| Tales from Shakespeare|
|by Charles and Mary Lamb|
|First published in 1807, these simple retellings of the plots of Shakespeare's plays have delighted generations of children, while serving as an excellent introduction to the dramas of our greatest playwright. Shakespeare's own language is used as much as possible to accustom children to the English of the Elizabethan age and so make easier their transition to the reading of the plays themselves. Numerous black and white illustrations by Louis Rhead complement the text. Ages 10-14 |
MERCHANT OF VENICE
HYLOCK, the Jew, lived at Venice. He was a usurer who had
amassed an immense fortune by lending money at great interest to
Christian merchants. Shylock, being a hard-hearted man, exacted
the payment of the money he lent with such severity that he was
much disliked by all good men, and particularly by Antonio, a
young merchant of Venice; and Shylock as much hated Antonio,
because he used to lend money to people in distress, and would
never take any interest for the money he lent; therefore there
was great enmity between this covetous Jew and the generous
merchant Antonio. Whenever Antonio met Shylock on the Rialto, (or
Exchange) he used to reproach him with his usuries and hard
dealings, which the Jew would bear with seeming patience, while
he secretly meditated revenge.
Antonio was the kindest man that lived, the best conditioned, and
had the most unwearied spirit in doing courtesies; indeed, he was
one in whom the ancient Roman honor more appeared than in any
that drew breath in Italy. He was greatly beloved by all his
fellow-citizens; but the friend who was nearest and dearest to
his heart was Bassanio, a noble Venetian, who, having but a small
patrimony, had nearly exhausted his little fortune by living in
too expensive a manner for his slender means, as young men of
high rank with small fortunes are too apt to do. Whenever
Bassanio wanted money Antonio assisted him; and it seemed as if
they had but one heart and one purse between them.
One day Bassanio came to Antonio and told him that he wished
repair his fortune by a wealthy marriage with a lady whom he
dearly loved, whose father, that was lately dead, had left her
sole heiress to a large estate; and that in her father's lifetime
he used to visit at her house, when he thought he had observed
this lady had sometimes from her eyes sent speechless messages
that seemed to say he would be no unwelcome suitor; but not
having money to furnish himself with an appearance befitting the
lover of so rich an heiress, he besought Antonio to add to the
many favors he had shown him by lending him three thousand
Antonio had no money by him at that time to lend his friend; but
expecting soon to have. some ships come home laden with
merchandise, he said he would go to Shylock, the rich
money-lender, and borrow the money upon the credit of those ships.
Antonio and Bassanio went together to Shylock, and Antonio asked
the Jew to lend him three thousand ducats upon any interest he
should require, to be paid out of the merchandise contained in
his ships at sea.
On this, Shylock thought within himself: "If I can once catch him
on the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. He
hates our Jewish nation; he lends out money gratis; and among the
merchants he rails at me and my well-earned bargains, which he
calls interest. Cursed be my tribe if I forgive him!"
Antonio, finding he was musing within himself and did not answer,
and being impatient for the money, said:
"Shylock, do you hear? Will you lend the money?"
To this question the Jew replied: "Signor Antonio, on the Rialto
many a time and often you have railed at me about my moneys and
my usuries, and I have borne it with a patient shrug, for
sufferance is the badge of all our tribe; and then you have
called me unbeliever, cutthroat dog, and spit upon my Jewish
garments, and spurned at me with your foot, as if I was a cur.
Well, then, it now appears you need my help, and you come to me
and say, 'Shylock, lend me moneys.' Has a dog money? Is it
possible a cur should lend three thousand ducats? Shall
 I bend
low and say, 'Fair sir, you spit upon me on Wednesday last;
another time you called me dog, and for these courtesies I am to
lend you moneys.' "
Antonio replied: "I am as like to call you so again, to spit on
you again, and spurn you, too. If you will lend me this money,
lend it not to me as to a friend, but rather lend it to me as to
an enemy, that, if I break, you may with better face exact the
"Why, look you," said Shylock, "how you storm! I would be friends
with you and have your love. I will forget the shames you have
put upon me. I will supply your wants and take no interest for my
This seemingly kind offer greatly surprised Antonio; and then
Shylock, still pretending kindness and that all he did was to
gain Antonio's love, again said he would lend him the three
thousand ducats, and take no interest for his money; only Antonio
should go with him to a lawyer and there sign in merry sport a
bond that, if he did not repay the money by a certain day, he
would forfeit a pound of flesh, to be cut off from any part of
his body that Shylock pleased.
"Content," said Antonio. "I will sign to this bond, and say there
is much kindness in the Jew."
 Bassanio said Antonio should not sign to such a bond for him; but
still Antonio insisted that he would sign it, for that before the
day of payment came his ships would return laden with many times
the value of the money.
Shylock, hearing this debate, exclaimed: "O Father Abraham, what
suspicious people these Christians are! Their own hard dealings
teach them to suspect the thoughts of others. I pray you tell me
this, Bassanio: if he should break his day, what should I gain by
the exaction of the forfeiture? A pound of man's flesh, taken
from a man, is not so estimable, profitable, neither, as the
flesh of mutton or beef. I say, to buy his favor I offer this
friendship: if he will take it, so; if not, adieu."
At last, against the advice of Bassanio, who, notwithstanding all
the Jew had said of his kind intentions, did not like his friend
should run the hazard of this shocking penalty for his sake,
Antonio signed the bond, thinking it really was (as the Jew said)
merely in sport.
The rich heiress that Bassanio wished to marry lived near Venice,
at a place called Belmont. Her name was Portia, and in the graces
of her person and her mind she was nothing inferior to that
Portia, of whom we read, who was Cato's daughter and the wife of
Bassanio being so kindly supplied with money by his friend
Antonio, at the hazard of his life, set out for Belmont with a
splendid train and attended by a gentleman of the name of
Bassanio proving successful in his suit, Portia in a short time
consented to accept of him for a husband.
Bassanio confessed to Portia that he had no fortune and that his
high birth and noble ancestry were all that he could boast of;
she, who loved him for his worthy qualities and had riches enough
not to regard wealth in a husband, answered, with a graceful
modesty, that she would wish herself a thousand times more fair,
and ten thousand times more rich, to be more worthy of him; and
then the accomplished Portia prettily dispraised
 herself and said
she was an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpractised, yet not so
old but that she could learn, and that she would commit her
gentle spirit to be directed and governed by him in all things;
and she said: "Myself and what is mine to you and yours is now
converted. But yesterday, Bassanio, I was the lady of this fair
mansion, queen of myself, and mistress over these servants; and
now this house, these servants, and myself are yours, my lord; I
give them with this ring," presenting a ring to Bassanio.
Bassanio was so overpowered with gratitude and wonder at the
gracious manner in which the rich and noble Portia accepted of a
man of his humble fortunes that he could not express his joy
 and reverence to the dear lady who so honored him, by anything
but broken words of love and thankfulness; and, taking the ring,
he vowed never to part with it.
Gratiano and Nerissa, Portia's waiting-maid, were in attendance
upon their lord and lady when Portia so gracefully promised to
become the obedient wife of Bassanio; and Gratiano, wishing
Bassanio and the generous lady joy, desired permission to be
married at the same time.
"With all my heart, Gratiano," said Bassanio, "if you can get a
Gratiano then said that he loved the Lady Portia's fair
waiting-gentlewoman, Nerissa, and that she had promised to be his
wife if her lady married Bassanio. Portia asked Nerissa if this
was true. Nerissa replied:
"Madam, it is so, if you approve of it."
Portia willingly consenting, Bassanio pleasantly said:
"Then our wedding-feast shall be much honored by your marriage,
The happiness of these lovers was sadly crossed at this moment by
the entrance of a messenger, who brought a letter from Antonio
containing fearful tidings. When Bassanio read Antonio's letter,
Portia feared it was to tell him of the death of some dear
friend, he looked so pale; and, inquiring what was the news which
had so distressed him, he said:
"Oh, sweet Portia, here are a few of the unpleasantest words that
ever blotted paper! Gentle lady, when I first imparted my love to
you, I freely told you all the wealth I had ran in my veins; but
I should have told you that I had less than nothing, being in
Bassanio then told Portia what has been here related, of his
borrowing the money of Antonio, and of Antonio's procuring it of
Shylock the Jew, and of the bond by which Antonio had engaged to
forfeit a pound of flesh if it was not repaid by a certain day:
and then Bassanio read Antonio's letter, the words of which were:
 Sweet Bassanio, my ships are all lost, my bond to the Jew is
forfeited, and since in paying it is impossible I should live, I
could wish to see you at my death; notwithstanding, use your
pleasure. If your love for me do not persuade you to come, let
not my letter.
"Oh, my dear love," said Portia, "despatch all business and
begone; you shall have gold to pay the money twenty times over,
before this kind friend shall lose a hair by my Bassanio's fault;
and as you are so dearly bought, I will dearly love you."
Portia then said she would be married to Bassanio before he set
out, to give him a legal right to her money; and that same day
they were married, and Gratiano was also married to Nerissa; and
Bassanio and Gratiano, the instant they were married, set out in
great haste for Venice, where Bassanio found Antonio in prison.
The day of payment being past, the cruel Jew would not accept of
the money which Bassanio offered him, but insisted upon having a
pound of Antonio's flesh. A day was appointed to try this
shocking cause before the Duke of Venice, and Bassanio awaited in
dreadful suspense the event of the trial.
When Portia parted with her husband she spoke cheeringly to him
and bade him bring his dear friend along with him when he
returned; yet she feared it would go hard with Antonio, and when
she was left alone she began to think and consider within herself
if she could by any means be instrumental in saving the life of
her dear Bassanio's friend. And notwithstanding when she wished
to honor her Bassanio she had said to him, with such a meek and
wifelike grace, that she would submit in all things to be
governed by his superior wisdom, yet being now called forth into
action by the peril of her honored husband's friend, she did
nothing doubt her own powers, and by the sole guidance of her own
true and perfect judgment at once resolved to go herself to
Venice and speak in Antonio's defense.
Portia had a relation who was a counselor in the law; to this
gentleman, whose name was Bellario, she wrote, and, stating the
case to him, desired his opinion, and that with his advice
would also send her the dress worn by a counselor. When the
messenger returned he brought letters from Bellario of advice how
to proceed, and also everything necessary for her equipment.
Portia dressed herself and her maid Nerissa in men's apparel,
and, putting on the robes of a counselor, she took Nerissa along
with her as her clerk; setting out immediately, they arrived at
Venice on the very day of the trial. The cause was just going to
be heard before the Duke and Senators of Venice in the Senate
House when Portia entered this high court of justice and
presented a letter from Bellario, in which that learned counselor
wrote to the duke, saying he would have come himself to plead for
Antonio but that he was prevented by sickness, and he requested
that the learned young Doctor Balthasar (so he called Portia)
might be permitted to plead in his stead. This the Duke granted,
much wondering at the youthful appearance of the stranger, who
was prettily disguised by her counselor's robes and her large
And now began this important trial. Portia looked around her and
she saw the merciless Jew; and she saw Bassanio, but he knew her
not in her disguise. He was standing beside Antonio, in an agony
of distress and fear for his friend.
The importance of the arduous task Portia had engaged in gave
this tender lady courage, and she boldly proceeded in the duty
she had undertaken to perform. And first of all she addressed
herself to Shylock; and allowing that he had a right by the
Venetian law to have the forfeit expressed in the bond, she spoke
so sweetly of the noble quality of mercy as would have softened
any heart but the unfeeling Shylock's, saying that it dropped as
the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; and how mercy
was a double blessing, it blessed him that gave and him that
received it; and how it became monarchs better than their crowns,
being an attribute of God Himself; and that earthly power came
nearest to God's in proportion as mercy tempered justice; and she
bade Shylock remember that as we all pray for mercy, that same
prayer should teach us to show mercy.
Shy-  lock only answered her by desiring to have the penalty forfeited in the bond.
"Is he not able to pay the money?" asked Portia.
Bassanio then offered the Jew the payment of the three thousand
ducats as many times over as he should desire; which Shylock
refusing, and still insisting upon having a pound of Antonio's
flesh, Bassanio begged the learned young counselor would endeavor
to wrest the law a little, to save Antonio's life. But Portia
gravely answered that laws once established never be altered.
Shylock, hearing Portia say that the law might not be altered, it
seemed to him that she was pleading in his favor, and he said:
"A Daniel is come to judgment! O wise young judge, how I do honor
you! How much elder are you than your looks!"
Portia now desired Shylock to let her look at the bond; and when
she had read it she said: "This bond is forfeited, and by this
the Jew may lawfully claim a pound of flesh, to be by him cut off
nearest Antonio's heart." Then she said to Shylock, "Be merciful;
take the money and bid me tear the bond."
But no mercy would the cruel Shylock show; and he said, "By my
soul, I swear there is no power in the tongue of man to alter
"Why, then, Antonio," said Portia, "you must prepare your bosom
for the knife." And while Shylock was sharpening a
 long knife
with great eagerness to cut off the pound of flesh, Portia said
to Antonio, "Have you anything to say?"
Antonio with a calm resignation replied that he had but little to
say, for that he had prepared his mind for death. Then he said to
"Give me your hand, Bassanio! Fare you well! Grieve not that I am
fallen into this misfortune for you. Commend me to your honorable
wife and tell her how I have loved you!"
Bassanio in the deepest affliction replied: "Antonio, I am
married to a wife who is as dear to me as life itself; but life
itself, my wife, and all the world are not esteemed with me above
your life. I would lose all, I would sacrifice all to this devil
here, to deliver you."
Portia hearing this, though the kind-hearted lady was not at all
offended with her husband for expressing the love he owed to so
true a friend as Antonio in these strong terms, yet could not
"Your wife would give you little thanks, if she were present, to
hear you make this offer."
And then Gratiano, who loved to copy what his lord did, thought
he must make a speech like Bassanio's, and he said, in Nerissa's
hearing, who was writing in her clerk's dress by the side of
"I have a wife whom I protest I love. I wish she were in heaven
if she could but entreat some power there to change the cruel
temper of this currish Jew."
"It is well you wish this behind her back, else you would have
but an unquiet house," said Nerissa.
Shylock now cried out, impatiently: "We trifle time. I pray
pronounce the sentence."
And now all was awful expectation in the court, and every heart
was full of grief for Antonio.
Portia asked if the scales were ready to weigh the flesh; and she
said to the Jew, "Shylock, you must have some surgeon by, lest he
bleed to death."
 Shylock, whose whole intent was that Antonio should bleed to
death, said, "It is not so named in the bond."
Portia replied: "It is not so named in the bond, but what of
that? It were good you did so much for charity."
To this all the answer Shylock would make was, "I cannot find it;
it is not in the bond."
"Then," said Portia, "a pound of Antonio's flesh is thine. The
law allows it and the court awards it. And you may cut this flesh
from off his breast. The law allows it and the court awards it."
Again Shylock exclaimed: "O wise and upright judge! A Daniel is
come to judgment!" And then he sharpened his long knife again,
and looking eagerly on Antonio, he said, "Come, prepare!"
"Tarry a little, Jew," said Portia. "There is something else.
This bond here gives you no drop of blood; the words expressly
are, 'a pound of flesh.' If in the cutting off the pound of flesh
you shed one drop of Christian blood, your lands and goods are by
the law to be confiscated to the state of Venice."
"TARRY A LITTLE, JEW," SAID PORTIA.
"THIS BOND HERE GIVES YOU NO DROP OF BLOOD"
Now as it was utterly impossible for Shylock to cut off the pound
of flesh without shedding some of Antonio's blood, this wise
discovery of Portia's, that it was flesh and not blood that was
named in the bond, saved the life of Antonio; and all admiring
the wonderful sagacity of the young counselor who had so happily
thought of this expedient, plaudits resounded from every part of
the Senate House; and Gratiano exclaimed, in the words which
Shylock had used:
"O wise and upright judge! Mark, Jew, a Daniel is come to
Shylock, finding himself defeated in his cruel intent, said, with
a disappointed look, that he would take the money. And Bassanio,
rejoiced beyond measure at Antonio's unexpected deliverance,
"Here is the money!"
But Portia stopped him, saying: "Softly; there is no haste.
Jew shall have nothing but the penalty. Therefore prepare,
Shylock, to cut off the flesh; but mind you shed no blood; nor do
not cut off more nor less than just a pound; be it more or less
by one poor scruple, nay, if the scale turn but by the weight of
a single hair, you are condemned by the laws of Venice to die,
and all your wealth is forfeited to the state."
"Give me my money and let me go," said Shylock.
"I have it ready," said Bassanio. "Here it is."
Shylock was going to take the money, when Portia again stopped
him, saying: "Tarry, Jew. I have yet another hold upon you. By
the laws of Venice your wealth is forfeited to the state for
having conspired against the life of one of its citizens, and
your life lies at the mercy of the duke; therefore, down on your
knees and ask him to pardon you."
The duke then said to Shylock: "That you may see the difference
of our Christian spirit, I pardon you your life before you ask
it. Half your wealth belongs to Antonio, the other half comes to
The generous Antonio then said that he would give up his share of
Shylock's wealth if Shylock would sign a deed to make it over at
his death to his daughter and her husband; for Antonio knew that
the Jew had an only daughter who had lately married against his
consent a young Christian named Lorenzo, a friend of Antonio's,
which had so offended Shylock that he had disinherited her.
The Jew agreed to this; and being thus disappointed in his
revenge and despoiled of his riches, he said: "I am ill. Let me
go home. Send the deed after me, and I will sign over half my
riches to my daughter."
"Get thee gone, then," said the duke, "and sign it; and if you
repent your cruelty and turn Christian, the state will forgive
you the fine of the other half of your riches."
The duke now released Antonio and dismissed the court. He then
highly praised the wisdom and ingenuity of the young counselor
and invited him home to dinner.
 Portia, who meant to return to Belmont before her husband,
replied, "I humbly thank your Grace, but I must away directly."
The duke said he was sorry he had not leisure to stay and dine
with him, and, turning to Antonio, he added, "Reward this
gentleman; for in my mind you are much indebted to him."
The duke and his senators left the court; and then Bassanio said
to Portia: "Most worthy gentleman, I and my friend Antonio have
by your wisdom been this day acquitted of grievous penalties, and
I beg you will accept of the three thousand ducats due unto the
"And we shall stand indebted to you over and above," said
Antonio, "in love and service evermore."
Portia could not be prevailed upon to accept the money. But upon
Bassanio still pressing her to accept of some reward, she said:
"Give me your gloves. I will wear them for your sake." And then
Bassanio taking off his gloves, she espied the ring which she had
given him upon his finger. Now it was the ring the wily lady
wanted to get from him to make a merry jest when she saw her
Bassanio again, that made her ask him for his gloves; and she
said, when she saw the ring, "And for your love, I will take this
ring from you."
Bassanio was sadly distressed that the counselor should ask him
for the only thing he could not part with, and he replied, in
great confusion, that he could not give him that ring, because it
was his wife's gift and he had vowed never to part with it; but
that he would give him the most valuable ring in Venice, and find
it out by proclamation.
On this Portia affected to be affronted, and left the court,
saying, "You teach me, sir, how a beggar should be answered."
"Dear Bassanio," said Antonio, "let him have the ring. Let My
love and the great service he has done for me be valued against
your wife's displeasure."
Bassanio, ashamed to appear so ungrateful, yielded, and sent
Gratiano after Portia with the ring; and then the "clerk,"
 Nerissa, who had also given Gratiano a ring, begged his ring, and
Gratiano (not choosing to be outdone in generosity by his lord)
gave it to her. And there was laughing among these ladies to
think, when they got home, how they would tax their husbands with
giving away their rings and swear that they had given them as a
present to some woman.
Portia, when she returned, was in that happy temper of mind which
never fails to attend the consciousness of having performed a
good action. Her cheerful spirits enjoyed everything she saw: the
moon never seemed to shine so bright before; and when that
pleasant moon was hid behind a cloud, then a light which she saw
from her house at Belmont as well pleased her charmed fancy, and
she said to Nerissa:
"That light we see is burning in my hall. How far that little
candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty
world." And hearing the sound of music from her house, she said,
"Methinks that music sounds much sweeter than by day."
And now Portia and Nerissa entered the house, and, dressing
themselves in their own apparel, they awaited the arrival of
their husbands, who soon followed them with Antonio; and Bassanio
presenting his dear friend to the Lady Portia, the
congratulations and welcomings of that lady were hardly over when
they perceived Nerissa and her husband quarreling in a corner of
"A quarrel already?" said Portia. "What is the matter?"
Gratiano replied, "Lady, it is about a paltry gilt ring that
Nerissa gave me, with words upon it like the poetry on a cutler's
knife: 'Love me, and leave me not.' "
"What does the poetry or the value of the ring signify?" said
Nerissa. "You swore to me, when I gave it to you, that you would
keep it till the hour of death; and now you say you gave it to
the lawyer's clerk. I know you gave it to a woman."
"By this hand," replied Gratiano, "I gave it to a youth, a kind
of boy, a little scrubbed boy, no higher than yourself; he was
 clerk to the young counselor that by his wise pleading saved
Antonio's life. This prating boy begged it for a fee, and I could
not for my life deny him."
Portia said: "You were to blame, Gratiano, to part with your
wife's first gift. I gave my Lord Bassanio a ring, and I am sure
he would not part with it for all the world."
Gratiano, in excuse for his fault, now said, "My Lord Bassanio
gave his ring away to the counselor, and then the boy, his clerk,
that took some pains in writing, he begged my ring."
Portia, hearing this, seemed very angry and reproached Bassanio
for giving away her ring; and she said Nerissa had taught her
what to believe, and that she knew some woman had the ring.
Bassanio was very unhappy to have so offended his dear lady, and
he said with great earnestness:
"No, by my honor, no woman had it, but a civil doctor who refused
three thousand ducats of me and begged the ring, which when I
denied him he went displeased away. What could I do, sweet
Portia? I was so beset with shame for my seeming ingratitude that
I was forced to send the ring after him. Pardon me, good lady.
Had you been there, I think you would have begged the ring of me
to give the worthy doctor."
"Ah!" said Antonio, "I am the unhappy cause of these quarrels."
Portia bid Antonio not to grieve at that, for that he was welcome
notwithstanding; and then Antonio said:
"I once did lend my body for Bassanio's sake; and but for him to
whom your husband gave the ring I should have now been dead. I
dare be bound again, my soul upon the forfeit, your lord will
never more break his faith with you."
"Then you shall be his surety," said Portia. "Give him this ring
and bid him keep it better than the other."
When Bassanio looked at this ring he was strangely surprised to
find it was the same he gave away; and then Portia told him how
she was the young counselor, and Nerissa was her clerk; and
Bassanio found, to his unspeakable wonder and delight, that it
was by the noble courage and wisdom of his wife that Antonio's
life was saved.
And Portia again welcomed Antonio, and gave him letters which by
some chance had fallen into her hands, which contained an account
of Antonio's ships, that were supposed lost, being safely arrived
in the harbor. So these tragical beginnings of this rich
merchant's story were all forgotten in the unexpected good
fortune which ensued; and there was leisure to laugh at the
comical adventure of the rings and the husbands that did not know
their own wives, Gratiano merrily swearing, in a sort of rhyming
While he lived, he'd fear no other thing
So sore, as keeping safe Nerissa's ring.
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