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Merchant of Venice


An Early Festive Comedy

Written between 1596-97

First performed in 1600.

In a street of Venice, the merchant Antonio laments that he is sad but knows not why. His friends, Solanio and Salerio try to cheer him up, to no avail. More friends, Lorenzo and Gratiano also try and fail. Antonio's friend, Bassanio, informs him that he intends to seek the wealthy Portia's hand in marriage, yet needs financial backing. Antonio, though reluctant, offers Bassanio 3,000 ducats (money) to help him. At Belmont, Portia's house, she laments to her servant, Nerissa, that she fears a suitor she dislikes will pursue her hand in marriage. Per her late father's will, the suitor must choose the correct of three chests (gold, silver, and lead), and then, if correct, he may marry Portia. She likes none of her six suitors, but wishes Bassanio would come and choose the correct chest. Back in Venice, after much begging, Bassanio convinces the merchant Shylock the Jew to lend him 3000 ducats, with Antonio putting up his property as the bond. Although Shylock hates Antonio, he lends the money anyway, hoping Antonio will default on the loan. Antonio, though, has confidence one of his ocean vessels will come to port one month before the three month deadline.

The Moroccan prince arrives at Belmont to woo Portia and learns that if he chooses the wrong chest, he must swear to never ask any woman to marry him. Back in Venice, Launcelot Gobbo, a clown and Shylock's servant, tells his father, old Gobbo, that he wishes to leave Shylock and work for Bassanio. Bassanio agrees to it and instructs his servant Leonardo to prepare dinner for him and Shylock. Gratiano then arrives and tells Bassanio he'll help him win over Portia. Shylock's daughter, Jessica, gives a love letter to Launcelot to deliver to Antonio's Christian friend Lorenzo. In the letter, Lorenzo learns that Jessica will pretend to be a male torchbearer for him at the supper between Antonio and Shylock. Shylock, going to the supper, leaves his house keys with his daughter, Jessica, warning her not to take part in the evening's Christian activities. Later that night, Gratiano, Salerio, and Lorenzo meet outside Shylock's house to get Jessica. After Lorenzo and Jessica unite, they all head to meet Bassanio on Antonio's ship to sail to Portia's. At Portia's house, the Moroccan prince chooses a chest to open. Each has an inscription, and only the correct one contains Portia's picture. He chooses incorrectly (the gold one), and leaves defeated. Salerio assures Solanio that Lorenzo and Jessica were not on the ship with Bassanio and Gratiano, and they are thus missing. Shylock, of course, wants his money and his daughter back. At Portia's house, the Prince of Aragon arrives and chooses the silver chest, also the wrong one. Again, he must swear to never woo any maid in marriage and to never tell a soul which chest he opened.

Solanio and Salerio confirm that Antonio's ship has sunk. They then make fun of Shylock for his predicament of losing his daughters. Shylock then laments of his monetary loss to another Jew, Tubal, yet rejoices that Antonio is sure to default on his loan. At Portia's house, she begs Bassanio to wait in choosing so that she may spend time with him, in case he chooses wrong. He correctly chooses the lead casket, though, and wins Portia's hand in marriage. To seal the union, Portia gives Bassanio a ring, warning that he should never lose it or give it away, lest he risk losing her love for him. Gratiano then announces his intention to wed Nerissa. Next, Salerio, Lorenzo, and Jessica arrive, informing Bassanio that Antonio lost his ships, and, furthermore, that Shylock is viciously declaring forfeiture of the bond by Antonio. Bassanio leaves for Venice to repay the loan. In Venice, Shylock has Antonio arrested for failure to repay the loan. At Belmont, Portia tells Lorenzo and Jessica to manage her house while she and Nerissa go to a monastery until Bassanio returns. In fact, though, she and Nerissa will disguise themselves as young men and travel to Venice.

At a Venetian court, the Duke presides over the sentencing hearing of Antonio wherein Shylock intends to cut "a pound of flesh from Antonio's breast" since the due date has past and that was the terms of the bond, even though Bassanio offers him 6,000 ducats for repayment. Nerissa and Portia, disguised as a court clerk and doctor of civil law respectively, arrive at the court. Gratiano, Bassanio, the Duke, and Portia try to dissuade Shylock, to no avail. Yet, Portia points out that the deed calls for no blood to be shed and exactly one pound to be taken, lest Shylock be guilty of not following the bond himself. Shylock, realizing this is impossible, recants and simply requests 9,000 ducats. Portia then reveals that Shylock is himself guilty of a crime; namely, conspiring to kill another citizen, i.e. Antonio. As punishment, the Duke and Antonio decide that Shylock must give half his belongings to the court; keep the other half for himself and promise to give all his remaining belongings to his daughter and son-in-law (Lorenzo) upon his death; and become a Christian. With no other choice, Shylock agrees. As Portia (as the doctor of civil law) leaves, Bassanio offers her a monetary gift. Portia turns this down, instead requesting Bassanio's gloves and wedding ring instead. Bassanio, due to his vow, hesitates on the ring, but reluctantly gives it after much prodding by Antonio. Nerissa (disguised as a court clerk), vows to try to get her husband (Gratiano) to give her his wedding ring.

At Belmont, Lorenzo and Jessica share a peaceful night together. The next morning, Bassanio and Portia, and Gratiano and Nerissa reunite. After quarreling over the loss of rings, the women admit of their ruse and return the rings to their husbands. Further, they inform Antonio that three of his ships have come to port full of merchandise. Finally, they give the deed to Jessica and Lorenzo promising to give them Shylock's money and possessions upon his death.

Squander some of your time in this timeless story and you will be amazed by the profound world of love and controversy...You will never fail to learn from Shakespeare's work.--Submitted by jing

William Shakespeare has always held a fascination for me and one could wonder how easily he could twist and twirl the flow of human lives in his characters. The Merchant of Venice is not just a book that talks about the everyday merchant of Venice alone but it brings to mind the actual characteristic weaknesses, strengths, and beauty of the human world. The weakness is characterised by Shylock's greediness and eventual fall, Antonio's love for his friend, and the nonchalant attitude or should I say ignorance to the wickedness of an enemy--failure to be on guard--that almost cost him his life. Shylock's daughter, Bassanio, Antonio, Portia, Nerissa, et al were happy at the end of the play. The beauty of it is the knowledge that one could truly bend life situations as is the case with Portia, who surprises everyone with such an unexpected turn of situation, bending Shylock even when he thought he had bended Antonio to a point of no return. Merchant is a great work of art and is a pointer to all those who feel they've got it sorted out because one could be surprised.--Submitted by dolapo

The Merchant of Venice is a very good play by Shakespeare. It actually sounds like a tragic play to me because Shylock ends in a tragedy. The Merchant of Venice is a righteous play which displays true friendship and love.--Submitted by Onion

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Recent Forum Posts on Merchant of Venice


Did Shakespeare have the conclusion of the ODYSSEY in mind when he wrote MV? The last line of the first conversation in MV reads: "Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable." Though Nestor only appears briefly in the ODYSSEY, he is a major character in the ILIAD and the last line of Fitzgerald's translation of the ODYSSEY reads: "though still she kept the form and voice of Mentor." Portia disguises herself as a male authority figure. Portia, like Penelope, is beset with many suitors. Shylock's "there be land-rats and water-rats, land-thieves and water-thieves"(1.3.21 or so) corresponds to "master of land ways and sea ways." In the scene that immediately precedes the court scene in MV, we find mention of Scylla and Charybdis, which Professor Bevington noted is found in the ODYSSEY, 12.255.

Is the play, by design, a puzzle?

Professor Mahon noted Professor Muir's comment that much of the criticism of MV is not so much wrong as selective and partial. Did the author, then , design the play to foster conversation?

A Tedious Brief Look at Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

"Here's much to do with hate, but more with love," says young Romeo Montague. Scholar J. Dover Wilson wrote that THE MERCHANT OF VENICE was most likely written at about the same time as ROMEO AND JULIET and that it is interesting to compare the two plays. Professor Garber noted the more commonly encountered thought that "Shakespeare wrote A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in the same years that he wrote ROMEO AND JULIET, and the two plays have a great deal in common." As Professor Kristeva and others have noted, ROMEO, as it has come down to us, was most likely written soon after the loss of the author's son in 1596 and is therefore, in part, a kind of elegy. Professor Greenblatt titled his chapter on MV, "Laughter at the Scaffold." Among other things, I hope to show that what makes people laugh is one matter that Shakespeare was interested in when he wrote THE MERCHANT. When picking up the work of Shakespeare one might find oneself concentrating on a few favorites. Other plays and poems become interesting for a time and are then returned to the shelf. MV is one of those other plays, it seems. This may be so as there is little mention in the critical literature of the linguistic connections to ROMEO AND JULIET throughout MV. In the court scene, Shylock says "You'll ask me why I rather choose to have / A weight of carrion flesh than to receive / Three thousand ducats: I'll not answer that"(MV4.1.41-2 or so). Much like the reason "why" Antonio is sad in the first scene of the play, we find various comments in the play and the criticism. "What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?"(ROM1.1.161) is found in the first scene of ROMEO and we find in the last scene the Prince's "Go hence to have more talk of these sad things." The phrase "ancient grudge" is unique to these two plays, found nowhere else in Shakespeare's work(see THE HARVARD CONCORDANCE). The word "ring" ends MV. In the last scene of ROM, we find Romeo telling his man, "Why I descend into this bed of death / Is partly to behold my lady's face, / But chiefly to take thence from her dead finger / A precious ring"(ROM5.3.38-41 or so). Many have noted Shylock's "It was my turquoise, I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor"(MV3.1) In due course, one might note Juliet's "Give this ring to my true knight"(ROM3.2.146). Romeo also tells his man that "The time and my intents are savage-wild, / More fierce and more inexorable far / Than empty tigers or the roaring sea." In the court scene in MV we find Antonio's "You may as well go stand upon the beach / And bid the main flood bate his usual height, / Or even as well use question with the wolf"(MV4.1.71-3 or so) and Gratiano's "O, be thou damned, inexecrable dog!"(MV4.1.130 or so). Some editors have replaced "inexecrable" with "inexorable." The obscurity of "inexecrable" might recall Bassanio's "Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing"(MV1.1.117 or so). With the other passages quoted above, one might recall passages from A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: "Airy nothing" and "This passion, and the death of a dear friend, would go near to make a man look sad." Returning again to Shylock's first speech in the court scene, we find: "More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing / I bear Antonio, That I follow thus / A losing suit against him." In Juliet's "Gallop apace" speech, we find "And learn me how to lose a winning match"(ROM3.2.12 or so). Bassanio asks Shylock, "Why dost thou whet thy knife so earnestly?"(MV4.1.123 or so). Romeo and Juliet each threaten violence with a knife or dagger: "O, tell me, friar, tell me, / In what vile part of this anatomy / Doth my name lodge?"(ROM3.3.107-9 or so) and "Give me some present counsel, or, behold, / 'Twixt my extremes and me this bloody knife / Shall play the umpire"(ROM4.1.62-4 or so). Shylock's most noted speech begins with the words "To bait fish withal"(MV3.1.45). This echoes Gratiano's "But fish not with this melancholy bait"(MV1.1.104) and all the way back to the last line of the first conversation in ROMEO: "'Tis well thou art not fish: if thou hadst, thou hadst been poor John"(ROM1.1.29-30). This, together with the first line from Samson, "Gregory, 'o my word, we'll not carry coals," is an allusion to the first line of the GOSPEL OF JOHN: "In the beginning was the Word." Imagery from Romeo and Juliet, "So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows"(ROM 1.4.166), "Whiter than new snow upon a raven's back"(3.2.19) and "Dove-feathered raven"(3.2.78), corresponds to the black and white picture representing Chinese dualistic philosophy. The structure of the imagery indicates that Samson's "'Tis all one"(ROM1.1.20) is at once an allusion to DEUTERONOMY 6:4 and GENESIS 1:27. Juliet's "O serpent heart, hid with a flow'ring face!" speech(ROM3.2), can be interesting to return to again. The term "fiend" is found there twice. Lancelet the clown is tempted by "The fiend"(MV2.2), which is opposed by his "conscience." The clown's speech is then interesting again when compared to the Friar's introductory soliloquy(ROM2.2). Antonio's "O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!"(MV1.3.101) also echoes Juliet's speech. One might quote another line from MND: "A very gentle beast, and of a good conscience"(MND5.1.229 or so). Juliet's speech is followed by the Nurse's disparagement of men generally and Juliet's rebuke. The criticism of The MERCHANT can seem like this exchange, and so too reading the play or a attending a performance. "Ay, by my troth, the case may be amended"(ROM4.4.133), says one of the musicians in ROMEO. Given the proceedings of the court scene in THE MERCHANT, this passage too can be useful when studying MV. "The play is the sum of all its meanings," wrote Professor Garber. Shakespeare clearly invites the reader to recall his other work . One might then return to historian Michael Wood's suggestion that we are left with too many unanswered questions at the end of the play. As we have seen, we might consider other opinions, search other texts and so forth "and so grow on to a point"(MND1.2.9 or so). This is plain enough as one finds various passages that indicate the author also had in mind the conclusion of THE ODYSSEY(see Fitzgerald's translation). Or, given the fairy story element, Antonio is sad simply because Leah is "in heaven" (MV4.1.232 or so) or "with God"(ROM1.3.20 or so), as Juliet's "wolvish-ravening lamb!"(ROM3.2.77) is echoed in the court scene: Antonio rates himself a "tainted wether of the flock"(4.1.116) and Gratiano tells Shylock "thy desires / Are wolvish, bloody, starved and ravenous"(4.1.139-140). Shylock's "What, wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?"(4.1.70), corresponds to the first line of Juliet's speech(ROM3.2.75) which in turn might recall the Nurse's line regarding a rival suitor of Juliet: "Nay, he's a flower, in faith, a very flower"(ROM1.3.70 or so).

Antoni in Act 1, Scene 1. Really need help :(

Hi all, I am a Secondary 2 student in Singapore and I am not really good at Literature. I am trying to improve my skills in Literature and I am asking here for some help about Antonio in The Merchant Of Venice, Act 1, Scene 1. Here is my question: Antonio seems to have it all. Why then, is Antonio, so sad? Why doesn’t he know the cause of his sadness? What guesses do Solanio and Salerio have about the causes of his depression? What lifts his depression? Someone please come and help me out. Thank you so much

Is The Merchant of Venice anti-Semitic?

We are doing a project for my Shakespeare class, and the question is basically, "Does The Merchant of Venice's portrayal of Shylock constitute anti-semitism?"

Help please:Compare&Contrast Jessica/Nerissa

In what way are Jessica and Nerissa foils? And in what way are they similar, and different? I have never heard word of a possible foil between these two. Can anyone propose any possibilities? Thanks, Elbazzz:crash:

Foils:comparing and contrasting?

In the Merchant of Venice, Nerissa, Portia, and Jessica are foils. I need to compare and contrast each to the others. How are they foils for each-other? I have some info on Portia and Nerissa, but require info on a foil relationship between: Nerrisa/Jessica,and Portia/Jessica. If anyone can help, it would be most appreciated, as I am on a short timeline, and require aid in this matter asap. Thanks, Elbazzz

The merchant of Venice - what's your take?

What is your thought on the characters? Are they flat, round, dynamic, static? Who do you think is the true protagonist, antagonist. Do you think Shylock deserves the hate other characters give? I for instance think that Shylock could be a vengeful and despicable character. He's greedy, malicious, an usurer, he's the demon that all should beware, even his daughter. Yet I feel such empathy for Shylock. He is a victim just as the rest of them. He is angry and vengeful because he was treated with contempt almost all his life. He is pushed to be an usurer because society gives him no other choices. The hatred and the malice that Shylock bore is not his own, but also something society projected. This reflected by the infamous monologue: "He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction." Also what interpretation do you think Shakespeare intended? Anti-Semitic or Sympathetic?

how does Morocco come a-courtin'? act 2 scene 1

i dont understabd this question for english class. how does morocco come a courtin' this question is for act 2 scene 1 when he comes to try and pick the right casket

Spot Shylock's error

I wonder if anyone can see the devout Jew's 'error' SHYLOCK. Yes, to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your prophet, the Nazarite, conjured the devil into! TMOV a1 s3 I am surprised this has never been remarked on before.

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