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Shakespeare's comedy of the Merchant of Venice as produced by Edwin Booth online

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Adapted from the Text of the Cambridge Editors, with Introduftory Remarks, £fc., -

By henry L. HINTON.





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Adapted from the Text of the Cambridge Editors, with Introduftory Remarks, £fc.,

By henry L. HINTON.





Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year i S 68,
By henry L. HINTON,
In the Clerk's Office of the DistriiS Court of the United States for the
Southern District of New York.


The Merchant of Venice was the first of those greater dramas of
Shakespeare which were written in what has been termed the middle period
of the poet's career. The materials from which Shakespeare prepared the
plot, or, more properly speaking, the plots, of this play, seem to have been
derived from various sources. But they receive all their interest from the
heightening touch of the poetic artist.

This play was one of those of our author's produftions which were
severely handled by the ' improvers 'of the latter part of the seventeenth
century. Indeed, it was not until Macklin restored the original text, in
1741, that the presumptuous 'improvements' of this play were banished
from the stage. Macklin's adaptation is the one familiar to the theatre of

Some may ask : Why make an adaptation at all ? why not give the play
as Shakespeare composed it ? Such should remember, that Shakespeare
wrote in a primitive day of stage machinery. His auditors did not demand
completeness in scenic effefts, properties, and costumes, as do those of cur
time. A compliance with these modern demands, sometimes necessitates
a transposition of scenes, and often a new division of afts and scenes.

Of the performance of this play prior to the restoration of the mon-
archy, there appear to be no detailed accounts. Richard Burbage, one of
the company of which Shakespeare was a member, was the original repre-
sentative of Shylock. He is spoken of as playing the part in a red beard
and wig, a garb adoptedj^no doubt, to make him the more odious, and to
suit the popular appetite of the time.

In 1663, Charles II. granted patents for two theatres in London. The
drama again rose and flourished. But what of Shylock? The Jew's


charafter had been denuded of that dignity and intensity which belongs to
the original conception, and he had been forced to wear the garb and mien
of a low jester and buffoon. The perverted taste of the last half of the
seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries seemed to be
unequal to the true appreciation of this grand and gloomy creation of the
poet. Yet we hear of such a man as Rowe saying : * I can not but think
the charafter was tragically designed by the author.'

Charles Macklin — of whose Shylock Pope said : ' This is the Jew that
Shakespeare drew ' — was the first, after the restoration, to play Shylock as
a serious part. Doran, in his Amials of the English Stage, thus notices
this reform : —

' There was a whisper that he was about to play the Jew as a serious
charafter. His comrades laughed, and the manager was nervous. The
rehearsals told them nothing, for there Macklin did little more than walk
through the part, lest the manager should prohibit the playing of the piece,
if the nature of the reform Macklin was about to introduce should make
him fearful of consequences. In some such dress as that we now see worn
by Shylock, Macklin, on the night of the 15th of February, 1741, walked
down the stage, and, looking through the eyelet-hole in the curtain, saw
the two ever-formidable front rows of the pit occupied by the most highly-
dreaded critics of the period. The house was also densely crowded. He
turned from his survey, calm and content, remarking : " Good 1 I shall be
tried to-night, by a special jury !"

•There was little applause, to Macklin's disappointment, on his entrance ;
yet the people were pleased at the aspedl: of a Jew whom Rembrandt
might have painted. The opening scene was spoken in familiar, but earnest
accents. Not a hand yet gave token of approbation, but there occasionally
reached Macklin's ears, from the two solemn rows of judge and jury in the
pit, the sounds of a "Good!" and "Very good!" " Very well, indeed !"
and he passed off, more gratified by this than by the slight general applause
intended for encouragement.

* As the play proceeded, so did his triumph grow. In the scene with
Tubal, which Doggett, in Lansdowne's version, had made so comic, he
shook the hearts, and not the sides, of the audience. There was deep
emotion in that critical pit. The sympathies of the house went all for
Shylock ; and at last, a storm of acclamation, a very hurricane of approval,
roared pleasantly over Macklin. So far, all was well ; but the trial-scene
had yet to come.


* It came; and there the triumph culminated. The a£lor was not loud
nor grotesque ; but Shylock was natural, calmly confident, and so terribly
malignant, that when he whetted his knife, "to cut the forfeit from thaL
bankrupt there," a shudder went round the house, and the profound silence
following told Macklin that he held his audience by the heart-strings, and
that his hearers must have already acknowledged the truth of his interpre-
tation of Shakespeare's Jew. When the adl-drop fell, then the pent-up
feelings found vent, and Old Drury shook again with the tumult of applause.'

Since the time of Macklin, there have been many representatives of
Shylock, of great merit ; but we have not space to enlarge upon the pecu-
liarities and the great points of these various performances. Edmund
Kean was the next to introduce original features into the performance of
Shylock. With this part he first entered upon his career of fame ; indeed, we
may almost say that his debut in this role rescued him from starvation.
The circumstance is beautifully told by Doran : —

*At the one morning rehearsal, he fluttered his fellow-aftors, and scared
the manager, by his independence and originality. " Sir, this will never
do !" cried Raymond, the ading manager. " It is quite an innovation ;
it can not be permitted." — " Sir," said the poor, proud man, " I wish it to
be so 1" and the players smiled, and Kean went home — that is, to his lodg-
ings, in Cecil Street — on that snowy, foggy 26th of February, 1814, calm,
hopeful, and hungry. "To-day," said he, " I must dine.''

' Having accomplished that rare feat, he went forth alone, and on foot.
" I wish," he remarked, "I was going to be shot !" He had with him a
few properties, which he was bound to procure for himself, tied up in a
poor handkerchief, under his arm. His wife remained, with their child, at
home. Kean tramped on beneath the falling snow, and over that which
thickly encumbered the ground — solid here, there in slush ; — and, by and
by, pale, quiet, but fearless, he dressed, in a room shared by two or three
others, and went down to. the wing by which he was to enter. Hitherto,
no one had spoken to him save Jack Bannister, who said a cheering word ;
and Oxberry, who had tendered to him a glass, and wished him good for-
tune. ** By Jove !" exclaimed a first-rater, looking at him, "Shylock in
a black wig! Well!"

* The house could hold, as it is called, £600 ; there was not more than
a sixth of that sum in front. Winter without, his comrades within ; — all
was against him. At length he went on, with Rae as Bassanio, in ill-
%mor ; and groups of adors at the wings, to witness the first scene of a

vi introduction:

new candidate. All that Edmund Kean ever did was gracefully done ;
and the bow which he made, in return to the usual welcoming applause,
was eminently graceful. Dr. Drury, the head master of Harrow, who
took great interest in him, looked fixedly at him as he came forward. Shy-
lock leant over his crutched stick, with both hands ; and, looking askance
at Bassanio, said : " Three thousand ducats ?" paused, bethought himself,
and then added : " Well ?" "He is safe," said Dr. Drury.

* The groups of adors soon after dispersed to the green-room. As they
reached it, there reached there, too, an echo of the loud applause given to
Shylock's reply to Bassanio's assurance that he may take the bond : *'I tuill
be assured I may !" Later came the sounds of the increased approbation
bestowed on the delivery of the passage ending with : " And for these
courtesies, I'll lend you thus much moneys." The aft came to an end
gloriously ; and the players in the green-room looked for the coming among
them of the new Shylock. He proudly kept aloof; knew he was friend-
less, but felt that he was, in himself, sufficient.

' He wandered about the back of the stage, thinking, perhaps, of the
mother and child at home ; and sure, now, of having at least made a step
toward triumph. He wanted no congratulations ; and he walked cheer-
fully down to the wing where the scene was about to take place between
him and his daughter, Jessica, in his very calling to whom : " Why, Jes-
sica ! I say," there was, as some of us may remember, from an after-night's
experience, a charm, as of music. The whole scene was played with rare
merit ; but the absolute triumph was not won till the scene (which was
marvelous in his hands) in the third aft, between Shylock, Solanio, and
Salarino, ending with the dialogue between the first and Tubal. Shylock's
anguish at his daughter's flight ; his wrath at the two Christians, who
make sport of his anguish; his hatred of all Christians, generally, and of
Antonio in particular ; and then his alternations of rage, grief^ and ecstasy,
as Tubal relates the losses incurred in the search for that naughty Jessica,
her extravagances, and then the ill-luck that had fallen upon Antonio. In
all this, there was such originality, such terrible force, such assurance of a
new and mighty master, that the house burst forth into a very whirlwind
of approbation. " What now ?" was the cry in the green-room. The
answer was, that the presence and the power of the genius were acknowl-
edged with an enthusiasm which shook the very roof.'

Dunlap, in his History of the American Theatre, says : * On the 5th
of September, 1752, at Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, the first play

introduction: vH

performed in America, by a regular company of comedians, was represented
to a delighted audience. The piece was The Merchant of Venice." Sub-
sequent writers have shown this statement to be erroneous,* and that while
The Merchant of Venice may have then for the first time been presented
to an American audience, it was preceded by Richard III. and Othello, at
New York. Richard III. was given, as probably the first effort of a com-
pany of Thespians in that city, on the 5th of March, 1750. It will
interest Knickerbockers to know that the theatre which witnessed this early
performance was situated, as shown by J. N. Ireland, in his Records of the
New York Stage, ' on the east side of Nassau Street (formerly Kip Street),
between John Street and Maiden Lane, on lots now known by the num-
bers 64 and (id (1866).' The performers on this occasion, it will please
the good people of the City of Brotherly Love to learn, were driven from
Philadelphia as a set of ' vagabonds.'

The Merchant of Venice was, without doubt, introduced to the New
York audience in the fall of 1753, by the same company which, as Dunlap
states, opened in Williamsburg a year previous. From that day to this,
the play has stood among the first in favor in New York and other princi-
pal cities of the country.

Of all the aftors who have essayed the role of Shylock on our American
stage, no one seems to have left so lasting an impression as Junius Brutus
Booth. The following critique will give the reader, who may not have
had the good fortune to see and hear for himself, a conception of the
'elder Booth's' peculiar rendition of this character: —

* Booth's interpretation of the part of Shylock differed greatly from that
which was popular on the stage of his day. The superficial features of the
Jew's character are patent to every one — his greed, his miserliness, his im-
placable revengefulness ; — but, in the refined handling of this great artist,
these traits were made the mere outworks behind which was seated a grand
reserved force, which the spectator found it difficult to analyze, but the
presence of which was none the less powerfully felt. The Jew stood forth

* As early as 1733 there existed a 'play house' in New York, but the legitimate
drama was performed, if at all, in a very crude manner, the play-house being used princi-
pally for puppet-sR'ows and entertainments of like charafter. It is more than probable
that the first company of English aftors which crossed the Atlantic first appeared in 1746,
in Jamaica, "West Indies. The second company, as mentioned by Dunlap, crossed in
1752, and appeared in Williamsburg, Virginia. These two companies afterward united,
forming what was long known as the American Company.


as the representative of his race ; he wrapped up in himself the dignity
of the patriarchs of his people. But this does not express all ; in the per-
son of Shylock, as given by Booth, the old faith, recognizing justice alone,
not mercy — "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" — was brought into
contrast with that which superseded it, as represented in the person of An-
tonio and beautifully expounded by Portia. Mercy " is twice blessed ; it
blesses him that gives, and him that takes," saith Portia. " I crave the
law," saith the Jew.

' No man was more catholic in his sentiments than Booth. He read the
Koran, and often attended the synagogues. He sympathized with the
Jews as an oppressed and reviled race, and knew how to assume the He-
braic stand-point. The Jewish race stood to him for an idea — the inex-
orableness of law; and the conception of a people selected as the guardian
and minister of this law, — as the arm of fate, — affected his imagination pro-
foundly. Why shall not Shylock exact his usances ? Why shall he not
demand the penalty and forfeit of his bond ? Are they not all Christian
dogs — gentiles, accursed by the law ? In the person of Shylock, Booth
embodied all this gloomy grandeur of position, this merciless absoluteness
of will. Yet Shylock's more special personality — if we may so express it —
his hatred of Antonio, not simply " for he is a Christian," but because he
has hindered him in his usurious practices, was not merged and lost in his
representative character. Booth kept the two distinct, skillfully using the
former in order to throw out in darker background the shadowy presence
of the latter. Finely in keeping with this rendering of the part, is the
exit of Shylock from the machinery of the piece on the termination of the
fourth aft. The lighter and more graceful work of the play goes on;
but Shylock withdraws, and with him this grand, gloomy, cruel past,
which he represents, while the light-hearted, forgiving, and forgiven
children of the day bring all their wishes to a happy consummation.'


Shakespeare's own time has been usually set as the period of the
aftion of this play, but the costume in Venice at that epoch was, in many
instances, so eccentric, that, were it strictly adhered to in representation,
* it is to be feared,' as Grant White remarks, ' that the splendor and faith-
fulness of the scene would be forgotten in its absurdity, and that the
audience would explode in fits of uncontrollable laughter, as the various


personages came upon the stage.' Fancy * Antonio with a bonnet like an
inverted porringer shadowing his melancholy countenance,' and his trunk-
hose puiFed out with bombast to an enormous sise. Fancy the gifted Portia
mounted on Cioppini, ox, as they have been called, ' wooden scaffolds ' —
' things made of wood, and covered with leather of sundry colors,' which
were sometimes 'half a yard high,' or, as another account says, 'as high as
a man's leg.' Fancy Portia, thus gigantically proportioned, led in by 'two
maids, to keep her from falling.'

Mr. Grant White, recognizing these absurdities, says : — ' Any Italian
costume, rich, beautiful, and sufficiently antique to. remove the aftion out
of the range of present probabilities, will meet the dramatic requirements
o^ this play ; but the orange-tawny bonnet, that mark of an outcast race,
ought not to be missed from the brow of Shylock. This, however, is
allowing rather more freedom than will meet the approval of the general
public who, when a play is submitted to them on the stage, demand a con-
sistent historical picture.'

The male attire of this period, or such of it, at least, as distinguished
the higher class, may be considered of two kinds : that one which was
used on festive occasions, or in gayer moods, by all ages, and which was
worn at all times, by young gallants who had not reached the age of
* eighteen or twenty,' and that one which pertained to sedater moods, and
occasions of state. Knight, quoting Vecellio, has given an interesting
description of these habits. 'Young lovers,' he tells us, 'wear, generally, a
doublet and breeches of satin, tabby, or other silk, cut or slashed in the
form of crosses or stars, through which slashes is seen the lining of colored
taffeta ; gold buttons, a lace ruff, a bonnet of rich velvet, or silk, with an
ornamental band, a silk cloak, and silk stockings, Spanish morocco shoes, a
flower in one hand, and their gloves and handkerchief in the other. This
habit was worn by many of the nobility, as well of Venice as of other
Italian cities.' Illustrations in Ferrario represent the high bonnet as in
some instances substituted by the more reasonable cap, but in no instance
are feathers worn, and the breeches are always puffed out to an enormous
size. Full but not very long beards were general.

The other habit, which, as we have said, belonged to maturer years and

dignified occasions, consisted of a gown, which was sometimes worn over

the gay attire above described. This robe received special modifications,

adapting it to the special occasions and particular ofiices j it may be termed

the common exterior dress of the Venetians.


The robe or gown of the Doge was of silk of a purple dye, or sometimes
of cloth of gold ; it came down to the feet, and was encircled about his
waist with a richly embroidered belt. Over this was thrown a mantle of
cloth of silver, so long as to trail to some extent upon the ground. These
garments were * adorned with many curious works, made in colors with
needlework.' Finally, a cape of ermine encompassed his shoulders and
reached to the elbows. His head was covered with a thin coif, over which
he wore a mitre, corresponding in color with the robe and mantle, and
which turned up behind, in the form of a horn. His feet were encased in
slippers, or, according to some accounts, sandals.

The chiefs of the Council of Ten, three in number, wore red gowns, with
red stockings and slippers ; the other seven were attired the same, only the
color was black. These gowns hung loose, and extended nearly to the
ground. A flap, three or four inches wide, of the same color as the gowns,
or sometimes black, was worn on the red gowns, and thrown over the left
shoulder. The sleeves were large and flowing, reaching almost to the ground.
'AH these gowned men,' says Croyat, * do wear marvelous little black caps of
felt, without any brims at all, and very diminutive falling bands, no ruffs at
all, which are so shallow, that I have seen many of them not above a little
inch deep.'

For the dress of the Doctor of Laws, Knight gives the following from
Vecellio : — * The upper robe was of black damask cloth, velvet, or silk,
according to the weather. The under one of black silk, with a silk sash,
the ends of which hang down to the middle of the leg; the stockings of
black cloth or velvet, the cap of rich velvet or silk.' The sleeves of the
gown of the Doctor of Law, though very full, were tight at the wrist ;
and a flap, as in the case of the Council, thrown over the left shoulder.
The lawyer's clerk was also dressed in black, the gown extending about to
the ankles.

Gondoliers in Ferrario are represented in tight-fitting jackets and
breeches. Pages and servants, in jackets and short trunks ; artisans, in
short gowns.

But how are Shylock and the ' pretty Jessica ' to be attired ?

Touching the dress of Jewish women, C^sar Vecellio, in his Habiti
Anticki et Moderni, 1598, says that they wore yellow veils, but in other
respefts differed not from Christian women of the same rank. They were
distinguished, however, by being * highly painted.'

The Jewish men also differed in nothing, in respect of dress, fnjm


Venetians of the same walk, except that they were compelled, by order of
the government, to wear a yellow bonnet. The story is, that the color
was changed from red to yellow because a Jew was accidentally taken for
a cardinal. Saint Didier, it is true, in his *Histoire de Venise,' says that
the color of the bonnet was * scarlet ;' but the best authority, Vecellio,
reports that it was yellow. * It is not impossible,' as Knight remarks, * that
the "orange-tawny bonnet" might have been worn of so deep a color, by
some of the Hebrew population, as to have been described as red by a
careless observer, or that some Venetian Jews, in fact, did venture to v/ear
red caps or bonnets in defiance of the statutes, and thereby misled the
traveler or the historian.' Shylock speaks of his 'Jewish gaberdine.' In
old English this word was applied to a loose, coarse, and, perhaps, motley
garment, worn by a prescribed class, or the poorer sort ; and in Scottish
dialedl it still retains this usage. Shakespeare, therefore, caring only for the
pifturesque appointments of his play, seems to have meant, by the * Jewish
gaberdine,' an article of dress distinftive of the Hebrew class ; nor in
this case can we introduce historical accuracy of costume without marring
the effeft of the piece.

It is seen, then, in some instances to be advantageous, and in others to
be striclly necessary, to modify the costume in putting this great work of
our author upon the stage. We have said that Shakespeare's own day is
the time usually set for the aftion of this drama, but the stories upon
which it is founded being much older, we are at liberty to assign
it an earlier period. The dress worn by the youth of the latter part of

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Online LibraryWilliam ShakespeareShakespeare's comedy of the Merchant of Venice as produced by Edwin Booth → online text (page 1 of 7)