L I T CHA R T S
The Merchant of Venice
Author Bio Historical and Literary Context
When Written: 1596–8 Where Written: England When Published: 1623 Literary Period: The Renaissance Related Literary Works: Though some describe The Merchant of Venice as a comedy because it ends with the marriage of its heroes Portia and Bassanio, it can also be described as a kind of “revenge tragedy.” Typically, a revenge tragedy revolves around the quest of its central character to avenge a wrong committed against him, which usually leads to the deaths of many characters, almost always including the revenge-seeker himself. Shakespeare wrote several revenge tragedies, including Hamlet. Shakespeare’s late romance, The Tempest (1510–1) takes the form of a “revenge tragedy averted,” beginning with the revenge plot but ending happily. Merchant of Venice might be described as a revenge tragedy barely averted, as Portia swoops into the courtroom scene and saves Antonio from Shylock. Perhaps the most important related work for Merchant of Venice, however, is Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1589-90), which tells the story of the moneylender, Barabas, who has all his wealth seized by the Maltese government in order to finance the defense of the island against invading Ottoman Turks. Barabas revenges himself against the governor who
w w w. L i t C h a r t s . c o m
Full Name: William Shakespeare Date of Birth: 1564 Place of Birth: Stratford-upon-Avon, England Date of Death: 1616 Brief Life Story: Shakespeare’s father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King’s Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later. seized his property, allies with the Turks, and briefly becomes governor of Malta himself, before the Maltese regain control of the island and put him to death. Related Historical Events: Like much of the rest of Europe, England severely restricted the rights of Jews. In fact, Jews were banished completely from England in 1290 by King Edward I, and were not officially allowed to return until 1655, when Oliver Cromwell allowed Jews to return. This exile was technically in effect during Shakespeare’s time, but scholars believe that a few hundred Jews still lived around London in the guise of Christians. One of the reasons Renaissance Christians disliked Jews was the Jews’ willingness to practice usury—the practice of charging interest or “use” on borrowed money. There was a long tradition in Classical and Christian moral thinking against usury. Shakespeare’s contemporary, the philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon, argued in his essay On Usury that it was “against nature for money to beget money.”
Full Title: The Merchant of Venice Genre: Comedy/tragicomedy; Revenge tragedy Setting: Venice, and the nearby country estate of Belmont Climax: The trial of Antonio, the merchant, and Shylock, the Jewish moneylender Protagonists: Antonio, Bassanio, Portia Antagonist: Shylock
“Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew?” Modern audiences of Merchant of Venice often mistake Shylock for the “merchant” of the title—which actually refers to Antonio.
In Venice, Bassanio, a not-so-wealthy nobleman, asks to borrow money from his dear friend and wealthy merchant Antonio, in order to have the funds to woo Portia, a wealthy noblewoman. Although Antonio doesn’t have cash handy, because all of his ships are at sea, he gives Bassanio permission to borrow as much money as he needs on Antonio’s credit. Meanwhile, at her...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document