The Merchant of Venice

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The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare written in approximately 1596.[1] It is well known for the dramatic character of Shylock, a Jewish money-lender.


The play opens with the melancholy merchant of Venice, Antonio. His close, yet poor, friend, Bassanio asks him for financial assistance so that he can court the fair Portia of Belmont. Antonio reveals that he has little money because all his investments are on the seas. Nevertheless, he gives Bassanio permission to use his credit to attain a loan. Bassanio tries to procure money from the Jewish moneylender, Shylock. Before that time, Antonio had mocked and thwarted Shylock on many occasions. Nonetheless, Shylock puts on a show of willingness and (seemingly in jest) writes a bond that says if Antonio fails to pay on time, gives him legal right to a pound of Antonio's flesh. Antonio confidently accepts, knowing his ventures return a month before the bond becomes due.

Bassanio travels to Belmont to attempt to win Portia. Before he died, Portia's father devised a test for every suitor who desired to marry Portia. He made three caskets made of gold, silver and lead. Each suitor would look at the hints on the caskets and guess. Two of Portia's suitors, the Princes of Morocco and Arragon chose the wrong caskets. Bassanio correctly chooses the lead casket and marries Portia. However, all of Antonio's ventures fail and Shylock demands the payment. Antonio is unable and Shylock demands the law.

Bassanio travels quickly to Venice and secretly, Portia disguises as a Law Clerk and follows after him. The Duke of Venice holds court and tries to dissuade Shylock from taking vengeance. Bassanio offers to pay back the debt many times over. However, Shylock refuses. Portia, disguised as a law clerk defends Antonio, but admits Shylock's case is legally sound. Shylock almost kills Antonio, but before Shylock can strike, Portia stops him. Using the letter of the bond, she says that it gives Shylock no right to shed Antonio's blood! She also finds him guilty of trying to malevolent purpose against Antonio and Venice itself. Half of Shylock's land is given to the state and the other half to Antonio. Antonio shows mercy and allows him to keep half his property on condition that he converts to Christianity. Shylock only answer is "I am content."

Bassanio is grateful to the clerk for defending Antonio and offers him any gift he desires. Portia asks for his ring. Bassanio protests, but Antonio convinces him to relinquish his ring. Portia returns to Belmont ahead of Bassanio. She pretends to be greatly offended of giving away the ring, but later reveals how she actually was the law clerk. She also reveals that not all of Antonio's ventures failed, but also that some are still on their way.


The Duke of Venice judges the trial of Shylock and Antonio.

The Prince of Morocco is a suitor of Portia, who incorrectly guesses the gold casket.

The Prince of Arragon is another suitor of Portia, who incorrectly guesses the silver casket.

Antonio is a merchant of Venice and close friend to Bassanio and enemy to Shylock. Shylock almost kills him, but he is saved and gives mercy to Shylock in return.

Bassanio is a poor friend of Antonio, who often relied upon his friend for money. He wins and marries the Lady Portia, but is tricked by her, when she is disguised, into giving away his ring.

Salanio & Salarino are two friends of Antonio.

Gratiano is a close friend to Bassanio, who goes to Belmont and marries Portia's maid. He too is tricked into giving away his ring to his wife, while she is disguised as a clerk.

Lorenzo is another friend to Bassanio, who elopes with Shylock's daughter, Jessica. Shylock is required to provide him with all his possessions after he dies by Antonio.

Shylcok a Jewish money-lender and deep enemy of Antonio. He tricks Antonio into a dangerous bond, but in court the tables are turned on him and he is forced to convert.

Tubal a Jewish friend of Shylock.

Launcelot Gobbo is a servant of Shylock, who switches to Bassanio's service.

Old Gobbo is Launcelot's blind father.

Portia is a fair lady of Belmont, who is sought after by numerous men. She is won by Bassanio and saves Antonio from death by foiling Shylock's claim to revenge. She also plays a trick on her husband.

Nerissa is Portia's servant, that marries Gratiano and follows her mistress' example by playing a trick on him.

Jessica is the daughter to Shylock, who willingly runs away with Lorenzo.

Film Versions

The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare's darker comedies is another play often on film. An older version was made in 1973, starring Laurence Olivier as Shylock and Jeremy Brett as Bassanio.

A newer R-rated version was released in 2004, starring Al Pacino in the role of Shylock.

Lines and Quotes

"All that glitters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told." -Scroll in the Gold Casket, (Act II, Scene 7)

"If it feeds nothing else it will feed my revenge." -Shylock, (Act III, Scene 1)

"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, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd 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."
-Shylock, (Act III, Scene 1)

"Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?" -Song in Belmont, (Act III, Scene 2)

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes" -Portia, (Act IV, Scene 1)


  1. Great Books, Shakespeare: Vol. 1, by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952, pp. 406-433.

See also

William Shakespeare

External links

Open Source Shakespeare - The Merchant of Venice [1]