chapter  6
10 Pages


In his 1606 commentary on the usury bill, Nicholas Bacon praised the “invention” of trade.1 Likewise Francis Bacon condemned usury as dampening the “inventions” of industry.2 The Bacons were thoroughly typical of those early seventeenth-century writers who legitimized industry and individual profit within the context of attacks on usury. Contrasted with merchants whose “inventions” and ventures are ennobling by virtue of their hazardous nature were usurous moneylenders who took no risk-Shylock is the exemplar of the latter type. In early modern English literature, to “hazard” one’s goods or one’s self is a positive trait. In The Merchant of Venice, for instance, the person who chooses the correct casket for Portia’s hand in marriage must “give and hazard all he hath.”3 Thus Bassanio’s choice is the virtuous one, aptly rewarded. In The Merchant, then, to “hazard all” implies a risk-taking that ostensibly subordinates self-interest to a sense of charity or selflessness in a willingness to give up “all” possessions in an act of faith.