10.1.1. The Merchant of Venice (by Martin Peake)


When was The Merchant of Venice written?

A study to Il Pecorone by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, Zelauto by Anthony Munday, and The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

See also 3.3.1 – 3.3.4 Munday and The Merchant of Venice.


Il Pecorone is a collection of tales by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino. It was allegedly written in Italian at the end of the 14th century and printed in Milan in 1558. A particularly entertaining story from the Il Pecorone collection (IV.1) is the primary source used for The Merchant of Venice.

Zelauto is a novella from Anthony Munday (1560-1633); for a long time it has been considered to be the inspiration for SHAKE-SPEARE's comedy The Merchant of Venice , which, according to the orthodox theory of the chronology of the three works, was written between 1596 and 1598.

The three literary works share two common themes. The first one being a money lender who claims a pound of human flesh from the debtor by failure of payment, the second theme being a woman who dresses as a scholar of the law and saves the debtor by pointing out that the respective agreements don't give anyone the right to spill blood during the removal of the flesh. Furthermore, that the money lender would be executed in the event of any blood being shed. Obviously Munday and Shakespeare were inspired or influenced by Fiorentino. The chronological order of the second and third stories give us vital evidence as to the identity of the man behind the name SHAKE-SPEARE.


The Authors

Giovanni Fiorentino: an illustrious novelists of 14th century Italy. His version of the story was printed in Milano (1558) and in Venice (1560 and 1565).

Anthony Munday: was a well educated man , his plays The Downfall of Robin Earl of Huntington and The Death of Robin Earl of Huntington (both 1597/98) helped to shape one of the most popular characters in English literature: Robin Hood. He spoke modern Italian fluently and he spent time in Rome in 1578. He could well have had access to a copy of Fiorentino's Il Pecorone (first published 1558) and he was certainly capable of using Fiorentino's story as the basis for his own novella, Zelauto.

The third author is William Shakespeare with The Merchant of Venice. The comedy was entered into the Stationers’ Register in 1598 and the first folio was published in 1600 by Thomas Heyes.

Please bear in mind that The Merchant of Venice is the only version of the story written in the form of a play. Plays don't need to be published, they need a troop of actors and a stage. Don't be lulled in to thinking that if nobody bothered to have it published before 1600, then it must have been written in 1599. Any number of theatre companies may well have learned their lines from a single hand written copy and performed the play to their hearts' content.

We now come to reason for this essay, dear reader. Although the theory seems to be widely accepted that SHAKE-SPEARE copied from Munday's Zelauto, I intend to prove to you that The Merchant of Venice was written before 1580

Far more important than my “proving” to you that The Merchant of Venice was the second work written in our trilogy I would like you to work it out for yourselves. When all said and done, you shouldn't be concerned about what other people think - and, from your point of view, I'm other people. I've done my best to be perfectly honest in writing my shortened versions of the three stories, but, if you've got the time, please read them in the unabridged versions.


Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino


The romantic hero of the story is called Giannetto. On the death of Giannetto's rich father, Bindo, he is disinherited, although his rich brothers are quite prepared to provide for him, he goes to live with his vastly rich godfather, Ansaldo, in Venice. Ansaldo, being childless, is completely besotted with Giannetto. He is granted every privilege in Ansaldo's household including unlimited access to money. Ansaldo's only desire in life is that his beloved godson be happy.

One day, two friends suggest that Giannetto fit out a trading ship and accompany them on a voyage to Alexandria and Damascus, not because of any necessity to make money, just for fun. After asking Ansaldo's permission Giannetto and his friends set sail.

Out at sea, Giannetto hears of a beautiful widow, the Lady of Belmonte; this lady has a somewhat singular standing invitation for all ship owners who pass her port: The merchants docks in her harbour, the nobility of the country make him welcome in every way possible. The Lady of Belmonte shares her bed with them. According to the rules; the first man to bring her the joys of matrimony shall then be her husband and therewith the ruler of the land of Belmonte. If they fall asleep before she is satisfied sexually, then they forfeit all that they have and are sent packing.

Giannetto's two friends know that the offer is too good to be true so they continue on their journey, making a huge profit with their merchandise. Giannetto, being lured by the promise of adventure and of ruling a land of his own, tries his luck with the Lady. She has him drugged before he goes to bed, he sleeps through to the following morning, forfeits his ship and is sent packing.

Giannetto does the same thing three times. Not only does Ansaldo invest all of his money into these foolish ventures, he also has to borrow 1000 ducats from the “Jew of Mestri”. The Jew of Mestri, being a text book bad guy, sets a pound of flesh to be sliced from Ansaldo's bones as the penalty should he default on the debt. Ansaldo is given a specific date on which the debt must be paid. (24. June St. John's day.)

Giannetto sets off for the third trip and everything looked like it was going to end with death, poverty and misery, but a servant of the Lady of Belmonte took pity on him and warned him about the drugged wine.

After a night of (pre) marital bliss, the Lady of Belmonte suddenly lost all interest in tricking Giannetto out of his ship. In fact, she was delighted at the prospect of such a wonderful husband. They got married and started to live “happily ever after” in the enchanted land of Belmonte. So happily that Giannetto forgot all about his godfather and the pound of flesh and the blood thirsty money lender.

One day Giannetto saw a parade going to church. He asked what it was for and when his wife said “Oh, it's Saint John's day, why?” Giannetto suddenly realised that Ansaldo was going to be carved up if he didn't pay 1000 ducats. Although it was far too late, he set off for Venice. The Lady of Belmonte gave him the money that is owed and more beside, but before he goes she makes him swear to keep his wedding ring on and to wear it on his return.

Ansaldo managed to get a small postponement on the removal of the pound of flesh by saying that even though he had no hope that his life should be spared, he loved Giannetto so much he yearned to see him just once more before he died.

The Lady of Belmonte disguised herself as a lawyer sped to Venice and saved the day, we all know how: First she tries to talk the money lender in to being a nice guy, she says “forget the contract, forget the revenge just take the money with all the interest on it, that way everybody wins.” When she sees that the money lender isn't going to listen to reason she changes her tune and says: “Cut a pound of flesh from your victim, but don't forget , contract or no contract, you're not allowed to shed any of his blood, if you do that you'll be executed.” She even has an executioner bought into the court room, complete with axe and block.

The Lady of Belmonte then plays a mischievous, though harmless trick on her husband. Still disguised as a lawyer she demands his wedding ring as payment for saving Ansaldo's life. When they get back home and she's dressed in her usual clothes she accuses him of infidelity, pretending not to believe his protestations of innocence. When she thinks he's suffered enough she forgives him.

Ansaldo marries the girl who tipped Giannetto off about the drugged wine and then they all live happily ever after.


As you can see, dear reader, it's a fairy story, please be patient with me while I look for the moral of our story, and perhaps a couple of flaws in the plot. Giannetto didn't have a care in the world. With his wealth and popularity in Venice he didn't need to look hard for a suitable wife. So there's one moral to the story for us all. If you've got money, enjoy it, don't run after position and power just for the sake of it.

The other moral to the story is aimed as the legal system of 16th century Europe: Judge each case on its face value rather than referring everything back to rigid paragraphs, take a more pragmatic or ( for want of a better word) female approach to things. It would have been cruel and wrong to kill Ansaldo over the debt, even though it would have been in accordance with the law.

To drive the point home: It was right and good for Giannetto to give the ring to the person whom he assumed to be the lawyer who saved Ansaldo's life, even though it meant breaking a solemn promise that he had made to his wife.

This is actually a question that has been worrying the legal profession since time immemorial. If the decisions of a judge are strictly pre-determined by the law, and if he is left no room to manoeuvre then he can't judge a case on its face value. If, on the other hand, judges are left unlimited freedom, then their personal prejudices can effect their decisions, they might even be open to bribery. Last but not least there is a homage to the best method of them all, let mercy and magnanimous behaviour prevail over revenge: the best legal battle is the one that doesn't go to court.


A further point that the author was making was a matter that we now take for granted: women are perfectly capable of excelling in professions from which they were excluded for far too long. The lady of Belmonte not only bought the concept of mercy and compassion in to the discussion. She also had the blood thirsty contract declared null and void by using existing legal arguments.


Zelauto by Anthony Munday

Towards the beginning of the novella we are surprised to see the “action” slowed down by a long discourse on the dynamics of relationships between men and women. Our romantic male figure now goes by the name of Strabino, he is the son of Sir Vincentio of Pescara who sends him to Venice to study. Strabino falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Cornelia, daughter of Girolamo Ruscelli, the sister of his best friend, Rodolfo.

An elderly money lender by the name of Signor Truculento also has his eye on our heroine, he doesn't court her directly, he goes straight to her father, gives him an expensive chalice containing five hundred crowns in cash. He comes straight to the point, lays the goods on the table and says that he wishes to marry the beautiful Cornelia. Girolamo Ruscelli is very fond of money. He doesn't seal the deal straight away, he says that he has to get her agreement as well, but he tells the money lender that he's confident of his daughter's obedience.

Cornelia worked out a plan to avoid a marriage to the old miser, Truculento. She sends her brother, Rudolfo and our hero, Strabino to the home of the money lender to procure a large loan. They then go to a jeweller in La Strada di San Paola where they buy an expensive jewel that Girolamo Ruscelli has had his eye on for some time. When Strabino gives the jewel to Girolamo Ruscelli he is welcomed as a future son in law and everything looks rosy.

When Rudolfo and Strabino ask for the loan of 4000 ducats for a period of one month they offer all of Strabino's lands and a limb from his body as penalty should the loan not be repaid on time. Truculento bargains with them offering to proffer the loan with both of their estates and both of their right eyes as penalty by default of payment.

There is also a sub-plot, Rudolfo, our hero's friend, falls in love with Brisana, Truculento's daughter. The two of them fall in love in the very best comic-opera style. Instantly and fervently.

Once Girolamo Ruscelli has the jewel in his hands nothing stands in the way of young love. Strabino marries Cornelia, Rudolfo marries Brisana and everybody is happy apart from Truculento. When he finds out that he's been robbed of his beautiful young bride with the help of a jewel that had been purchased with his own money and that one of the tricksters was now his son in law, he goes wild with rage. Truculento takes the two lads to court demanding the fulfilment of the bond; the right eye of each of the young men.

Cornelia and Brisana arrive at court disguised as lawyers and Cornelia brings the old cut off what you're entitled to but shed blood and you die routine. But not before Brisana suggests that they could have given the money to a servant who stole it and ran away. Truculento responds by saying that if they had given the money to a servant then they should have demanded that the transaction be documented, leaving us confused as to why Brisana should say something so irrelevant.

Zelauto ends in a court room drama whereby a woman, dressed as a lawyer finds the solution but it's not discourse on the role of Justitia in the world. It's more of a story about how an old man tries to buy a beautiful young bride and how two cocky young rapscallions trick him out of it and how two couples find true love.

We notice that the heroine didn't insist on the hero keeping his wedding ring. Nor did she demand it as payment for legal services.

Munday dedicates Zelauto to his patron and employer, the Earl of Oxford. Promising to finish it when he's got more time.


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

Here, our ardent lover, Bassanio, falls in love with the beautiful Portia, a lady of high birth who lives in the Villa Belmont. Bassanio needs to borrow 3000 ducats so that he can buy his servants new uniforms and court the beautiful heroine, Portia. Antonio's money is all wrapped up in ship's cargoes that are scattered about the globe, but he's prepared to stand as guarantor for the loan. They borrow the money from the Jewish money lender Shylock who sets a pound of flesh as the penalty by default on the loan.

Bassanio not only wins Portia's heart, he also picks the right casket in Portia's famous casket game. His friend Gratiano falls in love with Portia's servant, Nerissa, while another friend, Lorenzo, falls in love with Shylock's daughter, Jessica. True love is all around, so something horrible has to happen, doesn't it?

Shylock hears that Antonio's ships have all sunk. Furthermore, When his daughter, Jessica elopes with Lorenzo, they take money and jewellery with them. Moreover, his trusty servant “Gobbo” deserts him and goes to work for Bassanio, the romantic hero. Every bit as peevish as the other two money lenders Shylock goes before a judge and demands his pound of flesh.

Antonio asks to have the hearing postponed, not because he hopes to save his life, but because he wants to see his beloved friend one more time. The request is granted.

Portia, now married to Bassanio, gives her husband a ring forcing him to swear that he would never part with it. She then makes her way to court with her servant Nerissa, both disguised as lawyers. Portia brings the old cut off what you're entitled to but shed blood and you die routine.

As payment for saving Antonio's life Portia (disguised as a man) refuses money and requests that Bassanio give her the very ring that was the subject of his solemn pledge. Torn between gratitude to the lawyer and the obligation to honour the promise made to his wife, Bassanio gives up the ring, feeling sure that his wife will understand.

When Bassanio gets home, Portia gives him a bad time for not having his ring on. After she's had her fun she gives it back to him and everybody lives happily ever after.


Who was the first to copy Fiorentino?

Can we pause to talk about the concept of copying? We were all told at school that, in our times, it's bad. However the renaissance was different. It was all about the rebirth of interest in classical art which often manifested itself in the translations of the Greek and Roman favourites - hardly an exercise in originality. With copy-right laws (or rather the lack of them) being what they were, once a book was published there was little chance of losing money if someone wrote your story from a different view point, so Elizabethan writers didn't seem to mind being copied, it was actually considered a compliment. (Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) Il Pecorone was written in modern Italian, The Merchant of Venice was a play and Zelauto was a novella, so there was no danger of the authors treading on each other's toes.

The main theme of all three works is the bizarre court case whereby a creditor claims body parts from the debtor as penalty for delayed payment of the loan, in spite of the fact that the debtor brings the full amount loaned, plus interest, to the court room and is willing to settle his debt. Should such a case be bought to a real court room, any judge would have thrown it out, (A scholar of the law may well say that the contract was unconscionable. A particular nit-picky scholar of the law might further say that legal proceedings are also on thin ice if you've got a woman posing as a man conducting the defence ) and we would be left without this wonderful entertainment. Each story deals with these credibility problems in its own way. Fiorentino declares Il Pecorone to be a fairy story, in fairy land goblins are allowed to fly and rabbits are allowed to talk, so there won't be much fuss made about an unconscionable contract. Munday makes his story a bit like a Key stone Cops film or a W.C. Fields comedy in the hope that we overlook the legal and chronological contradictions. Shakespeare sets his story half way to fairy land to give the story half of the required credibility and then he has the villain make a “joke” about the removal of the pound of flesh, in the hope of our giving him the benefit of the doubt and conceding the remaining credibility.

Fiorentino's story was the first one. Let's look at the possibility that Munday wrote the second version and that Shakespeare wrote his version a few years later; then see if it makes sense: In other words: Did Shakespeare copy from Munday?

Shakespeare places the beautiful heroine in “Portia’s house at Belmont” after the mythical country “Belmonte”. Now there is our first problem with this theory. Anthony Munday doesn't mention “Belmonte” with a single syllable.

Fiorentino tells how the victim of the whole story (Ansaldo) comes to terms with his own death but asks for a delay in the legal proceedings so that he may see his beloved friend (Giannetto) one more time. Munday doesn't mention that part of the story either. However, the theme is reproduced in The Merchant of Venice: The victim of the whole story, (Antonio) pleads for a delay in the legal proceedings so that he can see his beloved friend (Bassanio) one more time.

Shakespeare adopts the theme with the ring, first given to the hero by the heroine and then coaxed off him by the same woman in disguise. Munday doesn't mention the ring.

Just like Fiorentino, Shakespeare has the money lender set a pound of flesh as the penalty for default on the loan - Munday's money lender sets the penalty for default on his loan at two right eyes.

May we pause to reflect on the pound of flesh? Imagine you were writing The Merchant of Venice and your using Zelauto as your inspiration, you come to the court room scene and you don't much fancy having your victim's eyes poked out. What are you going to do to him? “Remove the proverbial pound of flesh,” you say, everyone would say that, it's obvious. However it's only obvious to us because we've all seen The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare hadn't seen The Merchant of Venice, he hadn't written it yet. Why not cut his tongue out or chop a hand off as in William the Conqueror's penal code? Why invent something so ambivalent and messy as “a pound of flesh”? And what a huge coincidence that “the pound of flesh” is the very penalty mentioned in Il Pecorone.

Just like Il Pecorone Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice could be regarded as being a deliberation on the interpretation and administration of justice. Not so Zelauto which is first and foremost a bit of fun.

Shakespeare adopted three important aspects of Il Pecorone that Munday didn't mention: SHAKE-SPEARE must have taken his inspiration directly from Fiorentino's Il Pecorone and not via Munday's Zelauto.  

Il Pecorone was only published in modern Italian and not until after the deaths of all involved, in English.


To resume: The following things can be found in Il Pecorone and The Merchant of Venice, but not in Zelauto:

- Belmonte (Belmont) plays an important role.
- The money lender sets a pound of flesh as the penalty for failure of payment.
- The victim of the whole story stoically comes to terms with his own death.
- The heroine insists on being given the wedding ring of the romantic hero as payment for her services as a lawyer.
- The money lender is Jewish.

If we try to compile a list of things that we find in Il Pecorone and in Zelauto, but not in The Merchant of Venice, we can't find anything!


Did Anthony Munday copy from SHAKE-SPEARE's The Merchant of Venice?

Shakespeare uses the device of a parallel story to demonstrate that Bassanio's and Portia's love should be regarded as being part of a fairy story. When Bassanio first sees Portia they fall in love at first sight. Now that alone is not proof that we're in a fairy story because we all fell in love with our respective partners at first sight (and those who didn't would be wise to hold their own council) . However, in the very moment when Bassiano falls in love with Portia, his friend Gratiano falls in love with her servant Nerissa. Nerissa even stipulates that if Portia doesn't marry Bassanio then she won't marry Gratiano (now we know that we're in the land of make-believe.) Fiorentino has already made it clear that we're in an enchanted world with the fairy tale land of Belmonte and the unbelievable offer of the Lady of Belmonte, so he doesn't need a parallel story. The Lady of Belmonte goes to court alone. In the course of the parallel story, Portia has to take Nerissa to court with her. Munday's heroine also takes her girl friend Brisana to court with her even though there's no apparent reason for her doing so.

There's not much for the heroine's girlfriend to do in the courtroom, Shakespeare has Nerissa hand over a letter of introduction and tell the judge that the awaited lawyer is standing outside the courtroom. But what is Munday going to have his heroine's girlfriend do? In Zelauto, there is no letter of introduction. If he had been writing a play he could have dressed her up as a man and just had her stand there, but he was writing a novella, she had to say something or nobody would have known that she was there. She couldn't have said anything too clever or she would have stolen the heroine's thunder. So he gave her one of the most pointless lines in the history of English literature: “Ah but, what if they debtor had paid the money to a servant and the servant forgot to make a note of it?” If Munday had copied from Fiorentino and not from Shakespeare then he'd have noticed that, just like Fiorentino, he didn't need to send a girlfriend to the courtroom with his heroine. Furthermore, there is then the matter of equal rights for women. Even a casual observer can see that Il Pecorone and Il Pecorone and The Merchant of Venice both advocate equal rights for women. Anthony Munday must have seen this too. Obviously a superficial, meaningless remark from the heroine's girlfriend, in court, was counterproductive to the equality for women theme. If Munday had been copying from Fiorentino he wouldn't have thrown such a spanner in the works, he'd have left well alone with the heroine conducting the defence without any assistance. If he didn't want to join the other two authors and advocate equal rights for women then he had no business working on the project. Only if he were copying directly from The Merchant of Venice would he have left the second woman in. SHAKE-SPEARE wrote his story with two women in court and Munday didn't trust himself to leave one of them out.

In fairness to Munday, he was short of time, as can be seen by the his words in the dedication to the Earl of Oxford:  

The last part of this woorke remaineth unfinished, the which for breuity of time, and speediness in the Imprinting: I was constrained to permit till more limitted leysure.....”

Furthermore, who's got the courage to “correct” SHAKE-SPEARE.

With all three stories we ask ourselves “How could it have come to such a court case? Couldn't someone have forwarded the money to our unfortunate debtor? How can anyone agree to risk their lives without securing a much longer term loan? Fiorentino silences our questions by having his hero transported to an imaginary land, there is no such place as “Belmonte” on the map, it's like the Land of Oz. People are allowed to be enchanted and forget things there. If we say “But Giannetto had all the time in the world to get the money to Ansaldo how could this happen?” Fiorentino would respond with: “It's a fairy story already, loosen up will you! The guy was enchanted.”

Shakespeare tackles the same problem in two stages. First of all he declares his heroine's home to be a sort of “halfway house to fairy land”. Portia is wealthy and princes come to court her. She has a method of choosing a husband that could well be out of a fairy story. Even though we know where Portia's home is situated, it's still a bit unreal. The second stage is far more simple, when Shylock agrees to forward the loan he pretends to be joking when he makes the stipulation about the pound of flesh. Antonio, his victim, believes the lie:

This kindness will I show. Go with me to a notary , seal me there
Your single bond, and —in a merry sport—
If you repay me not on such a day,
In such a place, such sum or sums as are
Expressed in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound Of your fair flesh,
to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Content, in faith. I’ll seal to such a bond,
And say there is much kindness in the Jew.

                                                                  (The Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 3)

After the bitter clash of words preceding this “joke” it's strange that Shakespeare doesn't bother to offer us anything else to give his story credibility. He must have known that we didn't need much credibility as long as we get to the gripping court room scene. That's what Munday must have thought when he copied from The Merchant of Venice (“Hey if Shakespeare can't be bothered to make the story a bit more credible, then why should I ?”) Munday's heroes are told straight out that their right eyes will be cut out by failure of payment within a month and they don't seem to understand what that means.

In The Merchant of Venice we experience Shakespeare being sloppy. Shylock hears rumours that Antonio's ships have sunk (that turn out to be incorrect), he gets angry because his daughter eloped with Lorenzo. His servant Gobbo goes to work for Bassanio and Bob's your uncle, Shylock is standing in the court room waving his carving knife. The contract between Antonio and Shylock stipulated the duration of the loan as being three months. Bassanio marries Portia as soon as the uniforms are ready for his servants. A good guess at the period of time between Shylock's loan of 3000 ducats and his demand for his pound of flesh would be two weeks at the most. What happened to the other two and a half months?

How does Munday deal with the same problem? He doesn't deal with it. He's just as sloppy as Shakespeare. His debtors could have paid up their debt within a week, but for no reason at all they took a month and two days. If Munday had copied from Fiorentino and not from Shakespeare he'd have followed Fiorentino's example and thought up a good reason for the delay.


Similarities between Zelauto and The Adventures of Master F.I.

First Similarity

 We notice a complete change in the mood of Munday's Zelauto when his hero Strabino falls in love with the heroine, Cornelia. The reader feels himself transformed to The Adventures of Master F.I. Author: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (as demonstrated by KK on this web-site). The two lovers approach intimacy like anybody else but their dialogue is hardly what we would expect. It sounds more like two opposing Generals discussing the rules of engagement before commencement of battle than a young couple in the process of falling in love. Munday even paraphrases one of Edward de Vere's poems:

Of thee dear Dame, three lessons would I learn:
What reason first persuades the foolish Fly
(As soon as she a candle can discern)
To play with flame, till she be burnt thereby?
Or what may move the Mouse to bite the bait
Which strikes the trap, that stops her hungry breath?
What calls the Bird, where snares of deep deceit
Are closely couched to draw her to her death?


The foolish Flye (quoth she) so long iesteth with the Candle, that at last she singeth her selfe, the silly Mouse wandreth so oft so farre abroade; that she is taken tardy before she come home, and the Nightinggale singeth so sweeetly that she fall in a sleepe, and so oftentymes is caught at unawares.

To recapitulate: Fly, mouse, bird all dead in that order; in the course of describing two people falling in love. That can't possibly be a coincidence. (Just go through all the love songs and see how often dead mice are mentioned and of those declarations of love with dead mice, how many also have a dead bird and a dead fly?)


Second Similarity

  Almost  at the beginning of The Adventures of master F.I., we see the following poem:

Fair Bersabe the bright, once bathing in a well,
With dew bedimm’d King David’s eyes that ruled Israel,
And Salomon himself, the source of sapience,
Against the force of such assaults could make but small defense:
To it the stoutest yield, and strongest feel like woe,
Bold Hercules and Samson both did prove it to be so.
What wonder seemeth then, when stars stand thick in skies,
If such a blazing star have power to dim my dazzled eyes?

In Zelauto we find a reference to the same biblical story;

Likewise king David became convinced by the love of Bersaba: Salomon the wise was subject to love likewise. If then love hath made the gods to agree, the wise to be wilfull the stoutest to stoop; is it possible for me , poor Strabino to resist a thing of such force?

How many stories are in the bible. What are the odds of the same story appearing in both works being a coincidence?


Third Similarity

 With In The Adventures of Master F.I., the Earl of Oxford making a  reference to the following sentence from Geoffrey Chaucer's, Troilus and Criseyde, Book IV: “It is ful hard to halten unespied / Byfore a crepel, for he kan the crafte.” (Don't try and fool a criple with a fake limp, they know too much about it.) His Mistress with change of countenance kept silence, whereat dame Frances, rejoicing, cast out this bone to gnaw on. "I perceive," quoth she, "it is evil to halt before a Cripple."

 In Zelauto we encounter the same concept of trying to fool a cripple with a false limp:

            Cornelia: Oh Syr, soft fyte makes sweet Mault, it is yll to halt before a Criple.

What are the odds that both authors will use a concept from the same book independently of each other?

The Adventures of Master F.I. was first published in 1573 (as a part of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres). Munday had obviously read The Adventures of Master F.I. most attentively when he wrote the first part of Zelauto . Why should he copy the rest from Fiorentino's Il Pecorone?

 It might appear as if Munday was toadying to his boss and patron, the Earl of Oxford, but I doubt it. What better way of getting a free lesson in creative writing from William Shake-speare than re-hashing his own material for him and then asking him what he thinks of it?


Historical References

There are records in existence of references to The Merchant of Venice by Stephen Gosson and Gabriel Harvey (both from the year 1579): one speaks of a play The Jew wherein is shown “the greedinesse of worldly chusers and bloody minds of Userers” and the other one tells the recipient of his letter that he is: “fast bownde unto thee in more obligations then any merchant in Italy to any Jewe there.”

With that, I believe that we can conclude that The Merchant of Venice was written prior to Zelauto.

The actor Will Shaksper was 16 when Zelauto was published, meaning that he was 14 or 15 when The Merchant of Venice was written.

Let us look for evidence that points to Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford being the man behind the name SHAKE-SPEARE:


Subject Matter.

One of the underlying themes of The Merchant of Venice is the conflict between two concepts in a penal code for a Christian country. The first being that if a punishment is too lax then the perpetrator will be encouraged to repeat his misdeeds and that the judge who failed to impose an adequate sentence is partially guilty of the repeated felony. On the other hand we have the concept: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mathew 5/7) one of the pillars of Christian societies. He lets the one concept be voiced by Shylock and the other by Portia. Would it surprise us to hear that this play was written by a scholar of the law? In February 1567 he was admitted to Gray's Inn to study law.

Even though we are not certain as whether or not he completed the course of studies necessary for a degree in law, we know that the subject interested him.


Geographical Knowledge.

We now come to the knowledge of historical personages and of the geography of Venice and its surroundings demonstrated by the author of The Merchant of Venice, but first I would like you to perform two little experiments.

Do yourself a favour and read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. Not only is it a seriously funny book but the vivid style of Bryson's writing makes you feel as if you'd walked down the Appalachian Trail yourself. What would you say if someone were to tell you that he never went to America and that he wrote that book on a kitchen table in London? You'd laugh at them. Now watch The Merchant of Venice again. Are you going to say that the author had never been to Venice? Authors go to the places that they write about. They soak up as much of the “feel” of the place as they can, later they somehow manage to squeeze this “feel” between the lines of what they write. That's how they work their magic.

Just in case you still don't believe that Shakespeare visited Venice please consider that he demonstrated accurate geographical knowledge of Venice and its surroundings. For instance he knew that the wealthy citizens of Venice preferred to live on the banks of the Brenta river channel , that Padua is about ten miles away and that a tranect (A machine unknown in England) needs to be used for the journey mentioned in the play to put the icing on the cake; he called Shylock's servant “Gobbo”. Let's face it, you can't think up names like that. If you go to the Campo San Giacometto in Venice then you'll find the statue: “Il gobbo di Rialto.”

The characters in Portia's parade of suitors are based on historical personages some of whom had, at some time, made the acquaintance of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford:

Now I would like you to put on your philology thinking caps and put yourselves in the author's position. Consider the character Portia in The Merchant of Venice . She's inclined to be somehow magical. She is wise and she has a sharp analytical mind. She can be compassionate but, if need be, she can also be strict. Princes and kings come to ask for her hand in marriage, but she sends them away. My question: Who is this character based on? Would you like a clue? When Bassiano chooses the right casket she says:

But now I was the lord of this fair mansion, master of my servants,
Queen o'er myself: and even now, but now
This house, these servants and this same myself
Are yours, my lord: I give them with this ring.

I can almost hear you say “Queen Elizabeth, of course.” Now in those days writing about Queen Elizabeth was a risky business. It got Ben Jonson in jail, John Stubbs got his hand chopped off. Her majesty's life wasn't a subject to be approached unless you knew that you were in her good books. As was the Earl of Oxford.

Dear reader, please indulge me with a short reflection before we continue. This reference to the life of the Earl of Oxford has helped us to answer a question pertaining to the interpretation of a SKAKE-SPEARE play. There are a lot of other questions that can be answered in the same way. This is what K.K. referred to when he said that Shakespeare's plays are like orphans and that we are duty bound to reunite them with their father.


Martin Peake