The Merchant of Venice

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Facts

full title  ·  The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the Jew of Venice

author  · William Shakespeare

type of work  · Play

genre  · Comedy

language  · English

time and place written  ·  1598; London, England

date of first publication  · First published in the Quarto of 1600

publisher  · I. R. for Thomas Heys

tone  · Comic, romantic, tragic

setting (time)  · Sixteenth century

setting (place)  · Venice and Belmont, Italy

protagonist  · There is no clear protagonist. Antonio is the merchant of the play’s title, but he plays a relatively passive role. The major struggles of the play are Bassanio’s quest to marry Portia and his attempt to free Antonio from Shylock, so Bassanio is the likeliest candidate.

major conflict  · Antonio defaults on a loan he borrowed from Shylock, wherein he promises to sacrifice a pound of flesh.

rising action  · Antonio’s ships, the only means by which he can pay off his debt to Shylock, are reported lost at sea.

climax  · Portia, disguised as a man of law, intervenes on Antonio’s behalf.

falling action  · Shylock is ordered to convert to Christianity and bequeath his possessions to Lorenzo and Jessica; Portia and Nerissa persuade their husbands to give up their rings

themes  · Self-interest versus love; the divine quality of mercy; hatred as a cyclical phenomenon

motifs  · The law; cross-dressing; filial piety

symbols  · The pound of flesh; Leah’s ring; the three caskets

foreshadowing  · In the play’s opening scene, Shakespeare foreshadows Antonio’s grim future by suggesting both his indebtedness to a creditor and the loss of his valuable ships.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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In the mid-sixteenth century, William Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, moved to the idyllic town of Stratford-upon-Avon. There, he became a successful landowner, moneylender, glove-maker, and dealer of wool and agricultural goods. In 1557, he married Mary Arden. [pic]

John Shakespeare lived during a time when the middle class was expanding in both size and wealth, allowing its members more freedoms and luxuries as well as a louder voice in local government. He took advantage of the change in times and in 1557 became a member of the Stratford Council. This event marked the beginning of his illustrious political career. By 1561, he was elected one of the town's fourteen burgesses and subsequently served successively as constable, one of two chamberlains, and alderman. In these positions, he administered borough property and revenues. In 1567, he became bailiff—the highest elected office in Stratford and the equivalent of a modern-day mayor.

Town records indicate that William Shakespeare was John and Mary's third child. His birth is unregistered, but legend pins it on April 23, 1564, possibly because it is known that April 23 is the day on which he died 52 years later. In any event, his baptism was registered with the town on April 26, 1564. Little is known about his childhood, although it is generally assumed that he attended the local grammar school, the King's New School. The school was staffed by Oxford-educated faculty who taught the students mathematics, natural sciences, logic, Christian ethics, and classical language and literature.

Shakespeare did not attend university, which was not at all unusual for the time. University education was reserved for wealthy sons of the elite, mostly those who wanted to become clergymen. The numerous classical and literary references in Shakespeare’s plays are a testament, however, to the excellent education he received in grammar school (and to his ability as an autodidact). His early plays in particular draw on the works of Seneca and Plautus. Even more impressive than his formal education is the wealth of general knowledge exhibited in his works. His vocabulary exceeds that of any other English writer by a wide margin.

In 1582, at the age of eighteen,...
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