3.3.1. Fiorentino, Il Pecorone, 1558


It is generally assumed that the Fourth Day of Il Pecorone was the inspiration for Anthony Munday’s Zelauto which in turn was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. This is a bad mistake with serious consequences.

Il Pecorone (The big Sheep or The Simpleton), a collection of short stories printed in Milan (1558) and Venice (1560 and 1565), is attributed to ‘Giovanni Fiorentino’, because the opening sonnet of the book says:

Thirteen hundred and seventy-eight the year
When I, one Ser Giovanni, wrote this book,
As all may see who list therein to look,
Wrote it, and set in order, neat and clear.
To give a name thereto I took small care,
Since a good friend of mine its title found,
II Pecoron, for that it doth abound
With owlish loons, who make within their lair.
A loon myself, I over these preside,
And like a bleating calf my way pursue,
Book-making, and I know not what beside,
Granted the times be ripe, and that my due
Of fame and honour with me may abide,
For praise will greet me from the loutish crew.
Then marvel not, O reader, if you find
The book and writer of the self-same kind.

This attribution is supposed to be spurious although it is mostly retained for convenience. Angelo de Gubernatis (1840-1913) demonstrated that the personality of Ser Giovanni is purely mythical; that the Pecorone, from certain idiosyncrasies of style, could not have been written in the trecento; and that its proper place is with the other recognized forgeries of literature, the Macpherson of this Ossian being Ludovico Domenichi (1515-1564), the editor of the first edition published in 1558.

It can be proven that Shake-speare was directly familiar with El Pecorone in spite of the fact that, in the sixteenth century, no English translation of the Italian novel was in existence. Anthony Munday also used the fable of the gory guarantee for the repayment of a loan, which was not permitted to cause loss of blood during its collection. However, Munday tells a different story which features neither a Jew, a merchant who acts as guarantor for the loan, nor a pound of flesh which is to be cut from the guarantor’s body. Munday’s story does not even take place in Venice. - Munday sets his story in Verona. An elderly Christian usurer by the name of Truculento wishes to marry the beautiful Cornelia. Strabino, a young man who is also in love with Cornelia borrows money from the usurer to buy a gift for Cornelia’s father which ruins Truculento’s chances. In the contract for the loan, the usurer sets the condition that by default of payment the young man’s right eye will be cut out along with that of his friend Rodolfo. 

The two stories end in the same way. Both money lenders are told that they may extract their due; however, if a single drop of blood is spilled thereby, they will be executed. The question of where Munday drew his inspiration from will be discussed later. (See Il Pecorone – The Merchant – Zelauto. And 10.1.1 When was The Merchant of Venice written?)

Fiorentino’s episode of the bond is apparently of Eastern origin. The story of Selestinus given by Francis Douce ("Illustrations of Shakespeare," vol. i., 281) is almost the same as this novel, and probably both stories come from this same source, i.e., the version in Dolopathos or Seven Wise Masters (c. 1210). “Ser Giovanni Fiorentino” makes Belmonte the residence of the lady, and is the first to picture a Jew as the extortionate creditor.


Il Pecorone, The Fourth Day, First Novel

English translation by William Waters, 1897

There was once in Florence, in the house of the Scali, a certain merchant called Bindo, who had sailed many times to Tana, near to Alexandria, and had likewise adventured in those other long voyages which are made for the sake of traffic. This Bindo, who was very rich, had three stalwart sons, and when he lay on his deathbed he bade come to him the eldest and the second born, and in their presence he made his will and left them heirs of all he possessed in the world. But to the youngest he left nothing. When the will was completed, the youngest son, who was called Giannetto, heard tell of the same, and went to his father's bedside and said, 'Father, I am greatly astounded at what you have  done, in taking no thought of me in your testament.' The father answered, 'My Giannetto, there is no one living I hold dearer than you, therefore I am not minded that you should tarry here after my death, but rather that you should betake yourself to Venice to your godfather, who is named Messer Ansaldo. He has no son of his own, and has written to me more than once to send you to him; moreover, I must tell you that he is the richest of all the Christian merchants. Wherefore I desire that you go to him after my death and give him this letter. If you manage your affairs with prudence, you will become a rich man.' The young man answered, 'My father, I am ready to do what you command.' Whereupon the sick man gave him his blessing, and in a few days' time breathed his last. All the sons lamented sorely, and buried their father with due honours.

When a few days had passed the two brothers called Giannetto, and said to him, 'Brother, it is true indeed that our father has made a will leaving us his heirs, and making no mention of you. Nevertheless, you are our brother, and from this time you shall have share in whatever may be left, equally with ourselves.' Giannetto answered, 'I thank you, my brothers, for what you offer, but I have made up my mind to seek my fortune in some other place. On this I am fully determined; wherefore you can take the heritage sanctified and assigned to you.' The brothers, when they saw what his will was, gave him a horse and money for his charges. Giannetto took leave of them, and having journeyed to Venice and gone to the warehouse of Messer Ansaldo, he delivered the letter which his father had handed to him on his deathbed; and Messer Ansaldo, when he had read the same, learned that the young man before him was the son of his dear friend Bindo. As soon as he had read it he straightway embraced Giannetto, saying, 'Welcome, dear godson, whom I have so greatly desired to see.' Then he asked news of Bindo, and Giannetto replied that he was dead; whereupon Ansaldo embraced and kissed him, weeping the while, and said, 'I am sorely grieved over Bindo's death, inasmuch as it was by his aid that I won the greater part of my wealth; but the joy I feel at your presence here is so great that it takes away the sting of my sorrow.' Then he led Giannetto to his house, and gave orders to his workpeople, and those about his person, as well as to his grooms and servants, that they should do service to Giannetto even more zealously than to himself. The first thing he did was to hand over to Giannetto the key of all his ready money, saying, ‘My son, spend what you will; buy raiment and shoes to suit your taste; bid the townsfolk to dine with you, and make yourself known; for I leave you free to do what you will, and the better you are liked by our citizens the better I shall love you.' So Giannetto began to keep company with the gentlefolk of Venice, to entertain, to give banquets and presents, to keep servants in livery, and to buy fine horses; moreover, he would joust and tilt, because he was very expert, and magnanimous and courteous in everything he did. He never failed to give honour and respect where they might be due, and he reverenced Messer Ansaldo as if he had been a hundred times his father. So prudent was his carriage with men of all conditions that he won the  goodwill of all the people of Venice, who regarded him as a youth of the greatest intelligence, and most delightful manners, and courteous beyond measure; so that all the ladies, and the men as well, seemed in love with him. Messer Ansaldo had no eyes for any but him, so charmed was he with Giannetto's bearing and manners. Nor was any feast ever given to which he was not bidden.

It happened one day that two good friends of his determined to sail for Alexandria with some wares laden in two ships, as was their annual custom. They said to Giannetto, 'You ought to give yourself the pleasure of a voyage with us, in order to see the world, especially Damascus and the parts thereabout.' Giannetto answered, 'In faith I would go willingly, if only Messer Ansaldo would give me leave.' They replied, 'We will see that he does this, be sure of that.' They went forthwith to Messer Ansaldo and said to him, 'We beg you to let Giannetto go with us this spring to Alexandria, and to give him a bark or vessel so that he may see something of the world.' Messer Ansaldo replied that he was willing to let Giannetto do as he liked, and the others assured him that the young man would be well pleased to go. Then Messer Ansaldo let prepare a very fine ship, which he loaded with much merchandise, and supplied with banners and arms and all that was necessary. And when all was in readiness Messer Ansaldo gave orders to the captain and the crew of the ship that they should do whatever Giannetto might direct, and he committed him to their care. 'For,' said he, 'I am not sending him out for the sake of gain, but so that he may see the world as it best pleases him.' When Giannetto went to embark, all Venice came to see him, for it was long time since any ship so fine or so well furnished had left the port; and when he had taken leave of Messer Ansaldo and of his companions he put out to sea and hoisted sail, and steered the course for Alexandria in the name of God and of good fortune.

After these three friends in their three ships had sailed on several days it chanced that early one morning Giannetto caught sight of a certain gulf in which was a very fair port, whereupon he asked the captain what might be the name of the place. The captain replied that it belonged to a certain lady, a widow, who had brought many to ruin. Giannetto inquired how they had been undone, and the captain replied, 'Messere, this lady is very beautiful, and she has made it a law that, if any stranger lands there, he must needs share her bed, and, if he should have his will of her, that he should have her to wife and be the lord of the town and of all the country round. But if he should fail in his venture, he must lose all he has.' Giannetto meditated for a moment, and then bade the captain land him at the port by some means or other, but the captain cried to him, 'Messere, take care what you do, for many gentlemen have landed there, and every one has been ruined.' But Giannetto said, 'Trouble not yourself about others; do what I tell you.' His command was obeyed; they put the ship about at once and made sail for the port, and those on board the other ships perceived not what was done.

In the harbour the next morning, when the news was spread that a fine ship had come into port, all the people flocked to see her, and it was told likewise to the lady, who forthwith sent for Giannetto. He  went to her with all haste and made respectful obeisance; whereupon she took him by the hand and asked who he was, and whence he had come, and whether he knew the custom of the land. Giannetto answered that he did, and that he had come there by reason of this custom alone. The lady said, 'You are welcome a hundredfold,' and all that day she treated him with the greatest honour, and bid come divers counts and barons and knights who were under her rule to keep Giannetto company. All these were mightily pleased with Giannetto's manners and his polished and pleasant and affable presence. Almost everyone felt kindly towards him, and all that day they danced and sang and made merry at the court for the sake of Giannetto, and everyone would have been well content to own him as over-lord.

When evening was come the lady took him by the hand and led him into the bedchamber, and said, 'Me seems it is time for us to go to bed.' Whereto Giannetto made answer, 'Madonna, I am at your commands.' Then two damsels came, one bearing wine and the other sweetmeats, and the lady said, 'Surely you must be thirsty; drink of this wine.' Giannetto took some sweetmeats and drank of the wine, which was drugged to make him sleep, and he unwitting drank half a glass thereof, as it had the taste of good wine. Then he undressed and lay down on the bed, and fell asleep at once. The lady lay down beside him, but he woke not till it was past nine o'clock the next morning. As soon as it was day the lady arose, and made them begin unload the ship, which was filled with rich and fine merchandise. When nine o'clock had struck the waiting-maid went to the bed where Giannetto lay, and bade him rise and go his way with God's help, forasmuch as he had forfeited his ship and all that was therein. He was greatly ashamed, and conscious that he had fared very ill in his adventure.[1] The lady bade them give him a horse and money for the way; and he, after a sad and doleful journey, arrived at Venice, but he dared not for shame go home. He called by night at the house of one of his friends, who marvelled greatly at the sight of him, and said, 'Alas! Giannetto, what means this? ' and Giannetto made answer, 'My ship struck one night upon a rock, and became a wreck, and everything was broken up. One was cast here and another there, and I caught hold of a piece of wood, on which I reached the shore. I returned hither by land, and here I am.'

Giannetto tarried some time in the house of his friend, who went one day to see Messer Ansaldo, and found him in very melancholy mood. Ansaldo said, 'I am so sorely afeared lest this son of mine should be dead, or that he have met some ill fortune at sea, that I can find nor peace nor happiness, so great is my love for him.' The young man answered, 'I can tell you news of him; he has been shipwrecked and has lost everything, but he has escaped with his life.' 'God be praised for this,' said Messer Ansaldo; 'so long as he has saved himself I am contented, and care naught for what he has lost. But where is he?' The young man replied that Giannetto was in his house; whereupon Messer Ansaldo arose forthwith and was fain to go thither, and when he saw Giannetto he ran towards him and embraced him, saying, 'My son, you need feel no shame for what has befallen you, inasmuch as it is no rare thing for a ship to be wrecked at sea. Be not cast down, for, since no hurt has come to you, I can rejoice.' Then he took Giannetto home and cheered him the best he could, and the news spread through Venice, everyone being grieved for the loss which had befallen him.

Before long Giannetto's companions returned from Alexandria, having won great profit from their venture, and as soon as they landed they asked for news of him. When they heard his story they went straightway to greet him, saying, 'How did you leave our company, and where did you go? When we lost sight of you, we turned back on our course for a whole day, but we could neither see aught of your ship nor learn where you had gone. Thus we fell into such grief that, for the whole of our voyage, we knew not what merriment was, deeming you to be dead.' Giannetto answered, 'An adverse wind arose in a certain inlet of the sea, which drove my ship on a rock near the shore, and caused her to sink. I barely escaped with my life, and everything I had was lost.' This was the excuse made by Giannetto to conceal his failure, and all his friends made merry with him, thanking God that his life had been spared, and saying, 'Next spring, with God's help, we will earn as much as you have lost this voyage; so let us now enjoy ourselves without giving way to sadness,' and they took their pleasure according to their wont. But Giannetto could not banish the thought of how he might return to that lady, pondering with himself and saying, 'Certes, I must make her my wife or die,' and he could not shake off his sadness. Wherefore Messer Ansaldo besought him often that he should not grieve; for that, with the great wealth he possessed, they could live very well, but Giannetto answered that he could know no rest until he should have once more made that voyage over seas.

When Messer Ansaldo saw what his longing was, he let furnish for him in due time another ship, laden with yet richer cargo than the first, spending in this venture the main portion of his possessions; and the crew, as soon as they had stored the vessel with all that was needful, put out to sea with Giannetto on board, and set sail on the voyage. Giannetto kept constant watch to espy the port where the lady dwelt, which was known as the port of the lady of Belmonte[2], and, having sailed one night up to the entrance thereof, which was in an arm of the sea, he suddenly recognized it, and bade them turn the sails and steer into it in such fashion that his friends on board the other ships might know naught of what he did. The lady, when she arose in the morning, looked towards the port, where she saw flying the flag of Giannetto's ship, and, having recognized it at once, she called one of her chambermaids and said to her, 'Know you what flag that is? ' and the maid replied that it was the ship of the young man who had come there just a year ago, and who had left with them all his possessions to their great satisfaction. Then said the lady, 'It is true what you say, and certes he must be hugely enamoured of me, seeing that I have never known one of these to come back a second time.' The maid said, 'I indeed never saw a more courteous and gracious gentleman than he; ' whereupon the lady sent out to Giannetto a troop of grooms and pages, who went joyfully on board the ship. He received them in like spirit, and then went up to the castle and presented himself to the lady.

She, when she met him, embraced him with joy and delight, and he returned her greeting with reverent devotion. All that day they made merry, for the lady had bid come to her court divers ladies and gentlemen, and these entertained Giannetto joyfully for the love they bore him. The men grieved over the fate which was in store for him, for they would gladly have hailed him as their lord on account of his charm and courtesy, while the women were almost all in love with him when they saw with what dexterity he led the dance, and how he always wore a merry face as if he had been the son of some great lord. When it seemed to her time to retire, the lady took Giannetto by the hand and said, 'Let us go to bed,' and when they had gone into the chamber, and had disposed themselves to rest, two damsels came with wine and sweetmeats, whereof they ate and drank, and then went to bed. Giannetto fell asleep as soon as he lay down; whereupon the lady undressed and placed herself beside him, but he did not awake from sleep all night. As soon as it was day the lady arose and bade them quickly unload the vessel, and when it was nine o'clock Giannetto awoke, but on seeking for the lady he could not find her. Then he lifted up his head and perceived that it was broad day; so he got up, covered with disgrace, and once more they gave him a horse and money for the journey, and said 'Go your way,' and he departed full of shame and sorrow. He journeyed for many days without halt till he came to Venice, and there he went by night to the house of his friend, who, when he saw him, was hugely amazed and said, 'Alas! and what can this mean? ' Giannetto replied, 'I am in evil case. Accursed be the fortune which led me into that land! ' His friend replied, 'Certes, you may well miscall your fortune, since you have ruined Messer Ansaldo, the greatest and the richest of our Christian merchants; but still your shame is worse than his loss.'

Giannetto lay hid some days in his friend's house, knowing not what to say or do, and almost minded to return to Florence without speaking a word to Messer Ansaldo; but at last he determined to seek him, and when Ansaldo beheld him he arose and ran to him and embraced him, saying, 'Welcome to you, my son,' and Giannetto embraced him, weeping the while. Then, when he had learnt all, Messer Ansaldo said, 'Listen to me, Giannetto, and give over grieving; for, as long as I have you back again, I am contented. We still have enough to allow us to live in modest fashion. The sea is always wont to give to one and to take from another.' It was soon noised abroad in Venice what had happened, and all men were much grieved over the loss which Messer Ansaldo had suffered, for he was obliged to sell many of his chattels in order to pay the creditors who had supplied him with goods. It happened that the adventurers who had set sail with Giannetto returned from Alexandria with great profit, and as soon as they landed they heard how Giannetto had come back broken in fortune; wherefore they were greatly amazed and said, 'This is the strangest matter that ever was.' Then they went with great laughter and merriment to Messer Ansaldo and Giannetto and said, 'Messere, be not cast down, for we have settled to go next year to trade on your account, seeing that we have been in a way the cause of your loss, in that we persuaded Giannetto to go with us. Fear nothing, for as long as we have anything you may treat it as your own.' On this account Messer Ansaldo thanked them, and said that he had as yet enough left to give him sustenance.

But it came to pass that Giannetto, pondering these matters day and night, could not shake off his sorrow; wherefore Messer Ansaldo demanded to know what ailed him, and Giannetto answered, 'I shall never know content till I have regained you what I have lost.' Messer Ansaldo answered, 'My son, I would not that you should leave me again, for it will be better for us to live modestly on what is left to us than for you to put aught else to hazard.' Giannetto said, 'I am determined to do all I can, forasmuch as I should hold myself to be in most shameful case were I to bide here in this fashion.' Then Messer Ansaldo, seeing that his mind was set thereon, made provision to sell all that he had left in the world, and to equip for him another vessel; and, after he had sold everything, so that he had naught left, he loaded a fine vessel with merchandise, and, because he wanted yet ten thousand ducats to complete his venture, he went to a certain Jew of Mestri, with whom he made an agreement that, if he should not repay the debt by Saint John's day in the June following, the Jew should have the right to take a pound of his flesh, and to cut the same from what place so ever he listed.[3] Messer Ansaldo having duly agreed, and the Jew having drawn up a binding document with witnesses, using all the precautions and formalities which the occasion demanded, the ten thousand gold ducats were handed over, and with the same Messer Ansaldo supplied all that was wanting in the ship's cargo. In sooth, if the other two vessels had been fine and fair, this third was much richer and better furnished. In like manner Giannetto's friends fitted out their vessels, with the intention of giving to him whatever they might gain by traffic.

When the day of departure had come and they were about to sail, Messer Ansaldo said to Giannetto, 'My son, you are going away, and you see with what bond I am bound. One favour I beg of you, which is, that if perchance you should again miscarry, you will return hither, so that I may see you again before I die; then I shall be content to depart; ' and Giannetto answered that he would do all things which him seemed were agreeable to Messer Ansaldo's wishes. Then Ansaldo gave him his blessing, and, having taken leave, they set sail on their voyage. The two friends who sailed with Giannetto kept good watch over his ship, while he thought of nothing else than how he might again drop into the harbour of Belmonte. Indeed, he gained over to his interests one of the steersmen so completely that he caused the vessel to be brought one night into the port of the lady's city. When in the morning the light grew clear, his two friends in the other two ships conferred and deliberated, and, since they saw nothing of Giannetto's ship, they said one to the other, 'In sooth, this is an evil turn for him,' and then they kept on their course, wondering greatly the while. When the vessel entered the port all the people of the city ran to see her, and when they learned that it was Giannetto come once again they marvelled amain, saying, 'Certes, he must be the son of some great prince, seeing that he comes hither every year with such a fine ship and such great store of merchandise. Would to God that he were our ruler!' Then all the chief men and the barons and cavaliers of the land went to visit Giannetto, and word was carried to the lady how he was once more in the port. Whereupon she went to the window of the palace, and, as soon as she espied the fine vessel and the banner thereof, she made the sign of the holy cross and said, 'Of a surety this is a great day for me, for it is the same gentleman who has already brought such wealth into the land.' And she forthwith sent for Giannetto.

He repaired to her presence, and they embraced one another and exchanged greetings and reverence, and then the people set themselves to make merry all that day, and, for the love they had for Giannetto, they held a stately jousting, many barons and cavaliers running a course. Giannetto also was minded to show his skill, and indeed he wrought such marvellous deeds, and showed such great prowess both with his arms and his horse, and won so completely the favour of the barons, that they all desired to have him to rule over them. And when evening had come, and it was time to retire, the lady took Giannetto by the hand and said, 'Let us go to bed.' When they came to the chamber door one of the lady's waiting-women, who had pity for Giannetto, put her lips close to his ear and said in a whisper, 'Make a show of drinking the wine, but taste it not.' Giannetto caught the meaning of her words, and entered the room with the lady, who said, 'I am sure you must be athirst; wherefore I will that you take a draught before you lie down to sleep.' Straightway came two damsels, who were as fair as angels, bearing wine and sweetmeats according to their wont, and making ready the draught. Then said Giannetto, 'Who could refuse to drink with cupbearers so lovely as these? ' The lady laughed, and Giannetto took the cup and feigned to drink therefrom, but he poured the wine down into his breast. The lady however believed that he had indeed drunk of the same, and said to herself, 'Thou wilt sail here again with another ship, for thou hast lost the one in the port.'

Giannetto got into bed and found himself with his wits clear and full of desire, and the time that sped before the lady came to his side seemed a thousand years. He said to himself, 'Certes, I have caught her this time, and she shall no longer have reason to think of me as a glutton and a toper.' And, in order to let her come the quicker to bed, he began to snore and to feign to be sleeping. When the lady saw this she said, 'All is well,' and quickly undressed herself and lay down beside Giannetto, who lost no time, but, as soon as the lady was under the sheets, he turned to her and embraced her, saying, 'Now I have that which I have so long desired,' and with these words he gave her the greeting of holy matrimony, and all that night she lay in his arms; wherefore she was well content. The next morning she arose before dawn, and let summon all the barons and cavaliers and many of the citizens, and said to them, 'Giannetto is your lord; so let us make merry,' and at these words there went a shout through all the land, 'Long live our lord, Giannetto!' The bells and the musical instruments gave notice of the feast, and word was sent to divers barons and counts who dwelt far from the city bidding them come and see their ruler. There were merrymakings and feastings many and sumptuous, and when Giannetto came forth from the chamber they made him a cavalier and set him upon the throne, giving him a wand to hold in his hand, and proclaiming him lord with much state and rejoicing.

When all the barons and ladies of the land were come to court, Giannetto took to wife the lady with rejoicings and delights so great that they can neither be described nor imagined. For at this time all the barons and nobles of the country came to the feast, and there was no lack of merry jesting, and jousting, and sword-play, and dancing, and singing, and music, and all the other sports appertaining to jollity and rejoicing. Messer Giannetto, like a high-spirited gentleman, made presents of silken stuffs and of other rich wares which he had brought with him. He was a strong ruler, and made himself respected by the equal justice he maintained towards men of all classes. Thus he lived his life in joy and gladness, and gave no thought to Messer Ansaldo, who, luckless wight as he was, remained a living pledge for the ten thousand ducats which he had borrowed from the Jew.

One day Messer Giannetto, standing with his wife at the window of the palace, saw, passing through the piazza, a band of men bearing lighted torches in their hands, as if they were going to make some offering. Giannetto inquired of her what this might mean; whereupon she replied that it was a company of craftsmen going to pay their vows at the church of San Giovanni on the festival of the saint. Messer Giannetto then remembered Messer Ansaldo, and, having gone away from the window, he sighed deeply and became grave of countenance, and walked up and down the hall thinking over what he had just seen. The lady asked what ailed him, and he replied that nothing was amiss; but she began to question him, saying, 'Certes, you are troubled with something you are loth to tell me,' and she spake so much on the matter that at last Messer Giannetto told her how Messer Ansaldo was held in pledge for ten thousand ducats, and that the time for repayment expired this very day. 'Wherefore,' he said, 'I am smitten with great sorrow that my father should have to die for me; for unless his debt shall be repaid to-day, he is bound to have cut from his body a pound of flesh.' The lady said, 'Messere, mount your horse quickly, and travel thither by land, for you can travel more speedily thus than by sea. Take what following you wish, and a hundred thousand ducats to boot, and halt not till you shall be come to Venice. Then, if your father be still living, bring him back here with you.' Whereupon Giannetto let the trumpets sound forthwith, and, having mounted with twenty companions and taken money enough, he set out for Venice.

When the time set forth in the bond had expired, the Jew caused Messer Ansaldo to be seized, and then he declared he meant to cut away from his debtor the pound of flesh. But Messer Ansaldo begged him to let him live a few days longer, so that, in case Giannetto should return, he might at least see his son once more. The Jew replied that he was willing to grant this favour, as far as the respite was concerned, but that he was determined to have his pound of flesh according to his agreement, though a hundred Giannettos should come; and Messer Ansaldo declared that he was content. All the people of Venice were talking of this matter, everyone being grieved thereanent, and divers traders made a partnership together to pay the money, but the Jew would not take it, being minded rather to do this bloody deed, so that he might boast that he had slain the chief of the Christian merchants. Now it happened that, after Messer Giannetto set forth eagerly for Venice, his wife followed immediately behind him clad in legal garb and taking two servants with her.[4]

When Messer Giannetto had come to Venice he went to the Jew's house, and, having joyfully embraced Messer Ansaldo, he next turned to the Jew, and said he was ready to pay the money that was due, and as much more as he cared to demand. But the Jew made answer that he wanted not the money, since it had not been paid in due time,[5] but that he desired to cut his pound of flesh from Ansaldo. Over this matter there arose great debate, and everyone condemned the Jew; but, seeing that equitable law ruled in Venice, and that the Jew's contract was fully set forth and in customary legal form, no one could deny him his rights; all they could do was to entreat his mercy.

On this account all the Venetian merchants came there to entreat the Jew, but he grew harder than before, and then Messer Giannetto offered to give him twenty thousand, but he would not take them; then he advanced his offer to thirty, then to forty, then to fifty, and finally to a hundred thousand ducats. Then the Jew said, 'See how this thing stands! If you were to offer me more ducats than the whole city of Venice is worth, I would not take them. I would rather have what this bond says is my due.' And while this dispute was going on there arrived in Venice the lady of Belmonte, clad as a doctor of laws. She took lodging at an inn, the host of which inquired of one of her servants who this gentleman might be. The servant, who had been instructed by the lady as to what reply he should make to a question of this sort, replied that his master was a doctor of laws who was returning home after a course of study at Bologna.[6] The host when he heard this did them great reverence, and while the doctor of laws sat at table he inquired of the host in what fashion the city of Venice was governed; whereupon the host replied, 'Messere, we make too much of justice here.' When the doctor inquired how this could be, the host went on to say, 'I will tell you how, Messere. Once there came hither from Florence a youth whose name was Giannetto. He came to reside with his godfather, who was called Messer Ansaldo, and so gracious and courteous did he show himself to everyone, that all the ladies of Venice, and the gentlemen as well, held him very dear. Never before had there come to our city so seemly a youth. Now this godfather of his fitted out for him, on three different occasions, three ships, all of great value, and every time disaster befell his Venture. But for the equipment of the last ship Messer Ansaldo had not money enough, so he had perforce to borrow ten thousand ducats of a certain Jew upon these terms, to wit, that if by the day of San Giovanni in the following June he should not have repaid the debt, the Jew aforesaid should be free to cut away, from whatever part of his body he would, a pound of flesh. Now this much-desired youth has returned from his last voyage, and, in lieu of the ten thousand ducats, has offered to give a hundred thousand, but this villainous Jew will not accept them; so all our excellent citizens are come hither to entreat him, but all their prayers profit nothing.' The doctor said, 'This is an easy question to settle.' Then cried the host, 'If you will only take the trouble to bring it to an end, without letting this good man die, you will win the love and gratitude of the most worthy young man that ever was born, and besides this the goodwill of every citizen of our state.'

After hearing these words of the host the doctor let publish a notice through all the state of Venice, setting forth how all those with any question of law to settle should repair to him. The report having come to the ears of Messer Giannetto that there was come from Bologna a doctor of laws who was ready to settle the rights and wrongs of every dispute, he went to the Jew and suggested that they should go before the doctor aforesaid, and the Jew agreed, saying at the same time that, come what might, he would demand the right to do all that his bond allowed him. When they came before the doctor of laws, and gave him due salutation, he recognized Messer Giannetto, who meantime knew not the doctor to be his wife, because her face was stained with a certain herb. Messer Giannetto and the Jew spake their several pleas, and set the question fully in order before the doctor, who took up the bond and read it, and then said to the Jew, 'I desire that you now take these hundred thousand ducats, and let go free this good man, who will ever be bound to you by gratitude.' The Jew replied, 'I will do naught of this.' Whereupon the doctor persuaded him again thereto, saying it would be the better course for him, but the Jew would not consent. Then they agreed to go to the proper court for such affairs, and the doctor, speaking on behalf of Messer Ansaldo, said, 'Let the merchant be brought here,' and they fetched him forthwith, and the doctor said, 'Now take your pound of flesh where you will, and do your work.'

Then the Jew made Messer Ansaldo strip himself, and took in his hand a razor which he had brought for the purpose; whereupon Messer Giannetto turned to the doctor and said, 'Messere, this is not the thing I begged you to do.' But the doctor bade him take heart, for the Jew had not yet cut off his pound of flesh. As the Jew approached, the doctor said, 'Take care what you do; for, if you cut away more or less than a pound of flesh, you shall lose your own head;[7] and I tell you, moreover, that if you let flow a single drop of blood, you shall die, for the reason that your bond says naught as to the shedding of blood. It simply gives you the right to take a pound of flesh, and says neither less nor more. Now, if you are a wise man, you will consider well which may be the best way to compass this task.' Then the doctor bade them summon the executioner, and fetch likewise the axe and the block; and he said to the Jew, 'As soon as I see the first drop of blood flow, I will have your head stricken off.' Hereupon the Jew began to be afeared, and Messer Giannetto to take heart; and, after much fresh argument, the Jew said, 'Messer doctor, you have greater wit in these affairs than I have; so now give me those hundred thousand ducats, and I will be satisfied.' But the doctor replied that he might take his pound of flesh, as his bond said, for he should not be allowed a single piece of money now; he should have taken it when it was offered to him. Then the Jew came to ninety, and then to eighty thousand, but the doctor stood firmer than ever to his word. Messer Giannetto spake to the doctor, saying, 'Give him what he asks, so that he lets Messer Ansaldo go free.' But the doctor replied that the settlement of the question had better be left to himself. The Jew now cried out that he would take fifty thousand; but the doctor answered, 'I would not give you the meanest coin you ever had in your pouch.' The Jew went on, 'Give me at least the ten thousand ducats that are my own, and cursed be heaven and earth!' Then said the doctor, 'Do you not understand that you will get nothing at all? If you are minded to take what is yours, take it; if not, I will protest, and cause your bond to be annulled.'

At these words all those who were assembled rejoiced exceedingly, and began to put flouts and jests upon the Jew, saying, 'This fellow thought to play a trick, and see he is tricked himself.' Then the Jew, seeing that he could not have his will, took his bonds and cut them in pieces in his rage; whereupon Messer Ansaldo was at once set free and led with the greatest rejoicing to Messer Giannetto's house. Next Giannetto took the hundred thousand ducats and went to the doctor, whom he found in his chamber making ready to depart, and said, 'Messere, you have done me the greatest service I have ever known, and for this reason I would that you take with you this money, which, certes, you have well earned.' The doctor replied,' Messer Giannetto, I thank you heartily; but as I have no need of the money, keep it yourself, so that your wife may not charge you with wasting your substance.' Messer Giannetto answered, 'By my faith, she is so generous and kindly and good, that, even were I to lavish four times the money I have here, she would not complain; in sooth, she was fain that I should take with me a much greater sum than this.' The doctor inquired whether Giannetto were contented with this wife of his, and Giannetto replied, 'There is no one God ever made who is so dear to me as she is; she is so prudent and so fair that nature could not possibly excel her. Now, if you will do me the favour to come and visit me, and see her, I trow you will be amazed at the honourable reception she will give you, and you can see for yourself whether or not she is all that I now tell you.' The doctor of laws replied, 'I cannot visit you as you desire, seeing that I have other business in hand; but, since you tell me that your wife is so virtuous a lady, salute her on my behalf when you see her.' Messer Giannetto declared that he would not fail to do this, but he still urged the doctor to accept the money as a gift.

While they were thus debating the doctor espied upon Messer Giannetto's hand a ring, and said, 'I would fain have that ring of yours, but money of any sort I will not take.' Messer Giannetto answered,  'It shall be as you wish, but I give you this ring somewhat unwillingly, for my wife gave me the same, saying that I must always keep it out of love for her. Now, were she to see me without the ring, she would deem that I had given it to some other woman, and would be wroth with me, and believe I had fallen in love otherwhere, but in sooth I love her better than I love myself.' The doctor replied, 'Certes, if she loves you as much as you say, she will believe you when you tell her that you gave it to me. But perchance you want to give it to some old sweetheart of yours here in Venice.' Messer Giannetto answered, 'So great are the love and the trust I have for her, that there is not a lady in the world for whom I would exchange her, so consummately fair is she in every sense,' and with these words he drew from his finger the ring, which he gave to the doctor, [8] and they embraced each other, saluting with due respect. The doctor asked Messer Giannetto if he would grant him a favour, and being answered in the affirmative, he went on to say, 'I would that you tarry not here, but go straightway home to your wife.' Messer Giannetto declared that the time yet to elapse before meeting her would be as long to him as a thousand years, and in this wise they took leave of one another.

The doctor embarked and went his way, while Messer Giannetto let celebrate divers banquets, and gave horses and money to his companions, and the merrymaking went on for several days. He kept open house, and at last he bade farewell to the Venetians, and took Messer Ansaldo with him, many of his old friends accompanying them on their voyage. Well nigh all the gentlemen and the ladies shed tears over his departure, so gracious had been his carriage with everyone what time he had abode in Venice, and thus he departed and returned to Belmonte. It happened that his wife had come there some days before, having given out that she had been away at the baths, and had once more put on woman's garb. Now she prepared great feastings, and hung all the streets with silk, and bade divers companies of men-at-arms array themselves; so when Messer Giannetto and Messer Ansaldo arrived all the barons and the courtiers met them, crying out, 'Long live our lord! ' When they had landed the lady ran to embrace Messer Ansaldo, but with Messer Giannetto she seemed somewhat angered, albeit she held him dearer than her own self. And they made high festival with jousting, and sword-play, and dancing, and singing, in which all the barons and ladies present at the court took part.

When Messer Giannetto perceived that his wife did not welcome him with that good humour which was her wont, he went into the chamber, and, having called her, asked her what was amiss, and offered to embrace her; but she said, 'I want no caresses of yours, for I am well assured that you have met some old sweetheart of yours at Venice.' Messer Giannetto began to protest; whereupon the lady cried, 'Where is the ring I gave you? ' Messer Giannetto answered, 'That which I thought would happen has indeed come to pass, for I said you must needs think evil of what I did; but I swear to you, by the faith I have in God and in yourself, that I gave the ring to that doctor of laws who helped me win the suit against the Jew.' The lady said, 'And I swear to you, by the faith I have in God and in you, that you gave it to a woman. I am sure of this, and you are not ashamed to swear as you have sworn.' [9] Messer Giannetto went on, f I pray that God may strike me dead if I do not speak the truth; moreover, I spake as I told you to the doctor when he begged the ring of me.' The lady replied, 'You had better abide henceforth in Venice, and leave Messer Ansaldo here, while you take your pleasure with your wantons; in sooth, I hear they all wept when you left them.' Messer Giannetto burst into tears, and, greatly troubled, cried out, 'You swear to what is not and cannot be true;' whereupon the lady, perceiving from his tears that she had struck a knife into his heart, quickly ran to him and embraced him, laughing heartily the while. She showed him the ring, and told him everything: what he had said to the doctor of laws; how she herself was that same doctor, and in what wise he had given her the ring. Thereupon Messer Giannetto was mightily astonished; and, when he saw that it was all true, he made merry thereanent. When he went forth from the chamber he told the story to all the barons and to his friends about the court, and from this adventure the love between this pair became greater than ever. And afterwards Messer Giannetto let summon that same waiting-woman who had counselled him not to drink the wine, and gave her in marriage to Messer Ansaldo, and they all lived together in joy and feasting as long as their lives lasted."



[1] He was greatly ashamed, and conscious that he had fared very ill in his adventure. Giannetto’s amorous ambitions concerning the Lady of Belmonte are only successful on the third attempt. Shake-speare replaces this trilogy of bed-room scenes with the story of the three caskets.

[2] the lady of Belmonte. Shake-speare replaces the imaginary country of Belmonte with “PORTIA'S house at Belmont” near Venice.

[3] he went to a certain Jew of Mestri, with whom he made an agreement that, if he should not repay the debt by Saint John's day in the June following, the Jew should have the right to take a pound of his flesh, and to cut the same from what place so ever he listed.

Shakespeare takes over the character of the blood thirsty Jew without making any alterations to it. He does however offer an explanation for the fanatical behavior of the downtrodden man.

[4] his wife followed immediately behind him clad in legal garb and taking two servants with her. In Shakespeare‘s version, Portia sets out for Venice accompanied by one servant (Nerissa).- See The Merchant of Venice, III/4:

PORTIA. I'll hold thee any wager,
When we are both accoutred like young men,
I'll prove the prettier fellow of the two -

[5] But the Jew made answer that he wanted not the money, since it had not been paid in due time. – See The Merchant of Venice, IV/1:

SHYLOCK.You'll ask me why I rather choose to have
A weight of carrion flesh than to receive
Three thousand ducats. (...)

BASSANIO. For thy three thousand ducats here is six.
SHYLOCK. If every ducat in six thousand ducats
Were in six parts, and every part a ducat,
I would not draw them; I would have my bond.

[6] The servant … replied that his master was a doctor of laws who was returning home after a course of study at Bologna. In the Merchant of Venice (IV/1), Portia’s maid Nerissa appears “dressed like a lawyer’s clerk” to announce the impending arrival of “his master”, Balthazar, who is in fact Portia dressed in the robes of a Doctor of Laws.

[7] As the Jew approached, the doctor said, 'Take care what you do; for, if you cut away more or less than a pound of flesh, you shall lose your own head. – See The Merchant of Venice, IV/1:

  PORTIA. A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine.
    The court awards it and the law doth give it.
  SHYLOCK. Most rightful judge!
  PORTIA. And you must cut this flesh from off his breast.
    The law allows it and the court awards it.
  SHYLOCK. Most learned judge! A sentence! Come, prepare.
  PORTIA. Tarry a little; there is something else.
    This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood:
    The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh.'

[8] and with these words he drew from his finger the ring, which he gave to the doctor. – See The Merchant of Venice, IV/1:

  ANTONIO. My Lord Bassanio, let him have the ring.
    Let his deservings, and my love withal,
    Be valued 'gainst your wife's commandment.
  BASSANIO. Go, Gratiano, run and overtake him;
    Give him the ring -

[9] And I swear to you, by the faith I have in God and in you, that you gave it to a woman. I am sure of this, and you are not ashamed to swear as you have sworn. – See The Merchant of Venice, V/1:

  PORTIA. Nerissa teaches me what to believe:
    I'll die for't but some woman had the ring.
  BASSANIO. No, by my honour, madam, by my soul,
    No woman had it, but a civil doctor,
    Which did refuse three thousand ducats of me,
    And begg'd the ring -