Play Of the Month: The Merchant Of Venice

Merchant Of Venice artwork by Elizabeth Schuh, Used with permission.

Movie pitch: Venice is a cutthroat place… literally. A merchant makes a devilish deal with a sleazy loan shark, and risks his life for a loan. A wealthy heiress masquerades as a man and finds true love. This intense dark comedy will show you the true meaning of justice and mercy.

Rated R for some racial slurs, violence, drinking, and language.

My two cents

I feel that this play is meant to make people uncomfortable. Shylock as a character enjoys unsettling the Christians particularly when he mocks their own hypocrisy. At the same time he is a remnant of offensive stereotypes that still influence our culture. The play demands an audience that can discern the fact that Shylock is not bad because he’s Jewish, he’s bad because he’s persecuted for being Jewish.
Famous Lines

  • “All that glitters is not gold.”
  • “Hath not a Jew Eyes”
  • “The quality of mercy is not strained.”

For more quotes and analysis of the characters, click here:
General Data

Title: The Merchant Of Venice

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Year Written: approx. 1595

Source: Il Pecarone (Italian source)

Genre: Elizabethan Comedy: Prose/ Verse

Play Data

Structure: Five Acts, 18 scenes, 3,185 lines (uncut)

Setting: Venice Italy, late 16th century.

Characters: 18 characters- 6 definite male characters, 3 female characters, plus sailors, attendants, a priest, and officers.
Character Notes


Figure 1

Figure 2 R_

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5: Shylock and Jessica

Modern parallels

Zootopia- big city, woman trying to do a man’s job (in law enforcement no less), who pleads for understanding and equality. Also the hero isn’t perfect.


Something Rotten


Business is a fickle thing in Venice. Antonio the merchant is out of cash to lend his young friend Bassanio, so he gets the money from a Jewish moneylender named Shylock, who makes Antonio promise a pound of his flesh if he cannot pay Shylock back. Bassanio takes the money to Belmont in the hopes of marrying the wealthy and beautiful Portia. The two of them fall in love but there’s a twist- no one can marry Portia unless they solve a puzzle left by her father in his will: he places three chests or caskets in front of Bassanio- choose right, Portia and her money are his. Choose wrong, and Bassanio loses everything. Even worse, Shylock has been howling for revenge against Antonio, ever since his daughter Jessica stole his money and married a Christian. Will Bassanio win Portia’s love? Will Antonio be forced to pay his debts in blood? Will Shylock choose justice or mercy?

Video: Thug Notes Summary-

For Educators:

This play is probably best suited for AP high school English or college. Its themes of greed, religious hypocrisy, and anti Semitic prejudice are hard for young students to appreciate.

Concerns for Directors

  • attitude towards Jews
  • Time/ Place
  • How to
  • Who is the villain?

Resources/ Lesson plans for teachers

Full play (annotated):

Royal Shakespeare Company (Summary, lesson plans, photos):

American Shakespeare Center (Summary, discussion questions, photos):

Folger Shakespeare Library


Discussion Questions

  • Discuss the role money plays in the world of the play, from merchants to moneylenders to a rich heiress, lots of money changes hands in this play for better or worse. Does monetary gain motivate any of the characters and how does it inform their actions?