These are some of the sources that I consulted and from which I learned a great deal of background information. I thank the authors for their contributions. Those whose titles are in boldface denote what I consider to be essential reading.
Bloom, Harold, Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human, Riverhead Books: New York (1998).
Breight, Curtis C., Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era, St. Martin’s Press (1996).
Bullough, Geoffrey, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Volume I, Early Comedies, Poems, Romeo and Juliet, Routledge and Kegan Paul: London (1957). Pay particular attention to the ways in which Shakespeare made The Merchant of Venice differ in significant ways from these (and other) sources.
Contarini, Gasparino, De Magistratibus et Republica Venetorium (1589), translated by Lewis Lewkenor as The Commonwealth and Gouerment of Venice, Written by the Cardinall Gasper Contareno, and translated out of Italian into English, by Lewis Lewkenor, Esquire, Imprinted by John Windet for Edmund Mattes, London (1599). Full text available at http://dewey.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?TextID=contarini&PagePosition=1
Dutton, Richard, Mastering the Revels, The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama, University of Iowa Press: Iowa City (1991).
Dutton, Richard, Licensing, Censorship and Authorship in Early Modern England: Buggeswords, Palgrave: Hampshire (2000).
Edelman, Charles, editor, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare in Production series, Cambridge UP: Cambridge (2002).
Edelman, Charles, The Strange Case of Dr Lopez and Mr Shakespeare, Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen and Literaturen 240. Band, 155. Jahrgang (2003), 108-12.
Edelstein, Barry, Thinking Shakespeare, Spark Publishing: New York (2007).
Freeman, Neil, editor, The Applause First Folio of Shakespeare in Modern Type, Applause: New York (2001).
Goddard, Harold C., The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume I, University of Chicago Press: Chicago (1951). Chapter XII, The Merchant of Venice (p. 83):
But what if, all the while, underneath and overhead, it were something as different from all this as the contents of the three caskets are from their outward appearance? It would be in keeping. What if the author is putting to the test, not just the suitors of Portia, but other characters as well, even, possibly, every reader or spectator of his play? It would be like him. Spot on, in my opinion.
Green, Dominic, The Double Life of Doctor Lopez, Spies, Shakespeare and the Plot to Poison Elizabeth I, Century: London (2003).
Greenblatt, Stephen, Will in the World, W.W. Norton & Company: (New York (2004).
Kermode, Frank, The Age of Shakespeare, Modern Library: New York (2004).
Mahood, M. M., editor, The Merchant of Venice, Cambridge UP: Cambridge (2003).
Rosenbaum, Ron, The Shakespeare Wars, Random House: New York (2006).
Southworth, John, Shakespeare the Player, A Life in the Theatre, Sutton Publishing: Phoenix Mill (2000).
Wells, Stanley, Shakespeare, A Life in Drama, W. W. Norton: New York (1995).
Wilson, J. Dover, What Happens in Hamlet, Third Edition, Cambridge UP (1951).
Wood, Michael, Shakespeare, Basic Books: New York (2003). Also, the two DVD set that accompanies the book (In Search of Shakespeare, PBS Home Video, sold separately).
Life in Elizabethan England 6: Money and Coinage, >http://elizabethan.org/compendium/6.html<
Money Slang, British money history, at >http://businessballs.com<. (Use left scroll bar and click on “money slang meanings and origins.”)
Words, words, words
Adams, J. N., The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, Johns Hopkins, UP: Baltimore (1982).
Crystal, David and Ben, Shakespeare’s Words, Penguin, London (2004).
Kermode, Frank, Shakespeare’s Language, Farrar Strauss Giroux: New York (2000). Rubinstein, Frankie, A Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Sexual Puns and Their Significance, Second edition, Macmillan Press Ltd., London (1989).
Spevack, Martin, A Shakespeare Concordance, Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung: Hidesheim (1970).
Williams, Gordon, A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sexual Language, Athlone, London (1997).
The Trial Scene
Andrews, Mark Edwin, LAW versus EQUITY in The Merchant of Venice, University of Colorado Press: Boulder (1965).
Bilello, Thomas C., Accomplished with What She Lacks: Law, Equity, and Portia’s Con, in The Law in Shakespeare, Constance Jordan and Karen Cunningham, editors, Palgrave Macmillan: Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire (2007).
Kornstein, Daniel J., Kill All the Lawyers? Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal, particularly Chapter 4, FIE UPON YOUR LAW! The Merchant of Venice; Princeton UP: Princeton (1994).
MacKay, Maxine, The Merchant of Venice: a Reflection of the Early Conflict Between Courts of Law and Courts of Equity, Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Autumn, 1964), pp. 371-375.
Corrigan, Brian Jay, Playhouse Law in Shakespeare’s World, Farleigh Dickinson U P: Madison Teaneck (2004).
Gasparini, Silvia, Venice and its law system. A peculiar experience, 2001, >http://www.arielcaliban.org/VEpeculiar.pdf<.
Phillips, O. Hood, Shakespeare and the Lawyers, Methuen & Co.: London (1972).
Raffield and Watt, editors, Shakespeare and the Law, Hart Publishing: Oxford and Portland, Oregon (2008).
Allen, Carleton Kemp (M.C., K.C., D.C.L., F.B.A., F.R.S.L, J.P.), Law in the Making, Fifth edition, Clarendon Press: Oxford (1951). Particularly Chapter III, Part II Growth of Precedent in English Law (pp. 179-201):
Judges were seeking the guidance of precedence by early in the fifteenth century. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, counsel solemnly reminds the court that ‘the judgement to be by you now given will be hereafter an authority in every quare non admisit in England.’ (p. 182).
By 1464 judges not merely accepted stare decisis as part of forensic routine but were building a kind of legal philosophy on it. By the middle of the fifteenth century judges were fully conscious of the effect of decided cases in moulding the Common Law. (p. 191.)
Baker, J. H., editor, Introduction to English Legal History, Second, Third, and Fourth editions, Butterworths: London (1979, 1990, 2002):
The principal advantage of [the conditional bond] was that damages could be obtained, as a debt, for the mere non-performance of the condition; and the damages could be fixed in advance by the parties. (Second edition, p. 269.)
The common law took a more worldly approach and did not invalidate usurious agreements, though penalties were introduced in 1495, and in 1545 parliament set an upper limit of 10 per cent on lawful interest…(The limit was later reduced to 5 per cent, where it remained until the repeal of the usury laws in 1854). (Third edition, p. 353, n. 76.)
Burton, Antony, An Unrecognized Theme in Hamlet: Lost Inheritance and Claudius’s Marriage to Gertrude; and Laertes’s Rebellion as a Defense of His Inheritance: Further Aspects of Inheritance Law in Hamlet, printed in The Shakespeare Newsletter, (Fall 2000). Available online at: http://www.shakespearefellowship.org/virtualclassroom/Law.htm
Clarkson, Paul S. and Warren, Clyde T., The Law of Property in Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Drama, The Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore (1942). Particularly pp. 133‒143 (discusses the Statute of Uses, but fails to mention The Merchant of Venice), and pp. 180‒184 (discusses deed of gift, mentions both Doctor Faustus and The Merchant of Venice).
Coquillette, Daniel R., The Anglo-American Legal Heritage — Introductory Materials, Carolina Academic Press: Durham (1999). Particularly Chapters 3‒7 and 9‒10. Includes excerpts from historical sources. Fascinating section on The Saga of the Statute of Uses, pp. 274‒283 (for those who are into that sort of thing).
Devecmon, William C., In Re Shakespeare’s “Legal Acquirements,” AMS Press: New York 1971; Reprinted from The Shakespeare Press: New York (1899).
Holdsworth, W. S., A History of English Law, Vols. II, IV, and V, Third edition, Little, Brown and Company: Boston (1923, 1924). Particularly: Vol. II, The Lawyers and the Law, (pp. 525-556): The Year Books —Law Reports of the Middle Ages —are exclusively the property of the legal profession. Written by lawyers for lawyers, they are by far the most important source of, and authority for, the mediæval common law.
Ives, E.W., The Common Lawyers of Pre-Reformation England, Cambridge UP: Cambridge (1983). Part of the Cambridge Studies in English Legal History, of which D. E. C. Yale was the general editor at the time. Particularly Chapter 3: Training at the Inns of Court (p.37): Students lived cheek by jowl with established lawyers, for the distinctive feature of the English common law was that those who practiced it also supervised — and supervised minutely — those who were studying it. Jones, N. G. (2001) The Bill of Middlesex and the Chancery, 1556–1608, The Journal of Legal History, 22:3, 1–20.
Simpson, A. W. B., A History of the Common Law of Contract: The Rise of the Action of Assumpsit, Clarendon Press: Oxford (1975). Particularly pp. 53-87 (regarding the Writ of Debt); pp. 89-95 (discussing the particulars of conditional bonds); and Promise and Validity: Illegality (pp. 507–08):
In the medieval law of formal contracts it was recognized that illegality in the contract was a ground for holding the contract void. [The illegality must appear on the face of the instrument.] Types of illegality. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries there was no systematic writing on illegality in contract, and the case law consists merely in an unsystematic application of the general principal that a promise ought not to be actionable if it, or the consideration paid for it, was in a loose sense unlawful.
Simpson, A. W. Brian, Leading Cases in the Common Law, Clarendon Press: Oxford (1995). Particularly Chapter 2, Politics and Law in Elizabethan England, Shelley’s Case.
Simpson, A. W. B., Legal Theory and Legal History: Essays on the Common Law, The Hambleton Press, London (1987). Chapter 7, The Penal Bond with Conditional Defeasance, at page 133:
Penalties for nonpayment of debts were not usurious or objectionable...Penal bonds could, however, furnish a cloak for usury. Suppose Robert lends Hugo £100 at ten per cent per annum, a plain case for usury. He can do this by extracting a bond for £220 defeasible on payment of £110 within the year, actually handing over £100. Such a transaction was certainly unlawful and immoral, but it would be impossible at common law for the obligor to plead the usurious nature of the transaction.
Stebbings, Chantal, editor, Law Reporting in Britain, The Hambledon Press: London (1995). Particularly Chapter 1, The Beginnings of English Law Reporting, by Paul Brand, and Chapter 2, Law Reporting in the 1590s, by David Ibbeton.