The Merchant of Venice (excerpts): How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank

The Merchant of Venice (excerpts): How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank

Original Text

Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623), sig. Qv (p. 200) / STC (2nd ed.) 22273

2   Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
3   Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night
5   Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
8   But in his motion like an angel sings,
10   Such harmony is in immortal souls,
14   With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’s ear
15   And draw her home with music. Play music.
16Jessica: I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
17Lorenzo: The reason is your spirits are attentive:
18   For do but note a wild and wanton herd
19   Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
20   Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
21   Which is the hot condition of their blood;
22   If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
23   Or any air of music touch their ears,
24   You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
25   Their savage eyes turned to a modest gaze
26   By the sweet power of music; therefore the poet
29   But music for a time doth change his nature.
30   The man that hath no music in himself,
31   Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
32   Is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils;
33   The motions of his spirit are as dull as night
35   Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.


1] In the final act of the play, Lorenzo contemplates the power of music, accompanied by playhouse musicians. Back to Line
4] touches: “the act or manner of touching or handling a musical instrument, so as to bring out its tones” (OED n. 8a) Back to Line
6] patens: metal plates Back to Line
7] orb: celestial body Back to Line
9] quiring: harmoniously singing Back to Line
11] vesture: clothing (here, metaphorically, the body) Back to Line
12] grossly: materially Back to Line
13] Diana: goddess of the moon Back to Line
27] Orpheus: Thracian lyricist whose story Ovid (“the poet”) relates in his Metamorphoses Back to Line
28] stockish: unfeeling Back to Line
34] Erebus: dark region of the classical underworld Back to Line
Publication Notes

The play was first published in quarto in 1600.

RPO poem Editors
Christopher Matusiak
RPO Edition