The Merchant of Venice By William Shakespeare
Sources • The Merchant of Venice combines two folk-tales: • The story of a savage creditor who tries to obtain a pound of human flesh as payment for a debt; and • The story of a lover who gains his lady because he chooses the right casket among three in a riddle game. • Shakespeare’s immediate sources are the first story of the fourth day in Ser Giovanni’s prose collection Il Pecorone, a lost play called The Jew, and GestaRomanorum. • Shakespeare was also influenced by Christopher Marlowe’s wildly successful tragedy The Jew of Malta (1589).
Placement in Shakespeare’s Canon • The Merchant of Venice was written in either 1596 or 1597. • This was just after he had written Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. • However, this was before he wrote his four great tragedies ( King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth) and before his great middle period comedies ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, and The Merry Wives of Windsor)
Why are we reading this? • Portia was Shakespeare’s first great heroine. • Shylock is Shakespeare’s first great villain. • Deals with themes that are very relevant to you today: Selfishness versus love, Mercy for others, and racisim (i.e. anti-semitism).
Anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s time • Scholars argue that Shakespeare was not actually anti- Semitic. • His plays were merely a reflection of the treatment of Jewish people in 16th C England. • Jews were banished from England for three centuries, since the reign of Edward I.
Anti-Semitism contd. • In 1594, Roderigo Lopez, a Portuguese Jew who had been Queen Elizabeth’s physician, was tried and executed for his part in a supposed poisoning plot aimed against her.
Male Characters (1/2) • Antonio: a merchant of Venice • Bassanio: his friend, suitor to Portia • Solanio, Gratiano, Salerio: friends to Antonio and Bassanio • Lorenzo: in love with Jessica • Shylock: a rich Jew
Male Characters (2/2) • Tubal: a Jew, his friend • LauncelotGobbo: a clown, servant to Shylock • Old Gobbo: father to Launcelot • Leonardo: servant to Bassanio • Balthazar and Stephano: servants to Portia
Female Characters and Others • Portia: a rich heiress of Belmont • Nerissa: her waiting-gentlewoman ( lady-in waiting and confidant) • Jessica: daughter to Shylock • The Duke of Venice, Prince of Morocco, Prince of Arragon: suitors for Portia