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An Interactive Study Guide
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Shylock - László Mednyánszky, 1900
What’s in This Study Guide?
YouTube Videos
Essay Topics
Introduction – The Merchant of Venice
The Text
Comedy or Tragedy?
The Jew of Malta, Marlowe
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The Merchant of Venice – The Text
The Merchant of Venice was most likely
performed for the first time in 1596.
It was first published in the first quarto
edition in 1600.
Although there were other pirated
editions, the 1600 edition is considered
the most accurate and reliable.
The 1600 edition was the basis for the
text published in the First Folio in 1623,
which added stage directions and
musical cues.
The First Folio is a collection of 36 of
Shakespeare’s plays prepared by two of
his colleagues 7 years after his death.
Title page of the first quarto (1600)
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The Merchant of Venice – Settings
Associated with business,
commerce, the law
The “real” world where
practicalities rule
Men are dominant
People in Venice are greedy
and vengeful.
Shylock insists on a pound of
Antonio’s flesh as vengeance.
Site of Portia’s estate
Fairy-tale world associated with
music and love
Women are dominant
People in Belmont are
characterized by kindness and
Portia offers her money to
Bassanio to pay Antonio’s debt.
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The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe
Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1590) was a
major influence on The Merchant of
Barabas, the main character, is a
thoroughly evil villain who is angered by a
law that requires Jews to convert to
Christianity or give up half their wealth.
Barabas resorts to murder and treason
and enjoys the suffering of others.
There has been extensive debate about
the play's portrayal of Jews and how
Elizabethan audiences would have viewed
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Quizzes – The Merchant of Venice
Act I
Act II
Act IV
Act V
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The Merchant of Venice – Act I Quiz
Click the hand  for an answer.
1. Explain the conditions of Portia's father's will. 
2. Explain the conditions of the loan Shylock makes to
3. Why does Bassanio need a loan?
4. What are Shylock's reasons for hating Antonio?
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1. Explain the conditions of Portia's father's will.
Click anywhere to show answer.
By the terms of her father's will, Portia is forbidden to choose
freely among her many suitors.
She must accept the one who makes the right choice among
three caskets: one of lead, one of silver and one of gold.
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Quotes – The Merchant of Venice
Act I
Act II
Act IV
Act V
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The Merchant of Venice – Act I Quotes
Click the hand  for an answer.
1. In Belmont is a lady richly left;
...Sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages. 
2. I will do anything, ere I be married to a sponge.
3. Hath a dog money? Is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?
4. I am like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.
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1. In Belmont is a lady richly left;
...Sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages.
Click anywhere to show answer.
Bassanio is explaining to Antonio that he loves Portia, a lady
of considerable wealth who lives in Belmont.
He believes that she also communicated her affection for him
by the way she looked at him.
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Characters – The Merchant of Venice
Launcelot Gobbo
Minor Characters
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Shylock - 1
As the play’s antagonist, Shylock
can be interpreted a number of
different ways:
A greedy and bloodthirsty
A clownish Jewish stereotype
A tragic figure who is persecuted by
a backwards society
Shylock is despised as a
moneylender, or usurer, but this
was the only occupation a Jew
could have in medieval Venetian
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shylock
Charles Buchel (1895–1935)
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Shylock – 2
In his most famous speech (III, 1),
Shylock argues that Jews have all the
same human qualities as Christians:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?
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? (III, 1)
Shylock hates Antonio for cutting into
his business—Antonio lends money at
no interest, depriving Shylock of
1911 Movie Poster
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Shylock – 3
Shylock is accustomed to being bullied and ridiculed by Christians:
Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. (I, 3)
Shylock says he has learned how to be vengeful from the Christians
who have been vengeful to him.
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. (III, 1)
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Shylock – 4
Because Shylock is both reviled as a
moneylender and pitied as a
persecuted Jew, he is the most
compelling and complex character in
the play.
While Elizabethan audiences probably
viewed him as a comic character, most
modern audiences are sympathetic to
him because of the cruelty he has
endured at the hands of Christians.
His character alone adds tragic
overtones to a play that would
otherwise be classified as a comedy.
Charles Macklin as Shylock , Covent Garden,
London, 1767-68, by Johann Zoffany
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Shylock - 5
Shylock after the Trial, John Gilbert, pre 1873
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Shylock – 6
At the end of the play, Shylock is broken and humiliated.
He is forced to convert to Christianity, give half of his possessions to
Antonio and pay a fine.
He loses everything that’s important to him: his daughter, his money
and his religion.
Is the sentence against Shylock fair?
Does the outcome of the trial confirm the philosophy expressed by
Portia in her famous speech--that true justice must be measured
with mercy? Does Shylock receive mercy?
Does the audience rejoice in Shylock’s defeat, or do we pity his
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Themes – The Merchant of Venice
Deceptive Appearances
Loyalty and Friendship
Mercy vs. Revenge
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Anti-Semitism - 1
Elizabethan society was anti-Semitic.
Jews were expelled from England in 1250 and were not permitted to
return until 1657.
On stage, Jews were usually characterized as evil, deceptive and
Jews were also forced to live in a ghetto protected by Christians,
supposedly for their own safety.
Jews were usually depicted on stage in bright red wigs and hooked
An example is Christopher Marlowe’s play, The Jew of Malta, which
features a Jewish villain named Barabas.
The Merchant of Venice was sometimes known as The Jew of Venice,
suggesting that it was seen as similar to The Jew of Malta.
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Anti-Semitism - 2
One interpretation of the play is that
Shakespeare intended to contrast the
mercy of the Christian characters with
the vengefulness of Shylock.
The conflict between Portia and Shylock in
the trial scene can also be seen as the
conflict between the vengeful, exacting
God of the Old Testament, whose priority
is Justice (Shylock) and the merciful God of
the New Testament (Portia).
From a Christian point of view, Shylock’s
conversion to Christianity at the end of the
play is a “happy ending”—his soul is saved
and he can now enter heaven.
Shylock and Portia
Thomas Sully, 1835
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Anti-Semitism - 3
Modern audiences, however, often see the play as a plea for
tolerance, with Shylock as the sympathetic character.
This interpretation faults Portia as a “false judge” who has no right to
sentence Shylock at all.
Shylock’s anger does not come from some inherent “Jewishness,” but
from years of abuse.
Although Shylock is condemned for greed and dishonesty, the
Christian characters can also be seen as hypocritical.
Bassanio initially seeks Portia’s hand in marriage so he can pay his
Although Portia delivers a moving speech on the subject of mercy, her
judgment against Shylock can be seen as cruel and barbaric.
Is Shakespeare subtly criticizing his characters’ prejudices?
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Anti-Semitism - 4
Regardless of Shakespeare’s intentions, the play has been used by
anti-Semites throughout its history.
The Nazis used Shylock’s character for their own propaganda.
Shortly after Kristallnacht in 1938, The Merchant of Venice was
broadcast for propagandistic purposes over the German airwaves.
Productions of the play followed in Lübeck (1938), Berlin (1940), and
elsewhere within the Nazi Territory.
Is a sympathetic reading of Shylock entirely due to changing
attitudes among readers, or did Shakespeare intend this reading?
Shylock’s language is not that of a comic, one-dimensional villain.
Is it possible that Shakespeare’s talent as a writer caused him to
create a more complex character than he originally intended?
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The Merchant of Venice on YouTube
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The Merchant of Venice – Essay Topics
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