 1951), VII, 71-74. 


Belief e: yet if enchauntment can, (for what so hard appear es 
Which strong enchauntment can not doc?) abate thou from my yeares, 
And adde them to my father's life. As he these wordes did speake. 
The teares were standing in his ej'es . His godly sute did breake 
Medeas heart. 

(VXI. 226-232) 

Medea's sympathy and love, hov7ever, will not permit her to subtract life 

from the son in order to give it to the father. She generously offers: 

I will put in proofe 
A greater gift than you require, and more for your behoof e. 
I will assay your fathers life by cunning to prolong. 
And not with your yeares for to make him yong again and strong. 

(VII. 23 8 -241) 

In many of the sources, Medea's rejuvenation of Aeson takes on 

the aura of witchcraft. Thus, Ovid suggests that Medea's magic is the 

rite of a barbaric woman: 

His et m ilie aliis po stqu ani si ne nomi ne rebus 
Propositum in struxit m.ortali b arbar a m aius . 

' (VII. 275-6) 

But Golding seems ro have been impressed less with Medea's black arts 

than with her intense love of Jason, her compassionate rejuvenation of 

Jason's father, and the awesome power of white magic. Thus, as Golding 

represents her, Medea calls upon the benign influences rather than upon 

the malignant ones. Her restoration of Aeson has much of the charm of 

Prospero's enchantment in the Tempest . 

Golding' s passage provides the images and the sense of enchantment 

as Medea gathers her magic herbs in the light of the m.oon : 

Before the Moone should circlewiss close both hir homes in one 
Three nightes were yet as then to come. Assone as that she shone 


Furness feels that these Knes of Golding "assuredly lingered in 

Shakespeare's memory" when he- wrote "Prospero's invocation: 'Ye elves of 

hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves" (V'arior_um edition of The_Mcr£hant, 

p. 240n). 


Most full of light, and did behold the earth with fulsome face, 
Medea V7ith hir hairc not trust so much as in a lace [began her 
rites] . 

(VII. 224-7) 

Medea looks to the stars which "fair and bright did in the welkin shine," 

"To which she lifting up hir handes did thrise hirselfe eiicline. And 

thrice with water of the brooke hir haire besprincled shee" (VII. 254-6). 

She then invokes the hidden powers of nature: 

trustie tim? of night 
Most faithfull unto privaties, golden starres v7hose light 
Doth jointly v/ith the Moone succeede the beams that blaze by 

Ye Charmes and Witchcrafts, and thou Earth which both with 

herbe and weed 
Of mightie worKing furnishest the Wizardes at their neede:- 
Ye Ayres and v/indes : ye Elves of Killes, of Brookes, of Woods 

Of standing Lakes, and of the Night approche ye everychone. 
Through helpe of whom (the crooked bankes much wondring at 

the thing) 
I have compelled streames to run cleane backward to their spring. 
By charmes I make the calme Seas rough, and make the rough Seas 

And cover all the Skie with Cloudes, and chase them thence 

againe . 

(VII. 258-70) 

There is nothing here to suggest that Medea is practicing the black arts. 

She is rather turning the powerful forces in nature to good purpose. 

Medea then flies to the highest mountain to, 

. . . view 

What herbes on high mount Pelion, and what on Ossa grew. 
And what on Mountaine Othris, and on Pyndus growing V7ere, 
And what Olympus (greater than mount Pyndus far) did bears. 
Such heroes of them as liked hir she pullde up roote and 

(VII. 294- S) 


Nine dayes with winged Dragons drav^en, nine nights in 
Chariot swift 

She searching everie field and frith from place to place did 
shift . 

(VII. 309-310) 

She begs, 

'. . . all the Elves and Gods that on or in the earth doe dwell. 
To spare olde Aesons life a while, and not in hast deprive 
His limmes of that same aged soule which kept them yet alive. 

(VII. 326-8) 

After boiling the herbs, she replaces the "old bloud" of Aeson with the 

"boyled juice" of the herbs. Suddenly, Aeson' s hair. 

As well of head as beard, from gray to coleblacke turned were. 
His Icane, pale, hore, and withered corse grew fulsome, faire 

and fresh: 
His furrov/ed wrincles were fulfilde with yonga and lustie 

His limmes waxt frolicke, baine and lithe: at which he wondring 

Remembred that at for tie yeares he was the same or such. 
And as from dull unv7ieldsome age to youth he backward drew: 
Even so a lively youthful spright did in his heart renew. 

(VII. 375- 81) 

In her allusion Jessicc has borrowed Golding' s night imagery with 
its "golden starres whose light / Doth jointly with the Koone succeede 
the beams that blaze by day." She has absorbed Gelding's sense of en- 
chantment and recalled that "In such a night Medea gathered the enchanted 
herbs." She has used Gelding's diction in the phrase, "That did renew 
old Aeson," for Golding describes Aeson' s rejuvenation: "Even so a lively 
youthful! spright did in his heart renew." 

There is also another context to Jessica's allusion, namely, the 

other Jason-Medea allusions in The Merchant . The Merchant frequenrly 

refers to men as Jasons in quest of the golden fleece. For example, 

Bassanio describes his love quest to Antonio as follows: 

In Belmont is a Lady richly loft, 

And she is faire, and fairer than that word 


Nor is the wide world ignorant of her v;crth. 
For the foure windes blow in from every coast 
Renouned suitors, and her sunny locks 
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece. 
Which makes her seat of B' ^lmont Colchos ' strcnd. 
And many Jasons come in quest of her. 1^0 

Later Gratiano also tells Salerio that Bassanlo and he are Jasons and 

that they have won their golden fleece by attaining the hands of Portia 

and Nerissa : 

Your hand Salerio, --T.\/hat' s the news frova Venice? 

Hov7 doth that royal merchant good Antonio? 

I know he will be glad of our success, 

We are the Jasons, we have won the fleece. 

(III. ii. 237-40) 

In Act Five, then, when Jessica refers to Medea's renewal of old Acson, 
she is also recalling a motif that has already sounded tv7i(;e in the play. 
She is suggesting to Lorenzo that she is really the golden fleece which 
he has carried off. She has left father and home in order to be with him, 
And like Medea, she brings youth, love, and life in herself, the golden 
fleece. In the following response Lorenzo will challenge this interpre- 

Of the four classical allusions made by Lorenzo and Jessica, per- 
haps the Medea allusion is the richest. All four are parallel insofar as 
they deal with similar images, motifs, and tone: moonlight, a lovers' 
quarrel, fidelity, elopement, abandonment, death, life, paternal love, 
and filial gratitude. The first two allusions focus on fidelity: Iroilus 

The Merchant, I. i. 171-2, 178-82. If Shakespeare was using 
Golding's Ov_id for this passage, " Colcho s ' strond" would seem to be the 
correct reading and the following variants incorrect: "Cholchos strond" 
(Folio and Furness ^ Variorum): "Colchos' strand" (Steevens, et al., MaJ^one 
.§1L^^:£E.?£IA}. • Golding's Ovid reads: "Jason safely took the fleece of 
golde. . . . And so with conquest and a wife he loosde from Colc hos 
strond" (VII. 215, 218). ' 


as an example of a faithful lover, and Thisbc as an example of sacrifi- 
cial fidelity. And the second two allusions focus on life, death, and 
suffering of lovers: Dido beckons the return of her lover V7ith a death 
symbol; V7hile Medea's love is so intense that she V7i] 1 bestow life, youth 
and golden fleece out of gratitude, but if spurned she will bring vindi- 
cating death. 

Jessica's Unthrift Love and the Pattern of Quarreling 

The patterns of unthrift love and quarreling throughout the v;hole 
and especially in the last act of The Merchant suggest the ambiguity of 
the resolution and harmony of Belmont and of the play itself. Up to this 
point in the levers' quarrel, Lorenzo and Jessica hide the relevant issues 
behind a montage of Biblical, liturgical, and classical allusions. In his 
first allusion, Lorenzo makes no mention of the risk involved in trusting 
people, nor of the fact that love brings death. Yet this is his point, and 
Jessica knows it, for she defends her trustworthiness and love by allud- 
ing to Thisbe. But the relevant issues are again submerged; she makes no 
open mention of martyrdom and sacrificing all for love. Lorenzo, however, 
recognizes the issues and suggests that the so-called martyr. Dido, while 
trying to appear like a good woman who \~i3.s unjustly abandoned, was really 
a vindictive, self-willed, suicidal witch. With no hesitation, Jessica 
alludes to Medea and reiterates one of the central motifs of The Merchant : 
love and hate transform both men and women; hate brings death to both; 
while love-- if one is vjilling to die for the other--paradoxically brings 
new life to both. 

So far Lorenzo also seems to be losing the argument, and Jessica 


truthfully claims, "I V70uld out-night you did nobody come" (V.i.23). 
When Lorenzo says he is a faithful Troilus, Jessica replies that he i s 
more like a Pyramus full of promises but too slov; in keeping them. And 
when Lorenzo playfully mocks Jessica's self-portrait as a martyr and tells 
her she beckons with a death symbol in the name of love, Jessica reminds 
him that even Medea the witch responded to Aeson's love with blessings of 
renewed life and vigor, with treasures and the golden fleece. 

At this point Lorenzo openly and playfully recalls Jessica's 
elopement, disobedience, ingratitude, prodigality, and theft, saying in 
effect, "Is your stealing supposed to be my blessing?" Dropping the clas- 
sical pattern and retaining the liturgical pattern, Lorenzo answers: 

In such a night 
Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew 
And with an unthrif L love did run from Venice, 
As far as T.cli.iont. 

(V.i. 14-17) 

Lorenzo is using the word steal ambiguously. It was bad enough, he puns, 
to "steal" away from your father, bat it was worse to "steal" his money, 
his family jewels, and to cut yourself off completely from "the wealthy 

Lorenzo's use of the word u nthrif t also has a double meaning since 
Jessica squandered the tV7enty ducats stolen from Shylock and she also 
loved Lorenzo with an uncalculating, simple, generous, trusting, "un- 
thrift love." Thus, in matters of both love and money Jessica's uncon- 
cern for thrift is diametrically opposed to her father's philosophy of 
thrift . Lorenzo playfully and directly focuses on the opposition between 
thrift and sacrificial love, Jessica and her father. In effect he is say- 
ing, ycur father's life depends on his thrift, money, and interest, while 


you have demo.-'stiated ycur prodigality and now claim that an unthrift and 

prodigal love brings ne\i life. 

As we S3\7 earlier, Shylock's philosophy of thrift and increase 

has been a recurrent theme and a point of tension between himself and 

Christians : 

I hate him for he is a Christian, 

But more for that in low simplicity 

He lends out money gratis and brings do\7n. 

The rate of usance. 


For Shylock there is no blessing or happiness in Christian generosity and 

in prodigal love. He sees the blessings of God in the calculating thrift 

and self-sustaining efforts of Jacob who outwitted his brother Esau and 

his uncle Laban: "This was a way to thrive, and he was blest. / And 

thrift is blessing, if men steal it not" (I .iii . 90-1) . He also tries to 

teach Jessica to be of like mind: "Fast bind, fast find, / A proverb 

never stale in thrifty mind" (II. v. 54-5) 

Shylock also rejects mercy as a type of unthrift love. When 

Portia says, "Then must the Jew be merciful," Shylock simpl> replies: 

"On what compulsion must I? Tell me that" (IV . i . 182-3) . Portia then 

tries to soften Shylock's hardened heart by reminding him that mercy is 

the better half of justice and an "attribute to God himself": 

The quality of m.ercy is not strain' d, 

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven 

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest. 

It blesscth him. chat gives, and him that takes. 

It is an attribute to God himself; 
And earthly pov/er doth then show likest God's 
^Jhen m.ercy seasons justice: therefore Jew, 
Though justice be thy plea, consider this, 


That in the course of justice., none, of us 
Should see salvation : 1^1 ^q do pray for mercy. 
And that same prayer, doth teach us all to render 
The deeds of mercy. 

(IV. i. 180-3, 191-8) 

Here Portia uses images and themes from Scripture and the liturgy. But 

they are so smoothly integrated into her speech that Richmond Noble, 

after mentioning that Shakespeare is "indebted to Ecclus. 35:19 and Deut . 

32:2," cautiously observes that this is a "more difficult exam.ple" of one 

of Shakespeare's allusions to the Bible. For Shakespeare "was fond of 

paraphrase, like a man v;ho loves words and tries his hand at free trans- 


Ecclesiasticus reads: "0 hbwe faire a thing is mercie in the 

time of anguishe and trouble? it is like a cloudc of rainc that comoth 

in the time of drought" (35:19). Deuteronomy reads: ">iy doctrine shall 

drop as doeth the raine : and my speache shall flovje as doeth the dew, as 

the showre upon the hearbes, and as the droppes upon the grasse" (32:2). 

Portia's images also recall the popular liturgical hynai cf Advent, the 

"Rorate Caeli" : 

Refrain: Send do^-m rain from above, you heavens, and pour 
forth the just, you clouds. 

Verse 1: Do not be angry, Lord, nor always mindful of our 
iniquity. See, the Holy City is deserted, Jerusalem has be- 
come deserted, Jerusalem is desolate--the heme of your holi- 
ness and glory, where our fathers praised you. 

As Noble points out, this is an allusion to Psalm. 143:2: "Entei 
not into judgemente with thy servants, Lord, for no fleshe is righteous 
in thy syght" (Shakegpears' s Biblical Know ledge , p. 167). This verse is 
also quoted at morning prayers on the thirtieth day of each month (Prayer 
Book [1559], p. 311), and is a doctrine heavily strested b}' Calvin. 

Shakespeare's Biblic al Knowledge, p. 26. 


Refrain; Send doxcn rain from above, you heavens, and pour forth 
the just, you clouds. 

Verse 2: We have sinned and become like the unclean; we have 
fallen like leaves on the earth and our iniquities have blown 
us about like the wind. You have hidden your face from us and 
lifted us in your hand to judge our iniquity. 

Refrain: Send down rain from above, you heavens, and pour forth 
the just, 5'ou clouds. 

Verse 3: Lord, look upon the affliction of your people and 
send them help. Lord of earth, send the Lamb from the desert 
rocks to the mountain, to your daughter, Jerusalem that the 
yoke of oar captivity might be lifted off. 

Refrain: Send down rain from above, you heavens, and pour forth 
the just, you clouds. 

Verse 4: Be con.forced, be comforted, my people: your help will 
come quickly. Why are you consumed with sorrov;? why does sad- 
ness waste you av^ay? I will save you, do not fear. Holy Israel, 
for I am the Lord your God, your E.edeemer . 

R.efrain : Send do^-m rain frcn^abovc, you heavens, and pour 
forth the just, you clouds.-'-"^ 

Portia, then, pictures mercy as an abundant, uncalculating love 

extending to the sad, afflicted, abandoned, wronged, needy, bankrupt, and 

prodigal. And in Shylock's thrifty mind such mercy is a prodigal love: 

"tell me not of mercy-- this is the fool that lends out money gratis" 

(III .iii .1-2) . Shylock is more comfortable with the following Biblica.L 

thought and image of abundance: 

The Lorde shall make thee an holy people unto himself, as 
he hath sworne unto thee. . . . and all nations of the 
earth shall see. . . . The Lorde shall open unto thee his 
good treasure, the heaven to give raine unto thy land in 
due season . . . and thou shalt lende unto many nations, 
but Shalt not borowe thy selfe. (Deut . 28:9-10, 12) 


This is my translation of the Latin which can be found in Ap- 
pendix II along with the music. Ca ntus ad Processi ones et Benedictiones 
SSmi. Sacram'^.nti (Glen Rock, N . J . , 1927), pp. 18-19"; also in Liber Usua lis, 
ed . by the Benedictines of Solesme (Tournai, Eelgiuii., 1938), p. 1858. 


But as the Ci shops' B ible (1585) points out in a gloss: "nothing upon 
earth can prosper, unlesse God by his heavenly blessing encrease and con- 
serve it. For he will declare that he is thy God, that thou art his 
chosen people." The abundant harmony and resolution of Belmont comes 
gratis from hea\?en falling not upon the thrifty and self-sufficient but 
upon those who are willing to be prodigal with their love and run the risk 
of trusting people. 

However, the harmony of Belmont and the resolution of The Merchant 
is dimly perceptible because it is built on a paradox. Characteristic of 
this paradoxical or seeming harmony is the importance of quarrels in The 
M erchant . The play opens and closes with quarrels, suggesting that reso- 
lution and harmony are bat dimly perceived by any in T he Merchant . In Act 
One Shylock and Antonio angrily clash over money and usury in a matter of 
life and death. Act Five opens with the playful lovers' quarrel and 
closes with the playful ring quarrel, quarrels in which the lovers de- 
mand even more than Shylo;k, namely, the willingness to die. And, amaz- 
ingly, the death demanded by lovers offers a more harm.onious, though para- 
doxical, resolution than the death demanded by an enemy. 

At this point, I believe, we can risk saying that Shakespeare's 
use of Biblical, liturgical, and classical allusions is not only functional 
and accurate but also ornamental. And in conclusion, I would like to ex- 
amine one more montage of allusions from Act pive. Gazing at the bright 
stars and moon shining above the garden, Lorenzo tells Jessica: 

. . . look how the floor of heaven 

Is thick inlaid V7ith patens of bright gold, 

There's not the smallest orb v;hich thou behold' st 

But in his motion like an angel sings. 

Still quiring to the young-ey'd Cherubins; 

Such harmony is in immortal souls. 

But whilst tliis muddy vesture of decay 
Doth grossly close it in, V7e cannot hear it. 


Although Lorenzo is alluding to the music of the spheres, those "touches 
of sweet harmony" which only those freed from "this muddy vesture of de- 
cay" can hear, he is also using v/ords with a religious connotation and an 
image that suggests the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. He refers to the sky 
as the "floor of heaven." He refers to the stars as "patens of bright 

gold," that is, like the thin gold plate used to hold the "bread of heaven" 


in the distribution of Holy Communion. He refers to the harmonious 

motion of the spheres each of which "sings" "like an angel," "quiring" to 
the bright-eyed "Cherubins." And he refers to man's body as "this muddy 
vesture cf decay," the central image of the liturgy for Ash Wednesday. 
On Ash Wednesday the priest places ashes and dust on the foreheads of all 
the people reminding each one: "M ement o homo q uia c ini s es ; et in cinerem 

reverte r is" (Remember, man, that you are dust and V7ill return again to 


The Eucharistic bread is often called the bread of (or from) 
heaven, an allusion to the Kanna which God sent do\im. For example, in 
the devotion called Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the priest dis- 
plays the Eucharist on the altar for the congregation to see and then 
chants the versicle: " Panem de caelo prae stitist i e is " (You gave them 
bread from heaven) . The people answer : " OTaiie delectamentum i n se habe n- 
ten (which contains every delight,) Cantus ad Pr ocessiones et Benedictione s 
SS mi. Sacr amenti, p. 95. 

"" Salisbury Pro cess ional, f o . xxxiii. The P rayer Book (1559), 
retained the Ash Wednesday liturgy but simplified it. See also John Er- 
skins Hankins, Shake s peare' s Derived Imagery (Lawrence, Kans . , 1953), pp. 
39-53, for a discussion of Shaketipeare' s use of "And all our yesterdays 
have lighted fools / The way to dusty death" ( Macbeth , V. v. 22-3). Hankins 
notes several sources for this image: Genesis 3:9, the Burial Service in 
the Prayer Book, Job 34:15, Psalms 103:14, and Ecclesiastes 3:20. 


When Loren2;o explains that each of the spheres in the heavens, 

like an angel sings. 
Still quiring to the young-ey'd cherubins, 


he is using an image which can be found in the " Te Deum" sung daily at 

morning prayers. This liturgical hymn tells of the angelic choir singing 

to one another about the glory of heaven and earth: 

To thee all Angels cry aloud: the heavens and all the 

Powers therein. 
To thee Cherubin and Seraphin, continually to cry. 
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth. 
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory. 

In the arms of his beloved Jessica, Lorenzo is explaining that the har- 
mony, resolution, and joy of Belmont has a heavenly, natural, religious, 
angelic, paradoxical, liturgical, and lovely quality which is deliglitful 
but only dimly perceived: 

Such harmony is in inmortal souls. 
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay 
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. 


Thus, by combining the philosophical theory of the music of the spheres, 

the angelic praises of creation in the "Te Deum," and the mud and death 

imagery from the Ash Wednesday liturgy, Lorenzo suggests that perfect 

harmony and resolution is heard clearly by heaven but only dimly to those 

who are still held in the bondage of this "muddy vesture of decay." 

In the garden of Belmont the bitter antagonism betvjeen Jew and 

gentile dissolves as Lorenzo and Jessica lovingly encounter one another 

under the calm, starry, moonlit expanse of heaven. And yet, perfect 

^^^Prayer Book (1559), p. 57 

harmony is only "in iianiortal souls." Act Five does present a credible 
resolution, but it takes the form of a lovers' quarrel. For the resolu- 
tion of The Merchant is a real, playful, V7arm, passionate, human resolu- 
tion, subject to pride and error, demanding sacrifice, and leading to 
renewed life: 

In such a night 
Did pretty Jessica (like a little shrew) 
Slander her love, and he forgave it her. 



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Mark Francis Cosgrove was born September 15, 1930, in Detroit, 
Michigan. After fifteen years in Detroit he moved with his family to 
Florida and attended St. Leo Preparatory School in Florida. In 1946 
he joined the seminary; in 1951 he became a monk of St. Leo Abbey, St. 
Leo, Florida; and in 1956 he was ordained a Catholic priest. 

He received his degree of Associate of Arts in 1950 from St. 
Bernard's College in Alabama and his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1953 
from St. Benedict's College in Kansas. In 1957 he completed a four- 
year theological program of studies. In 1961 he received the degree of 
Master of Arts from the University of Detroit, vzriting his thesis on the 
lanjuage parody in the "Oxen of the Sun" episode in James Joyce's 
Ulysses . 

During the academic years 1953-64, 1966, 1969-70 Father Cosgrove 
taught English in both St. Leo Preparatory School and St. Leo College. 
At present he is an Assistant Professor of English at St. Leo College. 


This dissertation was prepared under the direction of the chair- 
man of the candidate's supervisory committee and has been approved by 
all members of that committee. It was submitted to the Dean of the College 
of Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate Coimcil, and was approved as 
partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of 

March 1970 / '/ ---^ 

Dean, College of Arts "and Sciences 


Dea.i, Graduate School 



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