Child's, The English And Scottish Ballads

Volume 7 of 8 from 1860 edition - online book

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Percy's Religues, i. 224.
In Douce's Illustrations of Shakespeare, (i. 278,) and Malone's Shakespeare, (v. 3,154, ed. 1821,) we are referred to a great many stories resembling that of the present ballad. Two or three of these are found in the Persian, and there can be no doubt that the orig­inal tale is of eastern invention. The oldest Euro­pean forms of the story are in the Gesta Romanorurn, (Wright's Latin Stories, Percy Soc. viii. 114, Madden's Old English Versions, p. 130,) the French romance of Dolopathos (v. 7096, el seq.~), and the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, written in 1378, but not printed till 1558.
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is known to have been played before 1598, and there is some reason to believe that it was produced as early as 1594. The resemblance in many particulars between the play and the narrative in the Pecorone is conclusive to the fact that Shakespeare was acquainted with the Italian novel, directly or by a translation. In Gosson's School of Abuse, (1579,) mention is made of a play called The Jew, in which was represented " the greediness of worldly choosers, and bloody minds of usurers." It is possible that Shakespeare may have made use of the incidents of this forgotten piece in the construction of his plot, but as our knowledge of the older play amounts literally to the description of it given by Gosson, nothing positive is to be said on that