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The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Summary of the plot or story
The character of Shylock has raised a debate over whether the play should be condemned as anti-Semitic, and this controversy has overshadowed many other aspects of the play.

The plot involves a vengeful, greedy creditor, Shylock, a Jewish money-lender Shylock who seeks a literal pound of flesh from his Christian opposite, the generous, faithful Antonio. Shakespeare's version of the chest-choosing device revolves around the play's Christian heroine, Portia, who steers her lover Bassanio toward the correct humble casket and then successfully defends his bosom friend Antonio from Shylock's horrid legal suit.

Shylock, is a Jew whose beloved daughter is lost to him when she elopes with a man who belongs to a virulently anti-Semitic society. When grief, anger and vengeance overcome common sense he ends up literally forced to his knees to renounce his faith and his fortune. 

Information provided about the Merchant of Venice play
William Shakespeare never published any of his plays and therefore none of the original manuscripts have survived. Eighteen unauthorised versions of his plays were, however, published during his lifetime in quarto editions by unscrupulous publishers (there were no copyright laws protecting Shakespeare and his works during the Elizabethan era). A collection of his works did not appear until 1623 (a full seven years after Shakespeare's death on April 23, 1616) when two of his fellow actors, John Hemminges and Henry Condell, posthumously recorded his work and published 36 of William’s plays in the First Folio. Some dates are therefore approximate other dates are substantiated by historical events, records of performances and the dates plays appeared in print.

Date first performed
It is believed that The Merchant of Venice was first performed between 1596 and 1597. In the Elizabethan era there was a huge demand for new entertainment and The Merchant of Venice would have been produced immediately following the completion of the play.

Date was first printed
It is believed that The Merchant of Venice was first printed in 1600. As William Shakespeare clearly did not want his work published details of the play would have therefore been noted, and often pirated without his consent, following a performance.

The settings for The Merchant of Venice
The settings for The Merchant of Venice are Venice and Belmont, a residence just outside of the city

Theme of The Merchant of Venice
The play The Merchant of Venice is categorised as a Comedy

Number of words in The Merchant of Venice
The number of spoken words in The Merchant of Venice, according to the Complete Public Domain Text is 26,885 

Most important characters
The most important characters in The Merchant of Venice are:
Shylock, Antonio (The Merchant of Venice) and Portia

Famous Quotes / Quotations
The quotes from The Merchant of Venice are amongst Shakespeare's most famous including 'All that glisters is not gold' and 'Mislike me not for my complexion'. Details of these famous quotes follow, complete with information regarding the Act and the Scene, allowing a quick reference to the section of the play that these quotations can be found in. Please click here for the full text of the script of the play.

"Superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer." (Act i. Sc. 2.)

"The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." (Act i. Sc. 3.)

"Mislike me not for my complexion, the shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun."
(Act ii. Sc. 1.)

"In the twinkling of an eye."
(Act ii. Sc. 2.)

"All that glisters is not gold."
(Act ii. Sc. 7.)

William Shakespeare's Main Source for The Merchant of Venice
The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) In this play, the main character, Barabas, is so detestable that his enemies boil him in a cauldron. Audiences loved the play, many of them not realizing that Marlowe’s main intent was to satirize Christians. The play enjoyed a revival four years later and it probably influenced Shakespeare in his depiction of Shylock. 

History of The Merchant of Venice
In Shakespeare’s time, English law continued to forbid Jews from living in England, but a few hundred survived in London and other cities in the guise of Christians. 
Anti-Semitism in England increased in England around 1190 after non-Jews borrowed heavily from Jewish moneylenders. King Richard I (reign: 1189-1199) put a stop to Jewish persecution, but it returned in the following century during King Edward I's reign from 1272 to 1307. The government required Jews to wear strips of yellow cloth as identification, taxed them heavily, and forbade them to mingle with Christians. In 1290 Edward banished them from England. Only a few Jews remained behind, either because they had converted to Christianity or because they enjoyed special protection for the services they provided. In Shakespeare's time 300 years later, anti-Semitism remained in force in England.

Inspiration from The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice inspired Dustin Hoffman to take the role of Shylock on the London stage.

The Cast and Characters
Click the link to access a list of all the cast and characters.

Text - script of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Cast and characters in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
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