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Submitted: October 19, 2014

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Submitted: October 19, 2014





“My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!

Fled with a Christian ! O my Christian ducats!”

Portia in the Trial Scene, gives Shylock every chance to escape from the punishment to which he would become liable if she feels compelled to pronounce the judgement which she has already decided upon and planned for the rescue of Antonio from his clutches. She tempts Shylock with offer of money, but fails in her effort. She appeals to him to show mercy to Antonio; but here too she fails. Indeed her “Quality of Mercy” speech would havemoved the stoniest of hearts that she gives a strictly literal interpretation of the bond in order to save an innocent man.  It is her ingenuity that saves Antonio’s life, we cannot help feeling that she allows the Christians to impose upon Shylock the maximum punishment which is permissible under the law though they certainly spare his life. We would have admiredher even more if she had allowed Shylock to withdraw from the court when he says that he is willing to wash his hands of the whole affair, and would no longer stay to discuss the matter. But of, she stops him, saying that the law has yet another hold upon him, and it is at this point that Christians treat the Jew with nearly the same cruelty with which he had wanted to treat Antonio.

ANTONIO, the merchant of the play’s title. He is good and generous man, who promises to pay Shylock the money, borrowed by Bassanio or else allow Shylock to cut off a pound of his flesh.

His part in the play is rather a passive one, and he reveals his character mainly in his generousity to his friend and in his hatred of the Jew. (Oxford Edition: Shakespeare)

Grieve not that I am fallen to this for you;
For herein Fortune shows herself more kind
Than is her custom: it is still her use
To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,
To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow
An age of poverty;

Portia is one character who, at the beginning of the play, resents the situation in which she is placed. Her father, who is now dead, devised a test for selecting the man that his daughter should marry; in Portia’s words, ‘the will of a living daughter [is] curbed by the will of a dead father.’ Fortunately for Portia, the right man makes the right choice, and she is given to the man she loves. Portia does not think to question a man’s right to the ownership of all his wife’s possessions; in fact, she seems glad when she tells Bassanio,

‘But  now I was the lord

Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,

Queen o’er myself ; and even now, but now,

This house, these servants, and this same myself

Are yours, my lord’s.’

One of the most characteristic features of Shakespeare’s use of the English language is BOLDNESS. It is a predominant feature of his art as a poet. Another trait in Shakespeare’s language is the proximity of his poetical diction to his ordinary prose. He uses very few poetical diction to his ordinary prose.  He uses very few poetical words or forms, and he achieves his finest poetical effect without stepping outside his ordinary vocabulary and grammar. “The greatness of Shakespeare’s influence does not consist in the number of new words which he added to the literary vocabulary… but in the multitude of phrases derived from his writings which have entered into the texture of the dictionof literature and daily conversation.  If, therefore, Shakespeare has not enriched the language with many new words, he has certainly enriched it with a very large number of significant phrases and almost proverbial expressions” which have become household words. “It is in a multitude of phrases, above all else, that Shakespeare’s language may be said to live in the full sense of the word.” We use these words almost daily without the slightest knowledge that they have come from the immortal pen of Shakespeare.


Antonio, Salarino and Salenio and his other friends discuss the cause of Antonio’s sadness but fail to understand it. > Dangers of the sea, love, concern for public opinion  and need to appear wise are suggested as causes; all of which Antonio rejects.> After the other friends leave, Bassanio discloses to Antonio his need for money to marry Portia.> Antonio declares that he has no money  at hand because all of it is being used for trading. > Antonio offers his name or reputation to raise money for Bassanio.

All the theatres of London during the Elizabethan era had individual differences; yet their common function necessitated a similar general plan. The public theatres were three stories high, and built around an open space at the centre.  Usually  polygonal  in plan to give an overall rounded effect, the three levels of inward- facing galleries overlooked the open centre, into which jutted the stage-  essentially a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience, only the  rear being restricted for the entry and exit of the actors and seating for the musicians. The upper level behind the stage was used as a balcony.


Portia and Nerissa discuss Portia’s father’s will according to which her suitors must choose one of the three caskets in order to win her. > Some of the suitors have already come in the hope of marrying her; but Portia makes fun of them and shows her dislike. > Nerissa reminds her of Bassanio whom she had found quite attractive.

Shakespeare’s boldness in sentence-structure is also an obvious characteristic. Language is not merely a matter of words and inflections.  There are many conventional features which form an essential part of the language-matters of idiom and usage that defy explanation or logical classification.  There are some bold features with regard to sentence-structure which we often meet with in Shakespeare. There are a few phrases reminiscent of Shakespeare whose use in Modern English has been based on misunderstanding.  Such phrases have remained in currency and are now found with a meaning other than that which Shakespeare had intended. These phrases are misapplied in Modern English.

Shakespeare is the greatest master of English poetry and as such has wielded a great influence over the English language as well as over poetic and archaic language generally.  No other individual writer has exercised so much influence on the English language as Shakespeare has done. His influence on the language is very much akin to that of the Bible translations. When, in the Trial Scene, the Duke asks Shylock to relent and show pity on Antonio, Shylock replies:

-And by our holy Sabbath have I sword

“My writing on the subject of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ with a more analytical view would never been possible without the ‘tremendous’ curiosity and ecstasy in knowing of and at listening to the play happened to majority of my students. They had a keen interest in knowing from me whom do, I only, think after the play as Real Merchant of Venice: therefore, the real hero only accords to the play..…!”-

Rituparna Ray Chaudhuri.



Date and Text

1596 is the most likely date for The Merchant of Venice, for in that year a wealthy Spanish ship was much in the news.  The ship had run aground in the harbor at Cadiz, where it was captured and brought to England. It is this event that Salerio is referring to in Act 1, Scene 1, lines 25-9:

I should not see the sandy hour-glass run,
But I should think of shallows and of flats,
And see my wealthy Andrew dock'd in sand,
Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs
To kiss her burial.

The earliest text of the play was the Quarto published in 1600, and this is followed in the present edition- Oxford Shakespeare.

Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting creations from the point of view of language. Even though there were Jews in England during Shakespeare’s time their number was not large enough to enable the hearers to be familiar with the Jewish type of language or any Anglo-Jewish dialect that might have developed.  If that were so then this dialect could have been put into Shylock’s mouth. But of, there is not a single trait in Shylock’s language which can be called distinctly Jewish. And yet Shakespeare has successful in creating for Shylock a language different from that of anybody else.  This creation of a new language only for Shylock which was not the Jewish type and which was not regular in the Shakespearean language has stamped the character with a peculiar mark of individuality not to be found in any other character. Shylock has his Old Testament at his finger’s ends: When Antonio comes to Shylock for the loan, Shylock begins his reference to Jacob’s (in the Old Testament) way of making profits and starts citing Scripture for his purpose (M.V. I.III.67-68) He defends his own way of making money breed like Jacob’s thrift in breeding lambs: On being asked by Antonio if Jacob charged interest as Shylock did, Shylock tries to

defend his charging interest no doubt, but  not exactly in the way in which Jacob made his profits(M.V. I.III.71-82) He swears by Jacob’s staff and the holy Sabbath: When dining out Shylock says to Jessica:-

“By Jacob’s staff, I swear,

I have no mind of feasting forth tonight;

But I will go”.

 (The reference is to Genesis XXXII, 10 where Jacob says-“With my staff I passed over the Jordan”)


Antonio is forced to borrow money from Shylock whom he has insulted for years.> After initial hesitation, Shylock agrees to loan Antonio. > Not for interest, but under a special agreement, a ‘bond’.> According to the bond, if Antonio fails to repay his debt in time, Shylock will have the right to remove one pound in weight of Antonio’s flesh.

Shylock, the money-lender who is hated because he is a Jew, explains how prejudice works. He calls it ‘affection’, and shows the relationship between prejudice and the emotions:

“affection, Master of passion, sways it to the mood

Of what it likes and loathes.’’ Certain words like thou, thee, ‘tis, mine eyes, morrow ,etc., now form parts of the conventional language of poetry; but Shakespeare uses them in poetry not because they are parts of the conventional language of poetry, but because  they are parts of the conventional language of poetry, but because these were everyday  colloquialisms during his time.


Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it,
My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate
Upon the fortune of this present year:
Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad.


To have the due and forfeit of my bond. - (M.V. IV. I., 36-38) (To Note: Swearing by holy Sabbath is a characteristically Jewish oath); He again tauntingly addresses his servant Launcelot by calling him: Hagar’s (servant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife) offspring.”He is afraid of violating an oath which is an offence according to the Jewish Scriptures: When Portia offers Shylock three thousand ducats, he bluntly declines the offer, saying:“An oath, an oath, I have an oath in heaven; Shall I lay perjury upon my soul?”  (M.V. IV. I., 231-32)(N.B. Violation of an oath was severely condemned by the Jewish Scriptures)He uses some Biblical words which do not occur elsewhere in Shakespeare: Synagogue (place of worship) (III. 1. 115) Nazarite (inhabitant of Nazareth) (1. III.32) Publican (Roman tax-collector, an object of contempt to the Jews) (1. III.38).He uses some words or constructions a little different from the accepted use of his time: Advantage (in place of ‘interest’ which was the accepted use).



Launcelot is taunted by his conscience to leave Shylock’s service and join the service of Bassanio. > Launcelot decides to do it. > He meets his own father and taunts him by pretending to br dead for fun. >Launcelot meets Bassanio and enters his service. > Gratiano persuades Bassanio to let him go with him to Belmont, to which Bassanio agrees.

“The setting of a play is significant as it provides the necessary back drop for the events to occur and provides the mood and meaning to the work of art.  The action of The Merchant of Venice takes place in Venice and in Belmont, away from the Elizabethan audience of England.  Both the places are remote to London and their remoteness gives the play a romantic colouring. Adventurous merchants like Antonio were highly honoured in the Elizabethan Age, an Age known for travel and discovery. Bassanio, represents such a young spendthrift who used to live a splendid and extravagant life which many a times, perhaps, were much beyond the means. On the other hand, we see Shylock as a traditional figure of the Jewish moneylender. He is shown not merely as a Jew in the play, but a Jew in the Christian society who is oppressed and hated as Shylock himself mentions in the course of the play.”- Self, Edited from Workbook.


Shylock tells Jessica to lock up ther house while he goes to sup with Bassanio. > Shylock fears that something is wrong.> But of, he is pleased that Launcelot has left his service and joined the service of Bassanio. > Shylock leaves to dine, Left alone, Jessica bids farewell to her father.> Jessica is at home and her father absolutely trusts her, which serves to heighten her betrayal.

Usance (in place of ‘usuary’, ‘interest on loan’ which was the accepted use).Moneys (plural) (in place of ‘money’)Equal  (in place of ‘exact which was the accepted use).Estimable (in place of ‘exact  which was the accepted use).Rheum (in place of ‘saliva’ which was the accepted use).Fulsome (in pace of ‘lustful’ which was the accepted use).He alone uses some words not used by anybody else:Eanling (young lamb) (I.III.76);Misbeliever (unbeliever) ((I.III.100);Bane (rare use of the word as verb meaning ‘to kill by poison) (IV.I. 46)his syntax is peculiar: Rent out(where the mind should only be ‘rend’) ; (II, V. 5)So following (where ‘and so forth’ is the regular Shakespearian phrase) (I.III.34)I have no mind of feasting forth tonight (where it should be ‘no mind to’) (II.V. 37)


My wind cooling my broth
Would blow me to an ague, when I thought
What harm a wind too great at sea might do.

Jespersen explains the position of English held a few centuries ago by quoting a few extracts from different writersof old.  Only two or three centuries ago, he says, English was spoken by so few people that no one could dream of its ever becoming a world language.  It was observed by one English writer in 1582 that “the English tongue is of small reach, stretching no further than this land of ours.”  An Italian comment was that “it was worthless beyond Dover.”  There were various other observations about the  English language at that time or even later which pointed to the fact that no one abroad could read  the writings of the English authors and even those who “learned English by necessity forgot it”,  and there were a “small  number of scholars  on the continent  able to read English.” In the early part of the eighteenth century was published a dictionary of four chief languages of Europe in which English had no place.  These were Italian, French, German and Latin. But of, the position has now changed and English today finds a place in the lost of the chief languages because political, social and literary importance it is second to none and because it is the mother tongue of a greater number of human beings than any of its competitors.


Gratiano and Salarino wait outside Shylock’s house in a street in Venice, waiting for Lorenzo. > Lorenzo is supposed to meet Jessica and elope.> Lorenzo arrives late and apologizes to his friends. > Jessica arrives cross-dressed as a boy with some of Shylock’s money and wealth. Jessica and Lorenzo elope.> Antonio meet Gratiano and informs  him that the party is called off and Bassanio and Gratiano are sail to Belmont as soon as possible  as  the wind  has changed  and it  is  the right  time  to  sail.


The reason for this boldness of syntax is that Shakespeare did not write his plays to be read and dwelt on by the eye but to be heard by a sympathetic audience.  Shakespeare’s syntax, therefore is unfettered by bookish impositions.  The drama represents the unstudied utterance of people under all kinds and degrees of emotion, pain and passion. Its syntax, to be truly representative, must be familiar, conversational, spontaneous; hot studied and formal. Thus we find that in Shylock’s language there are many deviations from Shakespeare’s ordinary language, many expressions used by Shylock alone and by none

other of his characters.  It shows, therefore, that Shakespeare made Shylock’s language peculiar on purpose to stamp him as a being out of the common sort and in order to mark him off as a Jew from the common Christian. The Prince of Morocco confronts Portia with a powerful argument against prejudice. Find a fair skinned northern prince, he urges her, and let the two of them ‘make incision’ in their flesh.  From both bodies, the blood that flows will be re the argument is taken up in a later scene by Shylock, and the opening lines of Shylock’s speech are often quoted to demonstrate Shakespeare’s lack of prejudice and refusal to discriminate against individuals on grounds of race or religion.



The Prince of Morocco arrives at Portia’s household to make his choice of casket.> He ponders over the inscriptions on each of the casket aloud. > He chooses the gold casket and finds a skull in it. > Being unsuccessful, the Prince of Morocco leaves the place. > Portia sees it as a ‘gentle’ riddance.

SHYLOCK, a money-lender, who is hated for his greed and because he is a Jew. He is Antonio’s enemy, and when Bassanio’s money is not repaid he demands the pound of flesh that Antonio promised as a forfeit… (Oxford Edition: Shakespeare)


When it is paid according to the tenor.
It doth appear you are a worthy judge;
You know the law, your exposition
Hath been most sound:

In The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare acknowledges the existence of prejudice, and he makesuse of it to suit his dramatic ends. He was an entertainer, not a reformer. His play cannot be read as propaganda for the abolition of prejudice; at most, it recommends that we should sometimes remember there is a human being inside the skin. The different  social classes are clearly indicated in The Merchant of Venice, but the linguistic ‘markers’ that Shakespeare uses are not as familiar to a twentieth-century audience as they were to Shakespeare’s contemporaries. The pronouns ‘you’ and ‘thou’ are very significant, and almost imperceptibly define the relationships between the characters.  ‘You’ is neutral, formal and polite, whilst ‘thou’ is affectionate, condescending, or contemptuous. Bassanio always speaks to Antonio as ‘you’, but to Gratiano as ‘thou’; Antonio mostly uses the formal word, but with Bassanio he allows himself the occasional ‘thou’ of affection, and with Shylock the dismissive ‘thou’ of contempt. As long as Old Gobbo believes that he is speaking to a young gentleman, he adopts the ‘you’ which is appropriate when addressing a superior; but when he knows he is speaking to his son, his recognition is expressed through the pronoun: ‘I’ll be sworn if thou be Launcelot…’is by such small details that English social status is revealed.


Salarino and Salanio reveal that Bassanio has left for Belmont. > Lorenzo and Jessica havenot accompanied them. > Shylock comes to know of the elopement and goes to the Duke of Venice to get the ship searched. > Antonio at the dock assures the Jew of the elopers’ absence in the ship. >Shylock is confounded by the loss of his wealth and the elopement of his daughter. > Salarino reports that he has come to know that a Venetian ship has sunk in the English Channel. > Salanio asks Salarino to convey the news to Antonio carefully.

“This fastidiousness, this hatred of excess, did much to shape his common-sense and middle-of-the-road politics. The qualities he most disliked were pretentiousness and hypocrisy. His central belief was in the natural discipline of an ordered hypocrisy. His central belief was in the natural discipline of an ordered society, that order being proclaimed by the nature of the universe, the monarchy stood to the nation as the heavens to the earth, while the stars in their courses proclaimed the scared necessity of a stable regimen.” Ivor Brown: Belief in Order and Discipline.


The Prince of Arragon comes with his servants to Belmont, to Portia’s household. > The Prince of Arragon tries his luck and chooses the silver casket which contains an idiot’s head.> He has chosen wrong casket and leaves immediately.> A  servant brings the news  that a young Venetian has come to Belmont.

The Merchant of Venice confirms Shylock as a villain, as monstrous a creature as any in the drama of Shakespeare’s time. Indeed, English drama since the seventeenth century has failed to produce Shylock’s equal.  The Jew was a figure hated and feared by the Elizabethans, but the reasons for their hatred are not at all simple. Superstitions was a main one, arising out  of medieval  legends such as that of St. Hugh of Lincoln, a little boy who was rare, but religion gave  the English Christians a good excuse for persecuting the foreigners  who had come to live amongst them.  Dislike of the aliens was intensified by the prosperity of some Jews, whose success in business enterprises sometimes made the native English dependent on the immigrants.  Parallel cases of suspicion and jealousy are not hard to find in the modern world.


Bassanio has arrived at Belmont. He is about to choose the casket. > Portia asks him to take the necessary time, but Bassanio hastens to choose the casket. Portia also expresses her love for Bassanio, but aside. > He chooses the correct casket (the lead) amidst a song about the difference between appearance and reality; and wins Portia.


Your grace shall understand that at the receipt of
your letter I am very sick: but in the instant that
your messenger came, in loving visitation was with
me a young doctor of Rome; his name is Balthasar.


Helpless, trapped Antonio is walking around in the streets of Venice bound by a jailor.> Shylock takes delight at seeing him helpless. Antonio pleas for mercy, but Shylock is in no mood to listen to Antonio’s pleas. > Shylock insists that he wants his bond and nothing else. >Antonio does not see any prospect of escaping the Jew’s merciless aims as Venetian laws approve of it. > Antonio only hopes that Bassanio will be there with him in his final hour.

The question which now arises as whether ‘this title is appropriate and whether Antonio is really the hero of the play. Shylock is certainly the most towering personality in the play even though in the court scene he is eclipsed and vanquished by Portia. Portia undoubtedly defeats him, thwarts him, and renders him absolutely helpless; but till this point in the play it reached it was Shylock who had impressed us as the most dynamic and the most formidable person in the play. And yet he cannot be designated as the hero of the play because hero must have a certain degree of moral goodness in him while Shylock is a malicious and revengeful man. Shylock is a usurer and usuary is definitely a stigma on the name of a man. Besides, Shylock is a fanatical Jew who is intolerant of Christians; he is a miser in whose service Lancelot is farnished; he is a tyrannical cunning, crafty, heartless, merciless and vindictive man. Such an individual cannot be called the hero of the play or the novel. Antonio on the other hand does possess certain specific virtues and is morally far superior to Shylock even though he suffers from a couple of faults and failings such as a melancholy and sullen nature and religious fanaticism.  Antonio is kind-hearted and generous to needy persons; and he is a very devoted friend of Bassanio. He enjoys an excellent reputation in Venice and the Duke has a high opinion about him.It was therefore only the right course for Shakespeare to have named the play for Antonio.

Shylock took the story of Shylock’s bond from an Italian novel, but the money-lending Jew in this source has no personality, and no daughter. Consequently, we can assume that Shylock is Shakespeare’s own creation: all the personality traits that we find in him were deliberately worked out by the dramatist, and not bore rowedaccidentally along the plot.



Portia decides to assist Antonio and makes a plan. > She asks Lorenzo and Jessica to be the in charge of her house, which they accept. > Portia sends her servant Balthazar to Padua for information from the legal expert, Doctor Bellario, and asks him to be quick. > Portia tells Nerissa that both of them will cross dress, and on the way to Venice she will disclose the future plans to her.

“A dramatist is no more able than anybody else to bestow upon his characters talents which he does not himself possess. If – as critics are agreed- Shakespeare’s characters show humour, Shakespeare must have a sense of humour himself. But a man’s humour and fancy are functions of his character as well as of his reason. To appreciate them clearly is to know how he feels as well as how he argues: what are the aspects of life which especially impress him, and what morals are most congenial. I do not see how the critic can claim an instructive perception of the Shakespearean mode of thought without a perception of some sides of his character. You distinguish Shakespeare’s work from his rivals’ as confidently as any expert judging of hand-writing.  You admit, too, that you can give a very fair account of the characteristics of the other writer.  Then surely you can tell me-or at least you know “implicitly”- what is the quality in which they are defective and Shakespeare pre-eminent.”  (Leslie Stephen: Self – Revelation)

The action of the play takes place in Venice and in Belmont.  Belmont is imaginary, but Venice is real. The city is located on the sea coast in the north of Italy, and is in fact built over a lagoon. Its main streets are canals, and the only vehicles are boats.  In the sixteenth century, Venice was the centre for international trade, importing goods from all corners of the earth, and exporting them in the same way. We are told that Antonio, the greatest of the merchants, is waiting for his ships to return-

From Tripolis, from Mexico, and England,

From Lisbon, Barbary and India.

To be successful, a merchant had to invest his money wisely-and have luck on his side. Trading by sea was hazardous, and a sudden storm, or unseen rocks, could easily wreck a ship and drown the merchant’s gopes along with the cargo.  (Oxford -Shakespeare).

NERISSA, Portia’s lady-in-waiting, who falls in love with Gratiano. When Portia goes to Venice as a lawyer, Nerissa accompanies her, dressed as a lawyer’s clerk.  (Oxford Edition: Shakespeare)


If he should offer to choose, and choose the right
casket, you should refuse to perform your father's
will, if you should refuse to accept him.

Shylock starts from a double disadvantage, as far as an Elizabethan audience was concerned. He is a Jew, and he is a money lender.  There were not many Jews in England, but in Middle Ages English Christians hated Jews, and this feeling was still strong in the sixteenth century, the Elizabethans also hated the traditional Jewish profession of usury- the lending of money for profit, Jews were often forbidden to own land or to engage in trade in England; consequently the only lucrative profession open to them was money-lending. The Christians deplored this-in theory. In practice, the expanding economy of the times demanded that money should be readily available. Shakespeare does not let us see Shylock in his first frenzy of distress when he finds that Jessica is missing, because this would surely arouse her sympathy. Instead, Solanio describes the scene, and the audience is encouraged. To share in his laughter.  From Solanio’s account, it seems that Shylock’s grief over the loss of his daughter is equaled, perhaps even surpassed, by his anger at the theft of his money. He utters ‘a passion so confused’.


Launcelot and Jessica talk humorously. > Lorenzo joins them and asks Jessica what she thinks of Portia.> Jessica praises Bassanio’s heavenly fortune in winning Portia’s hand.

To show excessive care for position is ill-mannered, and the Prince of Arragon’s lengthy discourse on rank shows him to be merely vulgar: he is himself the ‘blinking idiot’ that he finds in the casket. He speaks proudly of his dark skin, the ‘shadow’d’ livery of the burnish’d sun’, and in his dignity we can feel Shakespeare’s admiration for the character he has created and the people whom the Prince represents.  Yet he is unacceptable as a suitor for Portia; her conversation with him leaves few doubts in our minds, and her relief when he chooses the wrong casket is unmistakable: ‘Let all of his complexion choose me so.’ Shylock’s viciousness transcends his Jewishness, and it would be unfair to cite this character as an example of Shakespeare’s racial prejudice.  But of, we can find this surrounding Shylock’s daughter. We are sympathetic to Jessica, yet we are never allowed to forget that she is a Jew. The reminders are always affectionate, and some-times funny- as when Launcelot reproaches Lorenzo for converting Jessica, ‘for in converting Jews to Christians you raise the price of pork’.  Laughter can take away the cruelty of prejudice, but it helps to reinforce in an audience the awareness of difference. A happy ending for the leading characters is essential for a romantic comedy such as The Merchant of Venice.  But of, one very important character is left out of the general rejoicing in Act 5. Shylock has been defeated of his bond, robbed of his ducats, and deserted by his daughter; he is even compelled to give up his birth right, his Jewish religion, and become one of the Christians whom he so much hates.  Does he deserve this fate? Is The Merchant of Venice a comedy for all the other characters, but a tragedy for Shylock? The action of the play takes place in Venice and in Belmont. Belmont is imaginary, but Venice is real. The city is located on the sea coast in the north of Italy, and is in fact built over a lagoon. Its main streets are canals, and the only vehicles are boats .in the sixteenth century, Venice was the centre for international trade, importing goods from all corners of the earth, and exporting them in the same way. We are told that Antonio, the greatest of the merchants, is waiting for his ships to return. To be successful, a merchant had to invest his money wisely- and have luck on his side. Trading by sea was hazardous, and a sudden storm, or unseen rocks, could easily wreck a ship and drown the merchant’s hopes along with the cargo.



In a Venetian court presided over by the Duke, Shylock refuses to forgo his claim to a pound of Antonio’s flesh, in spite of repeated pleas from the Duke and Antonio. > The Duke seeing that the course of the trial is taking a harsh turn is about to dismiss the court, when cross dressed Nerissa enters as the Lawyer’s clerk. > Portia, disguised as a doctor of law, enters the court and makes a speech in praise of mercy, but Shylock is unmoved. > Portia then pronounces  that he is entitled to Antonio’s pound of flesh-but the exact one pound neither more nor less; he is not entitled  to shed any blood.>  Shylock falls in his own trap and asks for three times the amount which is denied by Portia saying that it is not  there in the bond. > The principal amount is also denied as Shylock has refused it in open court. > Shylock is frustrated when Portia also declares that his own life and goods are forfeit as according to Venetian laws when an outsider plans to kill a Venetian citizen it is the punishment. > Ultimately Shylock is allowed to depart with half his goods for his lifetime, and the other half kept in trust on condition that he becomes a Christian and bequeaths his possessions to Lorenzo and Jessica. > Bassanio offers to reward the young lawyer. > Portia asks for his ring, when Bassanio first denies, but after Antonio’s requests, gives it to Gratiano so that he can deliver it to Portia.

“The acceptance of this Tudor universe is no proof of profound political speculation on Shakespeare’s part. He took what was going in the way of ideas and, as was his wont, gave to it the perfect shaping that came naturally to that Hand of Glory.  He saw history as a dramatist, in terms of people and character- rightly since that was his profession- and not as an analyst of social forces, or as a student of economic and political motive. He drew on the chronicles of Hall and Holinshed for English history and on North Plutarch for his classical plays.” – Ivor Brown: Conception of History.

It is quite sure that he never intended the play to be a tragedy. Interpreted in the light of modern humanistic tendencies Shylock’s character comes to have something tragic in it, but even this is not so marked.  The whole play is romantic in its essence.  Whatever we may say in favour of Shylock, he is doubtlessly a misfit in the world he lives in. therefore it can be said in conclusion that though Shylock does arouse pity for him, the play was never meant to be a tragedy. The Italian atmosphere makes the play more romantic. We see in the distance the gondola which is bearing Jessica away with her lover. Italy- the land of beauty and romance, the mistress of so many poets, the country of enchantment- such is the background of this play. What could be more romantic than an Italian background? According to Stopford A. Brooke there is something romantic also in Antonio’s lavish friendship, ready  to sacrifice not only wealth by life for the sake of Bassanio. This friendship between a grave man , bordering on old age, and a young, gay affectionate wild fells , capable of better things and nice in honour-this friendship, says  Brooke; is instinct with the spirit  of romance.


Portia and Nerissa are in a street of Venice on their way to Shylock’s house where they are to get the deed signed from Shylock. > Gratiano overtakes them and gives Bassanio’s ring to Portia. He also agrees to show Nerissa of Shylock’s house. > Nerissa tells Portia that she too will try to get her own ring from Gratiano. Portia takes great delight in playing the double ring joke on their husbands.

We find ample proof of Portia’s brilliant intellect at least on two occasions in the play. We notice her psychological insight into human character, particularly when she expresses her opinion about some of her suitors, and is particularly witty and ironical. She says about Neapolitan  Prince, -Ay that’s a colt indeed, for he doth nothing but talks  of his horse; and he makes it a  great  appropriation to his own good part that  he can shoe  show  himself-

Like the Prodigal Son’s father, Antonio has shown the loving and forgiving generousity of his nature, but he remains a mysterious character. Early in the scene he tells Gratiano that he thinks of the world as -A stage where every man must play apart, And mine a sad one- (Oxford- Shakespeare)


It is his changing relationship with Bassanio that causes his melancholy. Some Elizabethans thought- as the Greeks and Romans did- that friendship between two men was a more spiritual bond, and should be more highly esteemed, than the love between a man and a woman.  Knowing that Bassanio is interested in a lady (lines 119-21, Act I, Scene 1), Antonio may be secretly grieving for the inevitable end to a friendship.  (Oxford- Shakespeare)

Certainly the usurer is necessary to the world of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock’s wealth is evidence of his professional success, which could only come from satisfying a social need. Shylock first appears as the cautious businessman, thinking carefully before he invests his three thousand ducats in Bassanio’s enterprise.  His reaction to the polite invitation to dinner is unexpected in its venom, which increases as he tells the audience of his hatred for Antonio. Religious differences seem to be less important than professional jealousy.

BASSANIO, a younger man, who has already spent all his own money and now hopes to restore his fortunes by marrying an heiress. He needs to borrow money so that he can appear rich whenhe courts Portia, and it is for his sake that Antonio enters into the bond with Shylock. Bassanio is made to show good judgement when he makes his choice of the leaden casket and so wins Portia for his wife. (Oxford Edition: Shakespeare)


Most worthy gentleman, I and my friend
Have by your wisdom been this day acquitted
Of grievous penalties; in lieu whereof,
Three thousand ducats, due unto the Jew,
We freely cope your courteous pains withal.


When Shylock next appears in Act 3, Scene 1 the passion is subdued into an intense and malevolent bitterness; yet the jesting of the two Christians is cruel.  The loss of a daughter is a real cause for sorrow, and Shylock earns some pity, from the audience, when he tells Solanio and Salerio that ‘my daughter is my flesh my blood.’ It is with very mixed feelings, then, that we are led up to powerful speech in which Shylock catalogues the abuses he has had to suffer from Christians in general, and from Antonio in particular. There is only one reason that he can see for this treatment: ‘I am a Jew’. It is easy to respond to the rhetorical questions.  Shylock appeals to our common humanity. To give a negative answer to his questions would deny not his humanity, but our own. The speech, however, continues: “and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that…The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

GRATIANO, a young man with a reputation for wild behavior.  He accompanies Bassanio to Belmont, and wins the love of Portia’s lady-in-waiting, Nerissa.

(Oxford Edition: Shakespeare)


A second Daniel, a Daniel, Jew!
Now, infidel, I have you on the hip.



Why doth the Jew pause? take thy forfeiture.


To some extent Shylock justifies his hostility when he describes how he has been treated by Antonio-insulted, spat upon, and kicked out of the way like ‘a stranger cur’. Because of this, we sympathize with him. When the scene ends, we are left with two conflicting opinions of Shylock and his ‘merry sport’. Are we to share Antonio’s surprise, ‘And say there is much kindness in the Jew’?  Or is Bassanio right to be suspicious of ‘fair terms and a villain’s mind’? The scene with Antonio and Bassanio shows Shylock in his professional, public, life.  Next, we hear what he is like at home. His comic servant, Launcelot Gobbo, exaggerates with a characteristic misuse of the English language, when he says that ‘the Jew is the very devil incarnation.’ But of, this opinion is echoed by Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, when she sighs ‘Our house is hell’. Jessica is asham’d to be [her] father’s child’, although she knows that it is a ‘heinous sin’ for a daughter to have such feelings. We can understand Jessica’s misery when her father gives instructions about locking up his house whist he is away.  Jessica is forbidden even to look out of the window to watch the masquers going to Bassanio’s feast. Shylock is a kill -joy -and he has also killed his daughter’s natural affection for him. 

William Shakespeare was writing during the period of reign of Queen Elizabeth in British throne (1558-1603) which is usually termed as the Elizabethan age or the Elizabethan Era, though it is often used to refer to the late 16th century and early 17th century. The age is often termed as “Renaissance”-meaning “rebirth” or ‘reawakening”; though Renaissance happened all over Europe in the 14th century and 15th century.  In case of England, the term Renaissance applies to the 16th century when England witnessed a socio-cultural upheaval and a change that affected the lives of all.  This period witnessed a rapid growth in English Commerce, naval power and nationalist feeling, along with it being the greatest age of English literature, especially plays and poems. The prominent writers of the age are William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh and others.


Lorenzo and Jessica talk lovingly, when a messenger tells them that Portia is about to arrive. > After the arrival of Portia and Nerissa, Bassanio and Gratiano, along with Antonio appear. > Nerissa begins a quarrel with Gratiano about the ring she has gifted. Soon Bassanio is also accused of the same by Portia. Quarrel ensues, where Bassanio accepts his mistake and Antonio pleads that he is ready to be surely for Bassanio’s future faithfulness. > Eventually, Portia and Nerissa reveal the truth about their activities in Venice. The three pairs of lovers are at last together. >Portia gives a letter to Antonio which states that his ships have return safe. Nerissa gives the signed deed of Shylock to Lorenzo and Jessica who are also happy that their financial luck has favoured them. > As it is about to be morning, Portia invites everyone within the house.

Common humanity ignores all limitations of colour, race or creed; and this is strongly asserted in the first part of Shylock’s speech. But of, the assertions of these last lines show that the individual- Shylock- is determined to ignore the limits of humanity. He will ‘better

the instruction’, and prove himself to be not the equal of the Christians in inflicting suffering on others, but their superior. During the trial, Shylock loses the audience’s sympathy, by his words and by the action of sharpening the knife on the sole of his shoe, which Gratiano observes in line 123. Neither insults nor pleading spoil the enjoyment of his triumph, and when sentence is given against Antonio, he repeats the words of the bond with a lingering relish. The events that follow do nothing to moderate the presentation of Shylock in the terms used by the Duke when he warns Antonio, before the trial begins, that his adversary is

“an inhuman wretch

Uncapable of pity, void and empty

From any dram of mercy.”


Shylock demanded a strict observance of the law, and in poetic justice, is precisely this that defeats him. Gratiano exults over his downfall, but the other characters in the court speak no unnecessary words and show no satisfaction until Shylock has left the court. Even then, conversation is formal, occupied only with thanks and payment. It does not obliterate the memory of Shylock’s parting words. Recent English productions of The Merchant of Venice have emphasized the suffering human being, but I do not think that this is what Shakespeare intended (Oxford Edition).

 Shylock is more complex than any of the other characters in the play: we can think of him as a ‘real’ person, whose words and deeds are motivated by thoughts and feelings that we can discover from the play, and that we can understand when we have discovered them. We cannot think of Bassanio, for instance in this way. Yet in admiring Shakespeare’s achievement in the creation of Shylock, we must beware of danger.  Often, when we know a person well, and understand why he acts as he does, we become sympathetic to him; in The Merchant of Venice we are further encouraged to sympathize with Shylock also by the fact that other leading characters, such as Bassanio do not compel our sympathies.  Sympathy can give rise to affection, and affection often tempts us to withhold moral judgement, or at least be gentle in our censure. Shylock’s conduct merits condemnation. We can only refrain from condemning it because we know that he has suffered for being a Jew; and this, surely, is another form of prejudice?


Beg that thou mayst have leave to hang thyself:
And yet, thy wealth being forfeit to the state,
Thou hast not left the value of a cord;
Therefore thou must be hang'd at the state's charge.


Then again, the news of the loss of Antonio’s ships in the sea is being conveyed slowly by either Lorenzo or Jessica whom some messenger comes to meet at Belmont. We notice how in the eighth scene of the second Act the news of Antonio’s loss is discussed by Solanio and Salarino, who again in the first scene of the third Act continue to discuss further and thus help the audience to remain in touch with the news.  Of course, it is only at the end of the Caskets Story that we come to know of the disaster of Antonio from his letter to Bassanio. We have been told throughout the play that Shylock is extremely avaricious, and that is why, it appears rather most improbable and strange when we find Shylock refusing of ten times the amount of the original loan in the open court and insisting on the penalty of the bond, namely, a pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast.  This strangeness of Shylock’s attitude towards money is made possible by the Lorenzo- Jessica story because it is Jessica’s elopement with a Christian that intensifies his revengeful spirit against Antonio, who is also a Christian, otherwise he would have surely accepted the offer of such a big amount made by Bassanio on behalf of Antonio. The revengeful spirit of Shylock is further aggravated by the fact that Jessica not only elopes with a Christian but also robs her father of all his gold and jewels with the help of a Christian, Lorenzo.

JESSICA, Shylock’s daughter; she disguises herself as a boy in order to run away from her father’s house, where she is unhappy. She is in love with the Christian Lorenzo.  (Oxford Edition: Shakespeare)


In such a night
Medea gather'd the enchanted herbs
That did renew old AEson.


The Merchant of Venice ends in mirth and laughter. Everything is brought to a happy close. Everyone except Shylock gets his or her heart’s desire. In the moonlit night at Belmont the three pairs of lovers at last come together. Antonio has reached the happy news that his argosies have arrived in port. There is no hint of sadness in the end- all is joy, and this joy is marred by nothing. Nothing could be more happy than the end of The Merchant of Venice. A snarl of frustrated wrath can deliver this line: ‘ I pray you give me leave to go from  hence: I am not well’ ; or else it can be spoken with the anguish of a man who has lost everything – his daughter, his wealth, his religious freedom, and the engagement ring given to him by his wife. So the play has generally been classified as a romantic comedy which means a play containing a number of romantic elements and a number of comic elements, skillfully and artistically mixed together.  However almost every romantic comedy by Shakespeare has a number of serious elements too, and some of these serious elements come very close to becoming tragic. The play contains a number of romantic and comic

elements but it also contains a number of serious elements, some of them verging on tragedy. In the opinion of some scholars the element of seriousness in this play is so prominent that it seems to acquire a tragic quality.  It is the character of Shylock that gives the play a colour of tragedy, Shylock has lost all that he cherished in life; he has lost his wealth, his religion, his revenge.He is broken like a reed.  The lonely Jew totters home, but the world does not care. In the very next Act- the final one- poetry steels gently into our hearts in the moon-shine at Belmont.  Lovers meethappily. In the fairly atmosphere of Belmont we forget, not only Shylock, but the outside everyday world of bitter realities also. The fifth act of the play was written expressly to remove the suspicion that the play was intended as a Tragedy. Even if the play did not have the happy ending of Act V the play would have been a romantic comedy because the trial itself ends happily for the hero, Antonio, and for all the hero’s friends. If the trial ends unhappily for Shylock it does not make the play tragic because Shylock is a villain who deserves punishment.  Of course Shylock does become a pathetic figure at this point because his punishment is too severe, we see him as a remarkable figure.  He has fire and power to move us, energy radiates from him. He engrosses our attention by his quick and vigorous utterance and by the intensity he displays in his speeches. As he protests against the treatment meted out to him, or champions the course of his race, he appeals to our deepest and most lasting emotions. When he insists on having his right of having Antonio’s flesh he has a force which excites our admiration in spite of his moral depravity and wickedness. And as he is at last beaten at his own game and completely crushed we begin to feel for him.  But of, it seems the dramatist is very anxious to leave no impression if the play being a tragedy.  This would have been the impression if the play had ended with Act IV.  But for, it does not.  So the impression is different. The play is nothing but a tragedy, and if Shylock is something of a tragic characterit is mainly because we have come to look upon him in that light.  So the play is quite carefully balanced  by the purest comedy and the dramatist is careful to leave  us in no doubt of his intention by providing us with an end  which ignores Shylock altogether, and makes us forget him  in the happiness of the lovers.


Shall I not have barely my principal?


Thou shalt have nothing but the forfeiture,
To be so taken at thy peril, Jew.


There is a plenty of comedy in this play too. Launcelot Gobbo is a clown or a jester who was introduced by Shakespeare only to produce laughter.  Launcelot’s fooling of his own father is comic too, though it is something crude and farcical. He is capable of making a good joke also as for instance, when he says that the making of Christians, or the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, would raise the price of hogs in Venice.  But of, it is the sense of humour and the wit of Portia and of Gratiano which import to the play a truly comic quality. Portia’s wit is first broughtto our notice through her comments on her suitors.


Why, then the devil give him good of it!
I'll stay no longer question.


The casket story is essentially romantic. Portia is a romantic lady despite her intellectuality; and Bassanio is a romantic hero despite the fact that in the beginning he strikes us as a fortune hunter. Bassanio’s success in choosing the right casket over whelms Portia with joy; and Portia’s beauty enthralls Bassanio. The Lorenzo-Jessica love affair is highly romantic despite the distress experienced by Shylock when he finds that his daughter has run away with a Christian, and also taken away a lot of his money and jewels. The romantic appeal of the play is enhanced by the moonlight scene at Belmont between Lorenzo and Jessica with its references to the famous mythology love stories.  In this play there is a combination of the serious and the gay elements. In the classical plays of antiquity comedy and tragedy were sharply distinguished and kept entirely separate from each other. No comic play contained tragic elements and vice versa. But of, in Romantic drama of Shakespeare comedy and tragedy sometimes jostle each other. The terrible hatred of Shylock the sense of an impending disaster in the life of Antonio and Shylock’s overwhelming ruin are tragic elements which are mingled with such comic elements as the wit of Gratiano and Portia, the humour of Launcelot and the story of the rings. This mingling of the comicand tragic note gives to the play a romantic character. A pair of lovers are always to romantic subject, because wooing is the most exciting of men’s emotional experiences. Youth in love is the most alluring theme for romantic comedy. The Merchant of Venice is romantic, therefore, by virtue of the freshness and frankness of its two love stories of Portia and Bassanio, of Lorenzo and Jessica. The first love story has its romantic elements in the bold adventure of Bassanio who goes to Belmont to win a wife and in the passionate love that exists between the two.


Why, so: and I know
not what's spent in the search: why, thou loss upon
loss! the thief gone with so much, and so much to
find the thief; and no satisfaction, no revenge:
nor no in luck stirring but what lights on my
shoulders; no sighs but of my breathing; no tears
but of my shedding.


The other love, between Jessica and Lorenzo is still more romantic because of a greater element of adventure and because of the hazard that it involves.  A Christian is in love with a Jewess and since the Jew would never agree to such a match, the lovers elope. A masque is arranged: Jessica slips out of her house in the guise of a boy; the masked procession is led by torches. This is all romance.  But of, the most romantic feature in this love-story is the wonderful, moonlight scene between Jessica and Lorenzo in the beginning of Act V. Few passages in Shakespeare have more of the “far-off magic of poetry” than this conversation between the lovers. Their love is “decked out with imagination and thoughts.” This “moonlight serenade of music” with its rich allusion to Greek Mythology is indeed, a delight.

She says about her English suitors that he is oddly suited; and in this context she further says that he must have his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany and his behavior everywhere.A plenty of mirth and laughter has beenproduced by the comedy of rings and the playwright ends his play with mirth and laughter. Though ended happily the play cannot be called a romantic comedy.  “Shakespearean romantic comedy is fundamentally different from classical comedy. It is an unlimited venture for happiness and an imprinly imaginative undertaking of human welfare. It’s heroes  heroines  are ‘Voyagers’ in pursuit of a happiness, not yet attained- a ‘Brave New World’, wherein man’s life may be fuller his sensations more exquisite, and his joys more wide-spread more lasting, and so more humane.  The central theme of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy rotates a round love- an immorally inspiring love.To quote Beatrice Webb-“ The Merchant of Venice, certainly, contains  elements of romance; the elopement of Jessica, the melancholy sweet love between these two young lovers and love-lit just  meeting  of Bassanio and Portia- all these  are the most sparkling  elements of a romantic comedy. But we should also note that love is not the central theme of the plot; the play a grim fight between two antagonistic religious orthodoxies. “


Dear sir, of force I must attempt you further:
Take some remembrance of us, as a tribute,
Not as a fee: grant me two things, I pray you,
Not to deny me, and to pardon me.


One thing is very striking about Jessica that when we know that Jessica is the daughter of such miserly, orthodox, communal minded, malicious and cruel person as Shylock, how could she be so sweet, loving, romantic, liberal, poetic in spirit?  We know also in what kind of narrow, foul and filthy atmosphere Jessica has been brought up, and yet how can she be so beautiful, cheerful, gay, so fond of beauty and music, so good and gentle.  Of course such anomalies occur in nature sometimes. For example, lovely flowers blossoms out of cow-dung, sweet vegetable out up from the night soil, and many saints are also born of most wicked parents. Jessica, the daughter of the Jew Shylock, falls in love with a Christian young man by the name of Lorenzo who is one of Antonio’sand Bassanio’s friends.  Shylock knows nothing about her love-affairs because Jessica has been keeping it a close secret.  She knows that her father hates the Christians fiercelyand that he would never tolerate the idea of her being in love with a Christian young man. At the same time, she feels a dislike for her father for various reasons.

Enter Musicians

Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear,
And draw her home with music.

Jessica is most unlike her father, Shylock.  Jessica is impulsive, reckless, unfilial, treacherous and even cruel. Of course every young woman when confined within the four walls of her house, and when she is not allowed to have any  communication with the outer world,  and when particularlyshe has no mother,  no sister,  no brother and none except a  poor  old father, who is hatred by everybody in the world  for many of his evil  qualities is bound to go  mad,  not to speak  of being impulsive  or reckless  like  Jessica. But then, when we consider the father’s condition for how lonely Shylock is without his wife or without any of his children except Jessica, we feel that it is most cruel on the part of his daughter to stealaway from home without his knowledge and permission. Being a Jewish girl, Jessica must be a paragon of beauty; otherwise a Christian like Lorenzo would not have fallen in love with her and eloped with her. Lorenzo remarks: “She is wise, if I can judge of her. And fair she is, if hat mine eyes be true, And true she is, as she hath, proved.”- reveal her personal charm and sweetness of soul.  Even Portia who is far above Jessica in rank and culture, is enamoured of her; otherwise she could not have entrusted the care of her house in her hands during h

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