HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Merchant of Venice by William…
Loading...

The Merchant of Venice (1596)

by William Shakespeare

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,42565600 (3.78)160

None.

Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 160 mentions

English (60)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
Bassanio needs money to further his suit for the hand of the beautiful Portia, but he has no credit to get a loan; Antonio is a Christian businessman who often lends money, but is currently out of pocket because all his funds are tied up in 5 ships which are at sea bringing home goods which will make him wealthy again. Antonio tells Bassanio to go to the Jew, Shylock, a userer, and borrow the money for three months using Antonio's own good name. He expects the return of one of his ships within two months.

Shylock hates Christians, and Antonio in particular, because they look down on him and treat him badly, and he requires that the return for any non-payment of the loaned sum be "a pound of flesh" from Antonio. Antonio agrees because he's sure his ship will come in.

So begins this wonderful play about property rights, familial duty, love, and friendship. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Aug 24, 2014 |
If I could have given it less than one star, I would have. Perhaps I'm naive and perhaps I missed the point, but the blatant antisemitism in this piece made me want to fling the book bodily across the room. I understand that the characters within the play may typify certain elements, but as a whole, this was the most antisemitic, racist play I have ever read. Is there redeeming quality in looking at it through the lenses of what Shakespeare intended versus how his audience perceived it? I don't know, but the excerpts of Mein Kampf I read were less enraging than this. ( )
  liveshipvivacia | Apr 26, 2014 |
William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice

Penguin, Paperback, [2005].

12mo. lxxx+148 pp. Penguin Shakespeare. Edited with a Commentary [105-148] and An Account on the Text [99-104] by W. Moelwyn Merchant, 1967. General Introduction by Stanley Wells, 2005 [vii-xvi]. Introduction [xxi-lxiii], The Play in Performance [lxv-lxxiii], and Further Reading [lxxv-lxxx] by Peter Holland, 2005.

Written, c. 1596-97.
Q1, 1600.
Q2, 1619 [dated 1600, some editorial changes].
F1, 1623.
This edition of the text first published in the New Penguin Shakespeare, 1967.
Reprinted with new introductions in the Penguin Shakespeare, 2005.

Contents

General Introduction
The Chronology of Shakespeare's Works
Introduction
The Play in Performance
Further Reading

The Comical History of The Merchant of Venice,
Or Otherwise Called The Jew of Venice

Act I, Scenes 1-3
Act II, Scenes 1-9
Act III, Scenes 1-5
Act IV, Scenes 1-2
Act V, Scene 1

An Account of the Text
Commentary

-------------------------------------------------​

The Characters in the Play

The Duke of Venice
Antonio, a merchant of Venice
Bassanio, his friend, suitor of Portia
Gratiano, Salerio, Solanio: friends of Antonio and Bassanio
Lorenzo, in love with Jessica
Leonardo, servant of Bassanio

Shylock, a Jew from Venice
Jessica, his daughter
Tubal, a Jew of Venice, Shylock's friend
Launcelot Gobbo, servant of Shylock
Old Gobbo, father of Launcelot

Portia, the Lady of Belmont
Nerissa, Portia's waiting-woman
The Prince of Morocco, The Prince of Arragon: suitors of Portia
Balthasar, Stephano: servants of Portia

Servingman, Messenger, Antonio's Man, Clerk
Magnificoes of Venice, officers of the Court of Justice, a gaoler, musicians, servants and other attendants

=====================================

‘What are you reading?’
‘"If you prick us, do we not bleed? It you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"’
‘Very appropriate.’


This was my introduction to The Merchant of Venice. Only I didn't know it. The above conversation comes from Roman Polanski's shattering movie The Pianist (2002). It happens between the two brothers, Henryk and Wladislaw, while they are waiting to be deported from Warsaw; as it turned out later, this was the last time when "the pianist" saw his family. Polanski allows us a glimpse at the unmistakable image of the Bard on the cover, but the identity of the play is not revealed. Only much later did I realise how horrifyingly appropriate the reference is.

I understand The Merchant is regarded as one of Shakespeare's "problem plays". One great poet, who incidentally was a great critic as well, once wrote that it “must be classed among Shakespeare’s Unpleasant Plays” on the grounds that “the attraction we naturally feel towards Belmont is highly questionable”[1]. So far as I can see the only problem is that it's rather difficult to decide whether the play is a tragedy or a comedy. But this is really no problem at all. Labels like "tragedy" and "comedy" are purely artificial conventions that shouldn't be taken too seriously. Life is a mixture of both, and it's not always easy to separate them. So, for that matter, are Shakespeare's plays. Even his mightiest tragedies do contain some comic touches: the Dane's witticisms in Hamlet, the Fool in King Lear, the Porter in Macbeth, the drunken brawl in Othello. It goes without saying that all these comic touches, just like the Bard's comedies I would expect, are intensely serious. As Bernard Shaw once brilliantly put it, there's nothing more serious than great humour.

Leaving aside such mundane matters that stem from man's eternal (and quite silly) passion to categorize everything, my major problem with the play is the hardly disputable fact that Shylock monopolises it completely. Whether Shakespeare intended this is quite beside the point. He certainly created a fabulously complex, contradictory, elusive and fascinating character. Shylock is not just usurer. He is usurper. I find it nearly impossible to interest myself with the flirtatious nonsense of Bassanio and Portia, not to mention mere shadows like Lorenzo and Jessica. This is the only thing that downgrades the play to four stars. The subplots are neatly intertwined (Antonio and Bassanio are close friends, Jessica is Shylock’s daughter) and complement each other very well in some ways (the historical and mercantile Venice contrasted with the idealised and bohemian Belmont), but they are not of equal importance and accomplishment. As Mr Auden wisely remarked, remove Shylock and Antonio, and “the play becomes a romantic fairy tale like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Otherwise The Merchant is an impressive dramatic, if not always poetic, achievement.

I find it difficult to regard Shylock as a genuinely tragic character. The man is a sadist and a candidate-murderer. During the Trial Scene I have little doubt that he would carve out Antonio's heart there and then. And he would do it slowly. Some writers, such as Harold Goddard for instance[2], have gone out of their way to turn Shylock into something very much like the epitome of goodness, a man whose most sacred wish is to be brother with the Christians but who can't penetrate their implacable anti-Semitism. It's a stimulating hypothesis, but I don't really buy it.

It's terribly intriguing, if quite pointless, to wonder what Shakespeare himself wanted to make out of Shylock. Did he really try to portray the destruction of a noble soul desecrated by Christianity? Or was he merely playing to the gallery the comic tale about the wicked Jew who is defeated by the superior Christian morality? Did he intend the latter but in the end, despite himself, achieved the former? The Elizabethan audience was probably amused, rather maliciously so, at Shylock's downfall, and his final punishment was probably regarded as a great act of mercy. What could be more wonderful than being a Christian and saving your immortal soul? Either way, it will not do to dismiss the Jew as the “villain”. There are several very serious extenuating circumstances.

For one thing, Shylock looks like a saint among this bunch of Christians. Bassanio is a little more than fortune hunter. He is certainly not indifferent to Portia, but he makes no bones about her vast wealth. One wonders about the intensity of his affection had Portia been a beggar. Antonio, generally regarded as the "epitome of goodness", is such a fierce anti-Semite that the Nazis look like amateurs compared to him. It makes a lot of sense that Shylock's final humiliation in the end of Act IV should be his conversion to Christianity. And that was Antonio's idea, too. “The Merchant of Venice” is the real villain of the play, if you’re looking for one. Mr Auden has made a similar pro-Shylock, anti-Antonio case:

Had Shakespeare wished to show Shylock the usurer in the most unfavorable light possible, he could have placed him in a medieval agricultural society, when men become debtors through misfortunes, like a bad harvest or sickness for which they are not responsible, but he places him in a mercantile society, where the role played by money is a very different one.

When Antonio says:

I neither lend nor borrow
By taking or by giving of excess

he does not mean that, if he goes into partnership with another merchant contributing, say, a thousand ducats to their venture, and their venture makes a profit, he only asks for a thousand ducats back. He is a merchant and the Aristotelian argument that money is barren and cannot breed money, which he advances to Shylock, is invalid in his own case.


[…]

Usury, like prostitution, may corrupt the character, but those who borrow upon usury, like those who visit brothels, have their share of responsibility for this corruption and aggravate their guilt by showing contempt for those whose services they make use of.

It is, surely, in order to emphasize this point that, in the trial scene, Shakespeare introduces an element which is not found in
Pecorone or other versions of the pound-of-flesh story. After Portia has trapped Shylock through his own insistence upon the letter of the law of Contract, she produces another law by which any alien who conspires against the life of a Venetian citizen forfeits his goods and places his life at the Doge’s mercy. […] Shakespeare, it seems to me, was willing to introduce what is an absurd implausibility for the sake of an effect which he could not secure without it: at the last moment when, through his conduct, Shylock has destroyed any sympathy we may have felt for him earlier, we are reminded that, irrespective of his personal character, his status is one of inferiority. A Jew is not regarded, even in law, as a brother.

In other words, Antonio is a hypocrite and a most distinguished member of a brutally anti-Semitic society. This makes it very difficult, at least for me, to blame Shylock for his wanting to bait fish with Antonio’s flesh. Whatever Shakespeare's intentions might or might not have been, it simply won't do to dismiss the Jew as "evil". I have never liked this word anyway. "Evil"? What does it mean? Does it mean anything at all? To me it has always sounded like a great over-simplification, a fine example of intellectual pusillanimity or emotional immaturity – or both. What makes this a great play, awkward construction and occasional failure of inspiration notwithstanding, is the profound ambivalence of all characters, especially “the merchant and the moneylender of Venice”. To quote Mr Auden’s wise words yet again:

Belmont would like to believe that men and women are either good or bad by nature, but Antonio and Shylock remind us that this is an illusion; in the real world, no hatred is totally without justification, no love totally innocent.

I defy anyone but bigoted Christians and rabid anti-Semites to read this play and be moved more by Antonio’s salvation than by Shylock’s plight. For my part, I think the Jew is treated unjustly, cruelly, and with an abominable lack of charity by hypocrites who never practice what they preach. Against the Christian background of both Venice and Belmont, Shylock almost amounts to a genuine tragic character. Almost. Mr Auden seems to agree, and he argues that Will probably intended this:

Recent history has made it utterly impossible for the most unsophisticated and ignorant audience to ignore the historical reality of the Jews and think of them as fairy-story bogeys with huge noses and red wigs. An Elizabethan audience undoubtedly still could – very few of them had seen a Jew – and, if Shakespeare had so wished, he could have made Shylock grotesquely wicked like the Jew of Malta. The star actors who, from the eighteenth century onwards have chosen to play the role, have not done so out of a sense of moral duty in order to combat anti-Semitism, but because their theatrical instinct told them that the part, played seriously, not comically, offered them great opportunities.

The last sentence is the most eloquent proof that the play is not “a profoundly anti-Semitic work”, as Harold Bloom, the Jew of Yale, carelessly describes it.[3] If this were true, the tradition of playing Shylock seriously would not have arisen at all. And it is worth repeating that this tradition is considerably older than the Holocaust, so there is no question of modern performance practice being conditioned by recent history. All those great actors from the past who saw Shylock as a semi-tragic figure, from Edmund Kean (1787-1833) to Henry Irving (1838-1905), had only Shakespeare’s text to work on. Their dramatic instincts were right. I daresay Shylock’s famous speech “Hath not a Jew eyes?” (III.1.53-66) may be acted completely over-the-top, as a piece of farcical comedy, but I can only regard such interpretation as travesty. The same is true about the character on the whole. That said, there is no need to sentimentalise the Jew. This would be a character assassination, too. He is well aware of his own lust for revenge, he knows the reasons for it, and he is determined to have it:

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.1.62-66.]

Thou call'dst me dog before thou hadst a cause;
But since I am a dog, beware my fangs.

[III.3.6-7.]

Even though the Shylock-Antonio confrontation tips the scales quite a bit against the wooing schemes that occupy the rest of the action, Portia is fascinating enough a character to deserve a few words. She is permeated by the same ambiguity that characterises the whole play. I admire her generosity, the desire to use her wealth to help others, and I am rather susceptible to her smart and charming personality. But my admiration and affection have their limits. This is why the Trial Scene is of crucial importance. It shows the darkest facet of Portia’s character.[4] “With the extreame crueltie of Shylocke” read the title pages of early quartos, but it is the mistress of Belmont who joins Antonio among the villains. Because of her bringing the law against Shylock’s wealth and even against his life – even if we gloss over the fact that, since Shylock is a Venetian, it’s a blatantly anti-Semitic law – Portia fails to confer upon the Jew the very mercy she had been asking from him just a few minutes earlier. How Christian! And what a powerful indictment against the good, old, virtuous Belmont! This is the last nail in the Christian coffin so carefully prepared for the Jew.

Although Shylock does care for his daughter at least as much as Bassanio for Portia, it is his wealth and his religion that are of the highest importance to him. Portia and Antonio rob him of both. It was not enough for Portia to save the Merchant’s life; she had to reduce Shylock to begging. And it was not enough for Antonio to get away with all pounds of his flesh intact; he had to humiliate the Jew by forcing him to accept Christianity. Did Shylock deserve all that? Was it just? What right had Portia and Antonio to judge him? Read the play and see for yourselves.

But neither Shylock nor Portia, least of all the title character, is the protagonist in this play. It’s Money. In his introduction to this edition, Peter Holland mentions some incredible statistics. Shakespeare uses "ducat" and its plural 59 times in 10 plays; 33 of these are in The Merchant alone.[5] These are revealing figures, but they don’t tell the whole story. The overwhelming importance of money in our lives is constantly and ingeniously implied. On the very first page, when Antonio opens the play with his mysterious anxiety, Salerio and Solanio immediately suggest that the reason must be his transactions. Only when Antonio explicitly denies this does Solanio exclaim “Why then you are in love” (I.1.46). When Antonio wants to help Bassanio, he offers “My purse, my person, my extremest means” (I.1.138, note the order and the emphasis), and when Portia wants to be worthy of Bassanio, she wants to be “A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich” (III.2.154-5, note the magnitude).

Whether you regard this obsession with money as one of the ultimate forms of decadence or a sign of wisdom must depend on your own point of view. Personally, I think it’s pure wisdom. All Venetians from the play, Jews and Christians alike, clearly recognise that everything can – indeed, must – be bought and sold; that without money one is not just nobody; one is nothing. On the other hand, it should be noted that the Venetian attitude to money, though it may be obsessive, is certainly not exclusive of anything else (love, for instance, flourishes), and, even more importantly, it is fully shared by the idealistic Belmont.

In short, a strange play, uneven and disjointed, with relatively few memorable poetic flights, yet with some stupendous dramatic scenes, an odd hybrid of rather tedious light comedy now and then enlivened by intense drama, ambiguous in every possible way – moral, emotional, intellectual – but definitely worth reading all the same. Highly recommended, especially for Shakespearean neophytes.

Note on the edition

As every volume in the current Penguin Shakespeare series, this one contains old edition of the text, new essays about the play, its performance history and the bibliography/filmography it has spawned, and Stanley Wells’ information-packed General Introduction and Chronology of Shakespeare’s Works (both of which, as a matter of fact, you can find online).

The “Commentary” by Mr Merchant (auspicious name!) is essential. Although The Merchant of Venice does not exhibit the verbal virtuosity of, say, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and is a relatively easy read for a Shakespeare’s play, it contains some elaborate allusions, cryptic cross-references and, of course, quite a few words and phrases that have changed their meanings radically during the last four centuries. Mr Merchant explains them all, patiently and lucidly, and he sometimes offers fascinating bits of interpretation. For example, he compares Shylock’s grief over his ducats and his daughter (II.8.15: “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!”) with Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (“O girl! O gold! O beauty! O my bliss!”), but he shrewdly notes that we have only “Solanio’s report for this ridiculous outburst”. It is never shown on the stage. He also makes a decent attempt, neatly copied by Mr Holland in his introduction, to estimate Antonio’s debt of 3000 ducats. I am not convinced by any modern value calculations, but I do find contemporary comparisons revealing. If two ducats to the pound is a “reasonable estimate”, the annual salary of a Stratford schoolmaster is £20, and Shakespeare’s large house in his home town cost £60, then £1500 is by all means an enormous sum. Also of note, the annual income of Sir Andrew Aguecheek from Twelfth Night is exactly 3000 ducats.

“An Account of the Text” consists of publishing history and a selective list of variant readings between the present edition and the early ones, most notably the first and second quartos (1600, 1619) and the First Folio (1623). The second quarto was printed by William Jaggard in 1619, but with a very misleading title page that states “1600” and “Printed by I. R.” (James Roberts), the year and publisher of the first quarto. The two quartos are similar but not identical. It’s good to have a brief, scholarly account of these matters. For more information, see Shakespeare in Quarto, a wonderful site of the British Library.

Mr Holland’s introduction is, of course, no introduction at all. It is an afterword that must be read only after the play. It is a long and rambling essay conveniently separated into titled sections, sometimes fascinating and perceptive, sometimes boring and superficial, but on the whole well worth reading. Mr Holland offers a comprehensive overview of the play, its background, scope and meaning, from “Anti-Semitism and Racism” and “Money and Commerce in Venice” to “Betting on Sex” and “Portia’s Ring”. Mr Holland’s best contributions are “The Play in Performance”, a short yet insightful account how the interpretation of the main characters changed through the centuries, and “Further Reading”, an essay-bibliography which, unlike many of his academic colleagues, mentions “Brothers and Others”, W. H. Auden’s “typically intriguing and quirky” essay to which my reading of the play is greatly indebted.

=================================================​

[1] W. H. Auden, “Brothers and Others”, reprinted in The Dyer’s Hand, Random House, 1962.

[2] Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, vol. 1, chapter XII, University of Chicago Press, [1960]. Except for his pathetic veneration of Shylock, “the leaden casket with the spiritual gold inside”, Mr Goddard’s analysis is uncommonly persuasive. The dichotomy between appearance and reality, or rather between actions and psychology, in all characters is dissected with great skill and insight. Some of his points do give me pause, for example the description of the Trial Scene as analogous to the scenes with the caskets but with Portia on trial. She is the golden casket: much gilt outside, little substance inside. Also, Mr Goddard is rather convincing that Antonio’s attitude towards Shylock, far from being anti-Semitic in nature, stems from the merchant’s suspicion, if only subconsciously, that he and the Jew are very much alike. Antonio, too, is a good man born to do noble deeds, but he has let himself be corrupted by the society he lives in, the money-obsessed Venice. In short, compelling chapter which, much like the rest of this study, makes you pay close attention to Shakespeare’s text and notice a lot of subtle nuances you missed before.

[3] Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Riverhead Books, [1998]. Ironically enough, Mr Bloom undermines his own case that Shylock is a “comic villain” by recognising that there is an “extraordinary energy” in his poetry and prose that “palpably is in excess of the play’s comic requirements”. In short, one of the weakest chapters from a monumentally uneven book.

[4] The Sonnets, Songs and Poems of Shakespeare, ed. Oscar James Campbell, Bantam Books, 1964. Mr Campbell argues that the only song in the play (III.2.63-72) plays an important dramatic function:

This song, the only one in the comedy, is a device for allowing Bassanio time to consider which of the three caskets, gold, silver, or lead, he should choose. It contains hints that the leaden casket is the right one. The lines warn him to beware of what is pleasing only to the eye, for the appeal of superficial beauty is only transient. Bassanio got the point at once. When the music fades, he wisely remarks:

So may the outward shows be least themselves.
The world is still deceived with ornament.

The song also contains a more obvious hint. The end rhymes of the first three lines, “bred,” “head,” “nourishèd,” would suggest to the attentive Bassanio “lead.” The relation of the song to the dramatic situation is thus vital for the suitor and for the expectation of the audience.

The song was sung by musicians attached to Portia’s household, for in Elizabethan establishments like hers it was usual for musicians to be part of the ménage. The refrains were probably sung in parts by the entire group.


This shows Portia as a remarkably manipulative lady. There is little doubt that she deliberately made the lead casket the right one, knowing only too well that vain snobs like Morocco and Arragon would never choose it, and there is no doubt at all that she instructed her musicians what to play and when in order to give Bassanio the right hints. In “The Play in Performance”, Mr Holland reiterates the rhymes hint and argues that it is not “immediately successful” because Bassanio “still spends over thirty lines weighing up the decision”. I find Mr Campbell’s case much more convincing.

[5] I haven’t counted them myself, but in this online version of the play I find only 31 references to “ducat(s)”; the other two remain elusive so far. A search for “ducat” in the Open Source Shakespeare does yield 59 results in all plays, but there are two big problems with this number. First, the search counts as one multiple references in a single passage. Second, 13 of these results are parasitic matches (e.g. “education”). After some counting and calculation, I think the correct number is 57; five in the singular, the rest in the plural. A search in The Merchant alone gives 22 results. They amount to 31 separate references (two of them in the singular); for example, Salanio’s report of Shylock’s words alone (II.8.15-22) mentions “ducats” five times. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Mar 25, 2014 |
I found enjoyable the determination and agency of Portia, one of Shakespeare's strongest female characters I've yet read. The high drama of the court scene between Shylock and Antonio is captivating. Through the former's character and how others treat him Shakespeare illuminates the anti-Semitism that was prevalent at the time. I've heard a great deal of talk about how the play itself is anti-Semitic, though that discounts Shakespeare's sensibilities as a social critic.

An element of the play that tempered my enjoyment was the odd subplot of Portia choosing a suitor, by her deceased father's mandate, through a ridiculous game of chance involving caskets of different metals. The conflict between Antonio and Shylock is the crux of the play, and this subplot serves as an insubstantial diversion that the reader out of the action. Much the same for the ending. After the court scene, all of the silly play at deception involving the rings marks a sharp decline after such a gripping climax. It does indeed seems as though Shakespeare took two different plays and haphazardly weaved them together. ( )
  poetontheone | Feb 21, 2014 |
To call this play unique would be a misnomer since Shakespeare was hardly original with the subject matter of his plays. I believe that the only play that came entirely from Shakespeare's imagination would have been The Tempest. Most of his other plays he had either borrowed from historical events or earlier works, usually both. There is even some suggestion that a number of plays (particularly Hamlet) were based on older plays, and Shakespeare basically compiled and rewrote them into the form that we have today. The reason that I suggest that The Merchant of Venice is unique is because it does not seem to follow the pattern that most of Shakespeare's other plays follow.
But first a synopsis.
The play is based around two plots, the first plot being a romance and the second being a claim for a debt to be paid. The main characters of this play are Antonio (a merchant), Shylok (a Jewish money lender), Portia (a beautiful princess), Jessica (Portia's friend and Shylock's daughter), Bassiano (a suitor to Portia and a friend of Antonio), and Lorenzo (the suitor to Jessica and a friend of Bassiano and Antonio). Portia has quite a lot of suitors, so to pick the right one she has three chests, one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. Inside one of the chests (the lead one) is a image of her, and the suitors must chose the correct chest to win her hand in marriage. Pretty much all of the suitors pick the wrong chest, going for the gold and the silver, however when Bassiano comes (and Portia is in love with Bassiano, but everybody must play the game), he picks the correct chest, and they go off and get married. However, this is halfway through the play (and is odd because in most Shakespearian comedies, the marriage comes at the end).
Getting an audience with Portia is not cheap though, so to do that Bassiano approaches his friend Antonio, but all of Antonio's money is tied up in investments, so to help out his friend, he attempts to borrow money from Shylock. The catch is (and there are always lots of catches in Shakespearian comedies) is that Shylock hates Antonio because, to put it simply, Antonio is an anti-semetic pig. So, seeing Antonio's desperation, he agrees to lend him the money with a pound of his flesh (in the region of the heart) as surety. Unfortunately for Antonio, disaster strikes and he pretty much loses all of his investments which leaves him with no money and a Jew banging on his door demanding payment.
This is all resolved at court, and while it appears that all is lost, and Shylock refuses to show mercy, since he now has his enemy over a barrel, a doctor's apprentice and his servant enters (who turn out to be Portia and Jessica in disguise), who, through clever legal argument, point out that while the bond is solid and Antonio must give up his pound of flesh, the bond does not give any right to take any blood, and further, no Jew may spill a drop of Christian blood, on pain of death. So, the tables are turned, Antonio escapes his debt, and Shylock is punished.
It would seem that the play should end here, however it doesn't: there is at least two more scenes afterward. In payment for their services Portia (in disguise) convinces Bassiano to give up a ring that he had promised Portia never to let go, and Jessica does the same with Lorenzo. When they return, they are then confronted by their respective ladies as to the location of the ring. This is Shakespearian comedy at its best, especially how both Lorenzo and Bassiano sweat over how, in such a short time, they have betrayed the trust of their loved ones.
I am hesitant to say this, particularly since with a looking at a 16th Century play, that it appears to be about racism, and I will quote one of Shylock's lines below, but I find it difficult to conclude that it really is racist. Indeed, Shakespeare does make some comment on how despite their beliefs both Jews and Christians are still human, yet Shylock is still considered the antagonist, and it is his refusal to show mercy, even if he were to be paid 10 times what is owed, that causes us to lose all sympathy for him. Granted, the play does appear to be anti-semetic, but we must remember that this was what was happening at the time. I do not believe Shakespeare is deliberately targeting Jews here, and especially since it was illegal for Christians to lend money to Christians and charge interest, the only way people could obtain loans were through the Jews. In fact, the Jews were the bankers of the Middle Ages (though this medieval attitude must have changed early on in the Renaissance where the Medicis, a Christian family, were considered to be the founders of modern banking).
What about women's liberation? Lets us consider this aspect of the play: Portia is a very strong willed and dominant character; she keeps her suitors at bay with a test that they may pass; she has demonstrated that she has superb rhetorical ability; she is incredibly knowledgeable; and incredibly mischievous; her trick with the ring pretty much has Bassiano wrapped around her finger - in a flurry of kind words, she binds him to a promise, and within a day, forces him to break that promise; She then forces Bassiano into submission through the use of guilt over how he not only broke a vow that he had made to her, but that a day had not even passed before he broke that vow. While it is true that women of the middle ages were not all beaten into submission, the actions and the ability of Portia is staggering. She is able to interact within the world of men just as well, or even better, than most dignified men could. I find Portia to be an amazing character, and considering the date of this play, to be somewhat ahead of her time, though we should remember that this was also written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a classic example of a woman doing a man's job, and doing it rather well at that. Maybe, just maybe, Portia represents Elizabeth in demonstrating that a woman can do just as well as any man in the world of men.

To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. 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, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled 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. 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 villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.
( )
  David.Alfred.Sarkies | Feb 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors (178 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Shakespeareprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andrews, John F.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Furness, Horace HowardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gollancz, IsraelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Halio, Jay L.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, G. B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holland, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, Pei te HurinuiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamar, VirginiaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lovett, Robert MorssEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merchant, W. MoelwynEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mowat, Barbara A.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rolfe, William JEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verity, A. W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werstine, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wright, Louis B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Is contained in

Is retold in

Has the adaptation

Was inspired by

Has as a study

Has as a student's study guide

You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.
Quotations
The quality of mercy is not strain'd;
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes
When he is best, he is a little worse than a man; and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast.
My meaning in saying he is a good man, is to have you understand me that he is sufficient.
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
It is a wise father that knows his own child.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743477561, Mass Market Paperback)

Folger Shakespeare Library

The world's leading center for Shakespeare studies

Each edition includes:

• Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play

• Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play

• Scene-by-scene plot summaries

• A key to famous lines and phrases

• An introduction to reading Shakespeare's language

• An essay by an outstanding scholar providing a modern perspective on the play

• Illustrations from the Folger Shakespeare Library's vast holdings of rare books

Essay by Alexander Leggatt

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is home to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare's printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:42 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Unique features include an extensive overview of Shakespeare's life, world, and theater by the general editor of Signet Classic Shakespeare series, plus a special introduction to the play by the editor Sylvan Barnet, Tufts University. Another feature of this series includes dramatic criticism from the past and present: Commentaries by Nicholas Rowe, William Hazlitt, Edgar Elmer Stoll, Linda Bamber, Alexander Leggart, and Robert Smallwood. Special introduction by Kenneth Myrick, Tufts University.… (more)

» see all 19 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (3.78)
0.5 1
1 17
1.5 5
2 81
2.5 15
3 257
3.5 62
4 385
4.5 47
5 267

Audible.com

Eight editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140714626, 0141013958

Yale University Press

An edition of this book was published by Yale University Press.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 92,970,068 books! | Top bar: Always visible