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Merchant of Venice (No Fear Shakespeare)

Merchant of Venice (No Fear Shakespeare)

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Merchant of Venice (No Fear Shakespeare)

Автором SparkNotes

3/5 (1,600 оценки)
303 pages
2 hours
May 30, 2018


This No Fear Shakespeare ebook gives you the complete text of The Merchant of Venice and an easy-to-understand translation.

Each No Fear Shakespeare contains

  • The complete text of the original play
  • A line-by-line translation that puts Shakespeare into everyday language
  • A complete list of characters with descriptions
  • Plenty of helpful commentary
May 30, 2018

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Merchant of Venice (No Fear Shakespeare) - SparkNotes



Original Text



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.


Your mind is tossing on the ocean,

There, where your argosies with portly sail,


Like signors and rich burghers on the flood—

Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea—

Do overpeer the petty traffickers

That curtsy to them, do them reverence

As they fly by them with their woven wings.



Believe me, sir, had I such venture forth,

The better part of my affections would

Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still

Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind,

Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads.


And every object that might make me fear

Misfortune to my ventures out of doubt

Would make me sad.


My wind cooling my broth

Would blow me to an ague when I thought

What harm a wind too great at sea might do.


I should not see the sandy hourglass run,

But I should think of shallows and of flats

And see my wealthy Andrew docked in sand,

Vailing her high top lower than her ribs

To kiss her burial. Should I go to church


And see the holy edifice of stone

And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,

Which, touching but my gentle vessel’s side,

Would scatter all her spices on the stream,

Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks,


And, in a word, but even now worth this,

And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought

To think on this, and shall I lack the thought

That such a thing bechanced would make me sad?

But tell not me. I know Antonio


Is sad to think upon his merchandise.


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.


Why then, you are in love.


Fie, fie!


Not in love neither? Then let us say you are sad

Because you are not merry—and ’twere as easy

For you to laugh and leap and say you are merry


Because you are not sad. Now, by two-headed Janus,

Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time.

Some that will evermore peep through their eyes

And laugh like parrots at a bagpiper,

And other of such vinegar aspect


That they’ll not show their teeth in way of smile

Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.


Here comes Bassanio, your most noble kinsman,

Gratiano, and Lorenzo. Fare ye well.

We leave you now with better company.



I would have stayed till I had made you merry

If worthier friends had not prevented me.


Your worth is very dear in my regard.

I take it your own business calls on you

And you embrace th’ occasion to depart.




Good morrow, my good lords.



Good signors both, when shall we laugh? Say, when?

You grow exceeding strange. Must it be so?


We’ll make our leisures to attend on yours.



My Lord Bassanio, since you have found Antonio,


We two will leave you. But at dinnertime

I pray you have in mind where we must meet.


I will not fail you.


You look not well, Signor Antonio.

You have too much respect upon the world.


They lose it that do buy it with much care.

Believe me, you are marvelously changed.


I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano—

A stage where every man must play a part,

And mine a sad one.


Let me play the fool.


With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.

And let my liver rather heat with wine

Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.

Why should a man whose blood is warm within

Sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster,


Sleep when he wakes, and creep into the jaundice

By being peevish? I tell thee what, Antonio—

I love thee, and ’tis my love that speaks—

There are a sort of men whose visages

Do cream and mantle like a standing pond,


And do a willful stillness entertain

With purpose to be dressed in an opinion

Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit,

As who should say, "I am Sir Oracle,

And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark!"


O my Antonio, I do know of these

That therefore only are reputed wise

For saying nothing, when I am very sure

If they should speak, would almost damn those ears

Which, hearing them, would call their brothers fools.


I’ll tell thee more of this another time.

But fish not with this melancholy bait

For this fool gudgeon, this opinion.—

Come, good Lorenzo.—Fare ye well awhile.

I’ll end my exhortation after dinner.



Well, we will leave you then till dinnertime.

I must be one of these same dumb wise men,

For Gratiano never lets me speak.


Well, keep me company but two years more,

Thou shalt not know the sound of thine own tongue.



Farewell. I’ll grow a talker for this gear.


Thanks, i’ faith, for silence is only commendable

In a neat’s tongue dried and a maid not vendible.



Is that any thing now?


Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than


any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff—you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them they are not worth the search.


Well, tell me now what lady is the same


To whom you swore a secret pilgrimage,

That you today promised to tell me of?


’Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,

How much I have disabled mine estate,

By something showing a more swelling port


Than my faint means would grant continuance.

Nor do I now make moan to be abridged

From such a noble rate. But my chief care

Is to come fairly off from the great debts

Wherein my time something too prodigal


Hath left me gaged. To you, Antonio,

I owe the most in money and in love,

And from your love I have a warranty

To unburden all my plots and purposes

How to get clear of all the debts I owe.



I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it.

And if it stand, as you yourself still do,

Within the eye of honor, be assured

My purse, my person, my extremest means

Lie all unlocked to your occasions.



In my school days, when I had lost one shaft,

I shot his fellow of the selfsame flight

The selfsame way with more advisèd watch

To find the other forth—and by adventuring both,

I oft found both. I urge this childhood proof


Because what follows is pure innocence.

I owe you much, and, like a willful youth,

That which I owe is lost. But if you please

To shoot another arrow that self way

Which you did shoot the first, I do not doubt,


As I will watch the aim, or to find both

Or bring your latter hazard back again

And thankfully rest debtor for the first.


You know me well, and herein spend but time

To wind about my love with circumstance.


And out of doubt you do me now more wrong

In making question of my uttermost

Than if you had made waste of all I have.

Then do but say to me what I should do

That in your knowledge may by me be done,


And I am pressed unto it. Therefore speak.


In Belmont is a lady richly left,

And she is fair and—fairer than that word—

Of wondrous virtues. Sometimes from her eyes

I did receive fair speechless messages.


Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued

To Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia.

Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,

For the four winds blow in from every coast

Renownèd suitors, and her sunny locks


Hang on her temples like a golden fleece,

Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchos’ strand,

And many Jasons come in quest of her.

O my Antonio, had I but the means

To hold a rival place with one of them,


I have a mind presages me such thrift

That I should questionless be fortunate!


Thou know’st that all my fortunes are at sea.

Neither have I money nor commodity

To raise a present sum. Therefore go forth,


Try what my credit can in Venice do—

That shall be racked even to the uttermost

To furnish thee to Belmont, to fair Portia.

Go presently inquire, and so will I,

Where money is, and I no question make


To have it of my trust or for my sake.




Modern Text



To be honest, I don’t know why I’m so sad. I’m tired of it, and you say you’re tired of it too. But I have no idea how I got so depressed. And if I can’t figure out what’s making me depressed, I must not understand myself very well.


You’re worried about your ships. Your mind is out there getting tossed around on the ocean with them. But they’re fine. They’re like huge parade floats on the sea. They’re so big they look down on the smaller ships, which all have to bow and then get out of the way. Your ships fly like birds past those little boats.


Yes, believe me, if I had such risky business ventures in other countries, I’d be sad too. I’d worry about it every second. I’d constantly be tossing blades of grass into the air to find out which way the wind was blowing. I’d be peering over maps to figure out the best ports, piers, and waterways. Everything that made me worry about my ships would make me sad.


I’d get scared every time I blew on my soup to cool it, thinking of how a strong wind could wipe out my ships. Every time I glanced at the sand in an hourglass I’d imagine my ships wrecked on sandbars. I’d think of dangerous rocks every time I went to church and saw the stones it was made of. If my ship brushed up against rocks like that, its whole cargo of spices would be dumped into the sea. All of its silk shipments would be sent flying into the roaring waters. In one moment I’d go bankrupt. Who wouldn’t get sad thinking about things like that? It’s obvious. Antonio is sad because he’s so worried about his cargo.


No, that’s not it, trust me. Thankfully my financial situation is healthy. I don’t have all of my money invested in one ship, or one part of the world. If I don’t do well this year, I’ll still be okay. So it’s not my business that’s making me sad.


Well then, you must be in love.


Oh, give me a break.


You’re not in love either? Fine, let’s just say you’re sad because you’re not in a good mood. You know, it’d be just as easy for you to laugh and dance around and say you’re in a good mood. You could just say you’re not sad. Humans are so different.

Some people will laugh at anything, and others are so grouchy they won’t even crack a smile when they hear something hysterically funny.


Here comes your cousin Bassanio. And Gratiano and Lorenzo too. Goodbye, then. We’ll leave you to talk to them. They’re better company.


I would’ve stayed to cheer you up, if your nobler friends hadn’t shown up.


You’re both very precious to me. But I understand.

You need to leave to take care of your own business.


(to BASSANIO, LORENZO, and GRATIANO) Good morning, gentlemen.


(to SALARINO and SOLANIO) Hello, friends. When are we going to have fun together again? Just name the time. We never see you anymore. Does it have to be that way?


Let us know when you want to get together. We’re available.



Bassanio, we’ll say goodbye for now, since you’ve found Antonio. But don’t forget, we’re meeting for dinner tonight.


Don’t worry, I’ll be there.


You don’t look well, Antonio. You’re taking things too seriously. People with too much invested in the world always get hurt. I’m telling you, you don’t look like yourself.


For me the world is just the world, Gratiano—a stage where every person has a part to play. I play a sad one.


Then I’ll play the happy fool and get laugh lines on my face. I’d rather overload my liver with wine than starve my heart by denying myself fun. Why should any living man sit still like a statue? Why should he sleep when he’s awake? Why should he get ulcers from being crabby all the time? I love you, and I’m telling you this because I care about you, Antonio—there are men who always look serious. Their faces never move or show any expression, like stagnant ponds covered with scum. They’re silent and stern, and they think they’re

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Что люди думают о Merchant of Venice (No Fear Shakespeare)

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  • (5/5)
    I think Shylock is one of Shakespeare's most powerful characters, even though the plot of this play is unusually cracked-out, even for the Bard.
  • (4/5)
    The Merchant of Venice was mis-named, because the titular merchant (Antonio) is nowhere near as interesting as Shylock, who's among the most fascinating characters Shakespeare has written. He has been mistreated for being Jewish, and the play centers on how he snaps when too many of the debts owed him cannot be repaid, so instead he demands the famous "pound of flesh" for themThe play is also kind of unique for Shakespeare because we get some wonderful female characters too. Portia is an independently rich woman who goes to court dressed as a man to fight a case; she's very compelling as well.The Merchant of Venice is a pretty short play, but it covers a lot of ground about religion, class, and gender, which would make it a good choice for, say, teaching an English class how to do literary analysis. But mostly it is just good because the characters involved are so interesting and complex, it's neat to see them interact
  • (4/5)
    Holds up quite well upon re-reading. Although I'm now too old to play Portia, I still love her. Shylock gets a bad rap, but that's zeitgeist for you. At least Shakespeare tries to give background for him and he's not just pure evil (for no reason).
  • (3/5)
    A very interesting drama, it is well to watch many different performances to see the many nuances which can be ascribed to this play. From base racism and bigotry, to pathos and compassion. Was Shylock a caricature? Was he greedy and grasping, or was he maligned, persecuted and misunderstood? Lots of food for thought here.
  • (4/5)
    I read Merchant exactly 25 years ago and recently had the opportunity to read it again. I mostly enjoyed the play and was all set to give a solid four-star rating, when that foolish final scene left a bad taste in my mouth. After the profound pathos of Shylock's defeat, the silly-at-best conventions of Shakespearean comedy make for a particularly discordant ending.
  • (4/5)
    The Merchant of Venice is about a man named Antonio who is sad at the beginning of the play for no reason, "In sooth, I know not why I am 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." (Act I Scene I). Antonio goes through the novel trying to fix his sadness. Then he finds out that he is sad because he misses his youth. He misses being young so he makes friends with a young man named Bassanio. Bassanio helps Antonio feel young and so does the rest of his friends. Then Bassanio sees Portia and falls in love. Bassanio goes to Antonio for money but all of Antonio's money is at see so they borrow from Shylock, the Jew.This story is full of dramatic scenes like Shylock wanting his bond, "When it is paid according to thee tenor. It dothbappear you are a worthy judge; You know the law, your exposition Hath been most sound; I charge you by the law, Whereof you are a well-deserving pillar, Proceed to judgment: by my soul I swear There is no power in the tongue of man to alter me: I stay here on my bond." (Act IV Scene I), or like Bassanio giving his ring that was given to him by his wife to the doctor who helped the trial, who was actually Portia, his wife.I personally didn't enjoy the book because I couldn't comprehend what Shakespeare was writing. I gave this book three and a half stars out of five stars. I recommend this book for high school honors classes only since Shakespeare has a hard language to understand.
  • (3/5)
    The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, starts out with Antonio wondering why he is so sad. His best friend Bassanio then tells him that he is in love and needs to borrow money in order to court Portia. With all of his ships away at sea, Antonio has to borrow money from his enemy, Shylock. Shylock agrees to lend money to Antonio and they make a deal. If Antonio hasn't paid Shylock in 3 months the Shylock could cut off a pound of flesh; Antonio agrees. Bassanio eventually marries Potia, but Antonio doesn't repay Shylock within 3 months. If you want to find out what happened to Antonio, you'll have to read the book. I'm not a big Shakespeare fan, because it takes me a while to figure out what he is trying to say. The Merchant of Venice wasn't my favorite of his books, but overall it was pretty good. You never know what happens next in The Merchant of Venice. I would recommend it to any Shakespeare fan or to someone who just wants a good book to read.
  • (2/5)
    [The Merchant of Venice] is a story of love, honor, pride, and loyalty all wrapped up in one. You will experience everthing from a Jew's daughter betraying him by marrying a Christian, Bassanio putting a pound of his friend's flesh on the line to go court a woman, Bassanio finding and marrying the love of his life, Shylock almost getting a pound of flesh from Antonio, Portia and Nerrisa portraying men to save Antonio, and trick their men into giving up their rings. There is action in every page each and every character will grab your attention and hold it. I would recommend this book to anyone who can understand Shakespearean language, or who is willing to try. As for myself, I have a hard time figuring out what is going on. Honestly, I didn't understand this story until I watched the movie, and that film pulled everything together for me. I don't think this is one of Shakespeare's best plays therefore I give it 2 stars.
  • (2/5)
    The Merchant of Venice is a short story with a very basic plot, and one of little interest to me. Bassanio comes up with some crazy plan to pay Antonio back the money that he owes. However his plan backfires and Antonio is left to pay for Bassanio's mistakes. I found the story predictable and hard to get into. It isn't hard to follow, but you'll miss what little humor it has if you aren't well read in Shakespearean liturature. I definately would not include this with any of Shakespeare's more renowned plays.
  • (4/5)
    The Merchant of Venice is fraught with risk and sacrifice. Antonio risks his life so his dearest friend, Bassanio, may risk his chances with other suitors to woo the beautiful Portia. Portia risks being caught disguised as a man in order to save Antonio's life. Shylock's daughter, Jessica, sacrifices her religion and her relationship with her father so she may marry the christian, Lorenzo. Since Shylock is jewish, he disowns Jessica who has converted to christianity in order to marry Lorenzo. And, in the end, Shylock sacrifices his religion, loses acceptance of the jewish community, and loses all of his money in order to save his life. With such action going on, you would think the play is hard to follow, but it is probably one of the most understandable plays of Shakespeare. However, I had hoped it would have have proved more suspenseful. With that said, I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to start reading Shakespeare as this book would do well to ease you into Shakespeare's language and style of writing. It would also make a nice read for those interested in race relations during the Elizabethan era.
  • (4/5)
    This was the play that always prompted the biggest reaction from me when, as a pint-sized, wannabe Shakespearean, I used to thumb through Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. “What, he wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh?” I would think.—“Yuck!” Aside from the shock value, I couldn’t see why the play was considered one of Shakespeare’s best; Shylock seemed a rather drab villain, and I thought Portia an ugly name for a woman. But having read my old favorite Much Ado About Nothing this past Valentine’s Day (a very sappy thing to do, I know), I was determined to survey some of the Bard’s other plays. Two different friends whose tastes I trust named it as their favorite comedy and (in one case) favorite play, and this led me to pick it up, having never seen it performed on stage or screen.Baaaaaaaaaaad idea.I love Shakespeare, and I do think there are benefits to be derived from reading his plays and not only from seeing them performed, but doing the former without having first done the latter can make for difficult reading. I read the first act of Merchant in a single evening, but when I finished I realized that I had struggled through it, something that had not happened with Much Ado. However, I was determined not to give up, so I came up with and enacted a new, hard-hitting strategy. The Charles and Mary Lamb volume came back out—the paperback from all those years before—and when I resumed the play I began to mouth the words as I read them, getting a feel for the sound and rhythm. By these means I was able to get through it, and even greatly enjoy it.The merchant of the title is one Antonio, a prosperous but perhaps overgenerous businessman who lives amid the hustle and bustle of Venetian life. A young spendthrift friend, named Bassanio, asks for a loan of money so that he may go and woo the “richly left” Portia of Belmont (I.1.161*) in style. All of Antonio’s fortune is at sea, but he goes to the Jewish moneylender Shylock and asks him to take his bond—a loan of three thousand ducats for three months. For his usury the Jew demands no money, but simply a pound of Antonio’s flesh. He and Bassanio take this merely as a jest, thinking anyway that Antonio’s ships will have arrived before then, and Bassanio sets of for Belmont, while Shylock’s hate for Antonio is growing in his heart, and his plans for the merchant’s undoing becoming more and more a reality. Thus Shakespeare begins his interweaving of two basic plot lines—a “love” plot featuring Portia and Bassanio, and a “hate” plot featuring Shylock and Antonio. To give away much more would be to spoil it for those truly new to the play.Of course, it is a comedy, and so the reader expects a happy ending for at least some of the characters, and as far as that goes the play fits the genre. Otherwise it not what one typically thinks of as a comedy; very little of it is laugh-out-loud funny, and most of the humor found within these pages comes in the guise of wit or irony.But in its dramatic qualities the play is top drawer. Shylock truly is one of literature’s most fascinating characters. Like many Shakespearean baddies, he is self-admittedly a villain (III.1.66), but he commands our sympathy nevertheless. And I do not think this is simply because of our modern sensibilities, despite reports that the fall of a Jew might be a source of humor for an Elizabethan audience. He has been poorly treated by his fellow men, and learnt his villainy from this treatment, and so we must pity him, even as we feel horror at his response. The most likable character by far is Portia. “You will love Portia,” one of my youth directors predicted when she heard that I was reading this play, “because she is AWESOME!” And, indeed, she is—a fierce, independent woman who is nevertheless in love with Bassanio and will do anything to save the life of his friend. Her speech on mercy in the trial scene (IV.1) is truly the stuff of legend. The other characters are fairly dull, and Shylock’s daughter Jessica needs a good slap or two, but together Shylock and Portia sweep all before them, representing not only hate and love, but legalism and mercy. It is they who made me love this play, and it is they that will cause me to remember it and come back to it.* All line references come from The Complete Pelican Shakespeare.
  • (4/5)
    I read this a few years ago for an Intro to Shakespeare class. It was my favorite play we covered with the exception of The Tempest. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I do recall enjoying it and laughing out loud at several parts. Shakespeare's word play is wonderful. I also feel that whether you try to read this from an anti-Semitist point of view or choose to view Shylock as a sympathetic character, you will still find a lot of enjoyment in this. It is also interesting to think about law interpretation and the loop holes in the law and how they still exist today.Side note: I watched the 2004 version of this with Al Pacino and felt that it stayed very true to the heart of the play. 
  • (3/5)
    Shylock is a Jewish money-lender who faces the scorn and contempt of the Christian business community in 16th century Venice on a daily basis. Quite understandably, he seethes with anger over the anti-semitic slurs to which he is routinely subjected, but seizes the chance to get even when his arch-rival, the merchant Antonio, needs to borrow money. Shylock’s terms for the loan are simple: no interest will be charged (as per the Christian tradition against usury), but he will literally carve a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body if the principal repayment is even a day late. Of course, Antonio does miss that deadline and Shylock fully intends to carry out the contract’s sinister terms. However, the resourceful Portia—who has just married Antonio’s best friend Bassanio—steps into the legal dispute at the last moment, sparing Antonio’s life at the cost of everything that Shylock possesses or holds dear, including the religious faith to which he has been devoted his whole life. Antonio leaves the courtroom physically and financially intact—he does not even have to repay the loan—while Shylock exits a wholly broken man.Does the basic plot of The Merchant of Venice sound like the stuff of one of Shakespeare’s more rollicking comedies? If you think not, then we think alike. Indeed, I had a decidedly mixed reaction to this story, which I read rather than saw acted out on stage. On one hand, it is Shakespeare, so the story was briskly paced and the word play was occasionally brilliant (e.g., the time-honored expressions “pound of flesh,” “all that glisters is not gold,” and “the quality of mercy is not strained” appear in this play). However, I found it hard to root either for the alleged good guys—Antonio, Bassanio, Gratiano, Lorenzo—or against Shylock, who never really deserves anything that happens to him throughout the tale and is even betrayed in a remarkably callous manner by his own daughter, Jessica. The problem may well be that, in Shylock, the Immortal Bard created an intriguing and incredibly complex character when all he probably meant to do was provide some dramatic tension to get in the way of an otherwise silly love story. In fact, in this respect I am tempted to say that Shakespeare was hoisted by his own petard, but that would be a different play altogether.
  • (5/5)
    CHRIS-TIANS! CHRIS-TIANS! GOTTA GIVE IT UP FOR CHRIS-TIANS! EVERYTHING GOES GREAT FOR CHRIS-TIANS! There are, as we know, many unresolvable interpretative ourobori in this play--the anti-Semitism thing, the relationship of Antonio and Bassanio, the very vexed question of the Venetian oath, that false thing, and what yet makes Bassanio and Portia infinitely cold and clean and Shylock a quintessence of grime--I mean to say, better to rule one's house in the Ghetto than serve in Belmont, right? As Jessica will learn, to her sorrow? The fact that the passionate malice of the Italians is so much more terrifying, here, than the grim legalmindedness of the Jew? These are all interesting things, and this great play is chock-full of more cool thoughts like them--about capitalism, about youth sucking age dry like the New Testament does the Old, about the Prince of Morocco as a secret counterpoint to Shylock--the Semite prince, cartoonishly accipitrine, flourishing a scimitar-world of infinite princehood--versus the Semite moneylender, ever debased below his pecuniary value, from the people who had their princes taken away long ago. And you can get diverted and watch a smartass Hermione Granger type (In the context of Christian and post-Christian hatred, I use the word "progress" with infinite trepidation, but surely the fact that our generation's reincarnation of the bright spark who always has something up her sleeve is a Mudblood fighting Voldemort and his crew of wizard Nazis, and not an abjurer and defender and reinscriber of racial boundaries around the home, possibly that's a small good thing?) break a bitter old man and clear the road for wedding-ring hijinx--and you know that for the happy crew at the middle, somehow the bill for the uneasy edge that their ringplay has in that extraordinary final scene falls at Shylock's door too. You can do all that but when you stop just watching the sweet show and try to resolve something, close any one of the doors that Shakespeare so suggestively leaves open, you find yourself tying yourself in knots, and getting into some really dark places. Why? Because it doesn't matter how we arrange our interpretations; there is no version of this play where Shylock's not fucked from the beginning, because he's the villain and the groundlings want him to get a kick, and there's no version where he's not the villain--there never will be--why? Because he's the Jew. And suddenly it hits you--it hits generic Gentile me--why the representation of people like you as good and kind that the mainstream culture has always taken for granted is the most essential thing in the world. Because otherwise, on some level, from the earliest age, you're afraid that you're bad. And the rest of it proceeds inexorably outward from that fundamental trauma. Why does Antonio loathe Shylock? He's easy to loathe, because he's never had a role open to him that wasn't loathsome. Why does Shylock loathe Antonio? Because he's just as loathsome, only--roles again--nobody will ever see it, because he's inherited the snowy mantle of lion in winter. It's like how racism isn't wrong because those people we hate didn't have a choice about being hateful; that's not why; it's wrong because we didn't give them a choice. We made them hateful with our stories--and to the degree that they're hateful, it's no wonder, but for the dizzying degree that we've just revealed ourselves as hateful, there's no bond, no pound of flesh. We're just bastards.I saw Merchant the other night, and the dude who played Shylock didn't do this scene this way, but it came to me in the middle with an awful shiver and became, for me, this play's fearsome core: the speech? "Hath not a Jew hands?" Imagine Shylock, not defiant, not roaring, not cold as ice, not looking for pity, but gnawing his fingers, hitting himself in the head, throwing himself against the walls, saying "Is not a Jew bad--bad--BAD--just like a Christian? And will he not revenge, as a way of stopping himself from going home in the mirror and driving a toothpick into his face?" His defiance becomes his heroism, the refusal to make that traumatic break with himself. Antonio's not that strong, and I bet he goes to his guest room at Belmont and hears the young cavorting and looks at the lines on his face and does something horrible to himself. Every time Shylock walks out of that courtroom and we leave him for the winners, it's unforgivable, because behind the scenes somewhere there's the mutilated self, the violated body. Our great art shows us that body--but our greatest art makes us complicit in not wanting to see it, but being aware it's there. This is no happy ending, nor even a clean tragedian sleep of death. This is a bunch of damaged and undermined people walking away to sow the crimes of the future.
  • (4/5)
    Fascinating in terms of its portrayal of Shylock and what we can glean from it about attitudes at the time. I also love Portia, one of Shakespeare's more witty and intelligent heroines.
  • (5/5)
    My personal favorite of Shakespeare's plays, MERCHANT features some of the most real characters in all of literature. While the plot is extreme, the dialogue rings true, and you believe the ridiculous circumstances because of the strength of the writing. I never weary of it.
  • (5/5)
    Probably my favorite Shakespeare play. I loved it even as an assigned reading mission in high school. I've since read it again and have it seen performed on several stages. Shylock remains one of the most memorable literary characters in the "theater" of my mind.
  • (5/5)
    One of my favorite plays. I love the Shylock "hate not a Jew eyes" speech. I feel, being Mormon, I can relate to that.
  • (5/5)
    My favorite Shakespearean work. He wrote it as a comedy, and it fits...but is it really entertaining? In this day and age, the subject matter may not be as "happy" as it once was thought. I particularly find it interesting to think about how Shylock might be portrayed: as a stereotypical Jew or as a prominent Venetian merchant.
  • (5/5)
    This is a classic, and a great piece. I often think about the book, its very memorable and quotable. Even if you hate Shakespeare, at least you'll be able to recognize any allusions to it in other books. The plot is really good, and the characters are amazingly well made. The writing is impeccable and it is surprisingly easy to understand (for Shakespeare that is).
  • (5/5)
    Wonderful; one of Shakespeare's best. Shylock and the Merchant are fascinatingly complex characters - they each have motives and reasons that makes it hard to dismiss either one as simply a villain. Light, dark, comic, tragic, wonder, ribaldry - this one has it all.
  • (5/5)
    This seems to essentially be Shakespeare's response to The Jew of Malta, so if you've read that, this will seem very familiar to you. However, the language used is far more memorable, the lead character more sympathetic, and the story shaped to fit a different genre. This means that it ends on a far less tragic note, and also that it secures its place in history as one of Shakespeare's masterpieces. Essentially, it is a story of failed revenge, love, and injustice. As to the edition itself, I found it to be greatly helpful in understanding the action in the play. It has a layout which places each page of the play opposite a page of notes, definitions, explanations, and other things needed to understand that page more thoroughly. While I didn't always need it, I was certainly glad to have it whenever I ran into a turn of language that was unfamiliar, and I definitely appreciated the scene-by-scene summaries. Really, if you want to or need to read Shakespeare, an edition such as this is really the way to go, especially until you get more accustomed to it.
  • (5/5)
    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, andhindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted mybargains, cooled my friends, heated mineenemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hathnot a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed withthe same food, hurt with the same weapons, subjectto the same diseases, healed by the same means,warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, asa Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poisonus, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we notrevenge? If we are like you in the rest, we willresemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christianwrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be byChristian example? Why, revenge. The villany youteach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but Iwill better the instruction.
  • (1/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    I am apparently the only person on the planet who does not believe that Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic. Shylock is a man living in a world where law and custom consider him as less than human and he is filled with anger. His cruelty is his tiny way of lashing out. He wants revenge, and he prizes that above money. Is his intended (though thwarted) violence horrifying and shocking? Sure it is. It is the twisted malignant violence that grows in the heart of a man caged and stunted, of a man forced to be inhuman. When you prick him, he doth bleed. And the true evildoers in this tale are not Jews. Shylock is the victim. (Jessica is a whole separate story.) This is the story of a man stripped of manhood, a man whose essence is ground to dust under the boot heels of people who call themselves Christians. That Shakespeare, he knows a tragedy when he sees one.
  • (4/5)
    When the merchant Antonio is approached by his friend, Bassanio, for a loan, he doesn't have money in hand to loan. He's expecting a large profit upon the arrival of ships from various centers of trade, so he borrows the money from Jewish lender Shylock. If Antonio can't repay the loan by the due date, instead of interest, Shylock will take a pound of flesh from Antonio. Meanwhile, Bassanio is off to court Portia. Bassanio is lucky in love, but Antonio is very unlucky in business. All of his ships are lost, and Shylock is demanding his pound of flesh. Bassanio is distraught at having put his friend Antonio in this position. Fortunately, Portia has a plan...This is more like two different plays instead of a unified drama. Portia and her suitors begin as a separate story line, finally connected to the main plot through Bassanio's arrival. I think Polonius delivered his famous monologue to the wrong character in the wrong play. Antonio, Bassanio, and Shylock could all have benefited from his advice to “neither a borrower or a lender be”!
  • (4/5)
    I first read this play back in 9th grade. At the time I remember being struck w/certain parts of it though I missed a lot of references, and many somewhat bawdy double entendres went over my head. Re-reading it as an adult was a great idea, as I was able to appreciate the story more. And I found too, after awhile, that understanding Shakespeare's English became easier as I continued reading.

    One of my favorite passages was Portia's speech in Act IV Scene I, where she speaks to Shylock,

    The quality of mercy is not strained.
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
    Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown.
    His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
    But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
    It is an attribute of God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show like God's
    When mercy seasons justice.

    I had to memorize this for my 9th grade Lit class and was surprised to see how much of it I still remember after all these years.
    I'm having my 9th grader read this play now for her Lit class. I hope I can help her to appreciate this more than I did at her age ☺
  • (2/5)
    I don't really get this one. If Shylock is supposed to be the sympathetic character his vindictiveness towards Antonio isn't given enough support to be understandable. If Portia is then it's racist garbage. Either way I have to say I'm not feeling it. The ring subplot is cute I guess.
  • (4/5)
    In which a charming and entertaining romantic comedy is intertwined with a very grim portrait of a wronged outcast who has lost the ability to forgive.
  • (2/5)
    It was ok.