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SHAKESPEARE’S
MERCHANT OF VENICE
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
diseases, healed by 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?
Consider…
O•
O•
O•
O•
When, if ever, is the desire for
revenge justified?
Whose side is the author on?
Is this man a villain or a victim?
Do reactions to the content
change depending on whether
you think it is pre or post1946?
context
O William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of
Venice around 1596-1598, during the
Elizabethan Era. Many Elizabethans held a
number of prejudices about Jewish people
which were widely accepted/tolerated.
O Read the following statements and try to
decide whether they are true or false.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O During Medieval times Jews developed the
reputation of being ‘scheming money
lenders’. However usury (lending money for
interest) was one of the few jobs that Jews
were allowed to undertake; Christians were
forbidden to do so under Papal decree.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O In 1594 Rodrigo Lopez (A Spanish Jew) was
accused of trying to poison Queen Elizabeth
I. He was hung, drawn and quartered even
though he protested his innocence. As a
result, there was a surge of anti-Semitism
(suspicion/hatred of Jewish people) in
England.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O 1290, King Edward I issued an edict
expelling all Jews from England. This lasted
over 350 years until it was formally
overturned in 1656. The edict was the
culmination of over 200 years of conflict on
matters of usury.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O Most Elizabethans would have met a Jew.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O In 1516, the doges, Venice’s ruling council,
forced the Jews to live Ghetto Nuova, a
small, dirty island: the world’s first ghetto.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O In many places in Europe, Christians would
show their own piety by spitting upon a Jew
if they passed one in the street.
TRUE OR FALSE
O Venice was not a powerful commercial city in
the late 1500s when the play was written.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O Jews were only allowed to leave the Ghetto
during the day and were locked inside at
night.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O Christians believed that Jews possessed
magical powers which they had obtained by
making a pact with the Devil. Jews were
therefore associated with Elizabethan
witches.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O The Merchant of Venice reflects the racial
and religious stereotypes of the Elizabethan
Era and Shakespeare depicts the characters
in accordance with his own, rather limited,
world view.
TRUE OR FALSE?
O The main character in The Merchant of
Venice is Shylock, a Jew who is portrayed as
unkind, money- grabbing and vengeful.
Given the historical background, do you
think Shakespeare was being anti-Semitic or
simply a product of his culture?
SETTING
O Venice was famous as an important
Mediterranean trading centre for goods from
the Far East. Silks, spices, jewels and other
expensive items were bought and sold there
- including slaves. It had the reputation of
being full of fashion, culture and
sophistication. It would have been a very
exotic location for an Elizabethan audience.
O Venice was run by a Duke, or Doge, and a
Council of Ten, who ruled with an iron fist. All
Venetians were encouraged to do whatever
they had to for the security of the state, even
spying on other ports. People who were seen
to have committed a crime against the state
were often killed without trial and their
bodies were left in the street to serve as a
warning to others.
O Written some time around 1597
O Written as a romantic comedy since it is about
love and ends happily
O Fuses many dramatic elements: romantic
courtship, riddling love tests, eloping lovers,
comic confusions, a gripping courtroom trial,
and a seemingly harmonious final act
O At the core of the play is Shylock, the Jewish
moneylender. He only appears in five of the 20
scenes, but his presence dominates the play.
O Because of Venice's position as a centre for
trade, it was full of people of many different
nationalities, religions and races. The
Christian leaders were keen to quell the
activities of the Jews, and so created one of
the first Jewish ghettos, forcing the Jews to
live in a particular area. Yet the Jewish
community continued to flourish in spite of
the prejudice shown against them.
PLACEMENT IN
SHAKESPEARE’S CANON
O The Merchant of Venice was written in either
1596 or 1597.
O This was just after he had written Romeo
and Juliet and Richard III.
SOURCES
O The Merchant of Venice combines two folk-
tales:
O The story of a savage creditor who tries to
obtain a pound of human flesh as payment
for a debt; and
O The story of a lover who gains his lady
because he chooses the right casket among
three in a riddle game.
WHY ARE WE READING
THIS?
O UMMM for your paper two…
O Portia was Shakespeare’s first great heroine.
O Shylock is Shakespeare’s first great villain.
O Deals with themes that are still relevant today:
Selfishness versus love, Mercy for others, and
racisim (i.e. anti-semitism) intolerance and
judgement
MALE CHARACTERS
O Antonio: a merchant of Venice
O Bassanio: his friend, suitor to Portia
O Solanio, Gratiano, Salerio: friends to Antonio and
Bassanio
O Lorenzo: in love with Jessica
O Shylock: a rich Jew
O Tubal: a Jew, his friend
O Launcelot Gobbo: a clown, servant to Shylock
O Old Gobbo: father to Launcelot
O Leonardo: servant to Bassanio
O Balthazar and Stephano: servants to Portia
FEMALE CHARACTERS AND
OTHERS
O Portia: a rich heiress of Belmont
O Nerissa: her waiting-gentlewoman ( lady-in
waiting and confidant)
O Jessica: daughter to Shylock
O The Duke of Venice, Prince of Morocco,
Prince of Arragon: suitors for Portia
PLOT
O An impoverished young Venetian, Bassanio,
is making preparations to gain in marriage
the hand of Portia, a rich and beautiful
heiress of Belmont .
THEMES…..
O Through the contradictions between Antonio and
Shylock, the play shows the conflict between
friendship, love and greed, cruelty.
O Shakespeare, as a humanist of the time, praises
the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio,
the love between Bassanio and Portia, idealizes
Portia as a heroine of beauty, wit and loyalty,
and exposes Shylock's greed and cruelty.
O Many people today tend to regard the play as a
satire of the Christians' hypocrisy and love, their
cunning ways of pursuing worldliness and their
unreasoning prejudice against Jews.
PORTIA
O Portia, the heroine of this comedy, is one of the most
ideal woman characters ever created by
Shakespeare. She is the daughter of Renaissance
who loves deeply and genuinely only for her lover’s
good quality and for love’s sake. She is beautiful,
prudent, cultured, courteous, courageous,
determined and very clever. She is brave enough to
rise to an emergency and clever and cultured enough
to save her husband’s friend from the evil plot of the
most cunning and wicked Jew Shylock with the wise
interpretation of the bond, which would otherwise kill
Antonio. She embodies all the elements of
humanism, that is, love for this world and happiness
existing in human life. She gets happiness from true
love and true friendship and is ready to defend them
with her wit.
PORTIA
O And more important, she is very independent.
After hearing Antonio’s misfortune, she rises to
the emergency instead of crying for men’s help.
She knows her ability and does better than all
the men in this play. In addition, she is very
optimistic. She keeps optimistic even in the face
of the most powerful enemy, because she is very
confident of her intellect and ability. Through this
heroine, Shakespeare expresses his belief in
humanism and his confidence of the victory of
the rising bourgeoisie.
LET’S START…
O WOOOOHOOOO….
O LET’S READ AND ENJOY!
O MAKE SURE THAT WHILE WE READ YOU ARE
CONSIDERING MAIN IDEAS THAT UNDERPIN
TEXT AND HOW MEANING IS CREATED!
O MAYBE YOU COULD MAKE COMPARISONS
TO THE NOVEL ‘THE READER’

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