Merchant of Venice

The editors of the First Folio classified The Merchant of Venice simply as a 'comedy', but its portrayal of the Jewish Shylock has made it seem only awkwardly comic for many modern and contemporary audiences. Prior to its inclusion in the Folio, the play had appeared in two editions: the First Quarto of 1600, and an edition put out as part of a series by the bookseller Thomas Pavier in 1619. For a long time, scholarly confusion was caused by Pavier's inclusion of a false date of 1600 on the titlepage of his edition.

This copy of the First Quarto was owned by two eighteenth century Shakespearean editors, Lewis Theobald and George Steevens, and is heavily marked by their annotations. These early Shakespearean scholars were concerned that the texts of the plays had become corrupted through the processes of printing and republishing over the years, and they sought to work out ways of determining what Shakespeare had actually written. One of their methods was to compare the early editions available to them, and they sought out copies of the early quartos as a rich source of evidence.

 

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Further Study

This copy is in the National Library of Scotland, shelfmark Bute.494. For the textual and publication history of the play, see Andrew Murphy, Shakespeare in Print (Cambridge, 2003) and Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987).