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Play Comedy

The Merchant
of Venice
Author Years Written Original Language
William Shakespeare c. 1596–97 English

THEMES

All That Glitters When charming Bassanio needs money to pursue beautiful Portia, his friend
Antonio strikes a deadly deal with the moneylender Shylock. After his ships
Is Not Gold sink, Antonio is unable to repay Shylock with money—so he must pay with a
pound of flesh cut from his chest. Bassanio and Portia must find a way to
reason with the demanding Shylock.

Prejudice Appearance vs. Reality

Beset on all sides by anti-Semitism, Whether locked in a box or hidden


Shylock may not be solely to blame behind a disguise, the truth is more
for his vindictive nature. complex than it seems.

Mercy Worth

The letter of the law is not Our emotions can dramatically


always the best form of justice. change the value we see in
people and things.

Symbols

Gold Flesh Rings

Symbolizes status and power—but Represents life, which suddenly Stand for the strongest of
not the most important things in life seems valuable when threatened human bonds, making even a
simple one priceless

The Merchant of Venice


by the Numbers

2 3
Major sources on which Caskets Portia’s father WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Shakespeare based The prepared before his death to 1564–1616
Merchant of Venice: Il determine the choice of her
Pecorone (1378) and the husband Shakespeare was at the height
Gesta Romanorum (1577) of his career when he wrote The
Merchant of Venice, borrowing from
existing Italian and medieval stories
for the characters and basic plot.
Its characterization of the Jewish
Shylock and “Christian” Venetians

1656 2004 highlights social, religious, and


moral tensions of the time.

Year Jews were readmitted Year a film adaptation


to England after being starring Al Pacino as
expelled in 1290 Shylock was released

Main Characters

Friendship

Married

Antonio Bassanio Portia


Family Struggling merchant; Bankrupt nobleman; Beautiful, cunning heiress;
borrows money from borrows money to rescues Antonio
Shylock for Bassanio win Portia from Shylock

Launcelot Gobbo Shylock Jessica Nerissa


Shylock’s jester; Miserly moneylender; Steals from her father; Portia’s lady-in-waiting;
helps Jessica run away tragic villain hurts her father’s feelings marries Gratiano

f 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?
Shylock, Act III, Scene I

Sources: BBC, Encyclopaedia Britannica, IMDb, Jewish Encyclopedia,


“Racism and Homophobia in The Merchant of Venice” by James O’Rourke,
Shakespeare Online

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