The Merchant of Venice (1596–1597)
- First official record: entered into the Stationers' Register by James Roberts on 22 July 1598 as "a booke of the Marchaunt of Venyce or otherwise called the Iewe of Venyce."
- First published: published in quarto in 1600 as The Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice. With the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the Jewe towards the sayd merchant, in cutting a just pound of his flesh: and the obtayning of Portia by the choyse of three chests (printed by James Roberts for Thomas Heyes). This text was republished in 1619, with a title page date of 1600 and the name of the printer James Roberts. This reprint was part of William Jaggard's "False Folio" (printed by Thomas Pavier).
- First recorded performance: although the title page of the 1600 quarto indicates the play was performed in the latter years of the sixteenth century, the earliest recorded performance was by the King's Men at Whitehall Palace for King James on 10 February 1605. James liked the play so much that he asked for it to be performed again two days later, on Shrove Tuesday.
- Evidence: the play was obviously in existence by 1598. However, other evidence places its date of composition as probably 1596 or very early 1597. An important topical allusion is Salarino's reference to "my wealthy Andrew docked in sand" (1.1.28). This is thought to refer to the San Andrés, a Spanish galleon that ran aground in Cádiz in June 1596 after a surprise attack under the command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. The ship was subsequently captured, renamed the St. Andrew and incorporated into the Royal Navy. However, she remained in the news throughout 1596. Upon arriving in England, she nearly ran aground on the Thames Estuary. In August, she served as a troopship during the Islands Voyage, and upon returning to a stormy England in October, Essex refused to allow her to sail past the Goodwin Sands, a location also referred to by Salarino (3.1.4-5). All of this suggests the play was written in the latter half of 1596 or very early 1597, when audiences would have been most perceptive to the Andrew reference. It has also been theorised that the play may have been written to capitalise on the enormous success of Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. Although Malta had been written in 1589 or 1590, it remained extremely popular throughout the 90's, and was revived on stage in 1596 when it was performed eight times by the Lord Admiral's Men.