Background Information
 Written
some time around 1597
 Written as a romantic comedy since it is
about love and ends happily
 Fuses many dramatic elements: romantic
courtship, riddling love tests, eloping
lovers, comic confusions, a gripping
courtroom trial, and a seemingly
harmonious final act
 At the core of the play is Shylock, the
Jewish moneylender. He only appears in
five of the 20 scenes, but his presence
dominates the play.
 Roots
of Shakespearean drama begin with
mystery and miracle plays of the Middle
Ages, which were performed by the
church for a largely illiterate audience
about Old and New Testament stories.
Jews were often viewed as responsible for
Christ’s crucifixion.
 Jews became the evil villains of
Elizabethan drama. They were onedimensional stereotypical characters.
 The Jew of Malta, written in 1589 by
Christopher Marlowe, is one such work.
Marlowe was Shakespeare greatest rival.
The Merchant of Venice
The Jew of Malta by:
Christopher Marlowe
Barbaras is a villain
who steals, cheats,
and indulges in
murder until he finally
meets a gruesome
end, boiling in oil.
by: William Shakespeare
Both moneylenders
Both have
daughters who
leave home with
father’s money
Both despicable
characters
Shylock is presented
as a complex man,
whose every action
can be understood,
and who ultimately
elicits sympathy from
the modern audience.

1075 in Oxford: Jews were not confined to ghettos as many
of their European counterparts, but they were not allowed
to be citizens. Because Christians could not lend money
with interest, many Jews earned lucrative livings as usurers.
In trying to regain debt owed to them, Jews became the
target of resentment.

Late 12th Century: Anti-Semitic sentiment culminated in two
massacres, one at the coronation of Richard I in 1189 (30
Jews killed), and the other in the city of York in 1190 (150
Jews killed).

In fact, the Magna Carta, is a testament to growing AntiSemitic feelings—two clauses state that if a debtor dies debt
is paid, neither heir or widow is responsible for paying it.

1275: Jews forbidden to be money-lenders as well as other
edicts implemented: taxation of Jews over 12 years old and
wearing badges that identified them as Jews.

1290 (until 1655): Expelled from England
Threat of Civil War
 Staved off threat of rebellion by dealing ruthlessly with
threat of treason, real or perceived
 Climate of religious intolerance against Christians
 Jews who converted living quietly in England during
Elizabeth’s reign
 In 1593 Rodrigo Lopez, the Queen’s physician, was
accused of trying to poison her, allegedly in league with
the King of Spain. He was convicted of treason and
hung in 1594, and because he was one of the above
Jews, yet another outbreak of anti-Jewish sentiment
occurred.
 Therefore, it isn’t known whether Shakespeare ever
came into contact with anyone who was Jewish.

 Given
the anti-Jewish climate in Elizabethan
England and Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock
as a negative stereotype, it would be
reasonable to assume Shakespeare was an AntiSemite.
 However, the rest of the details of the play do
not support this.
 It has been suggested that the real evil is the
corrupt value system of the principal Christian
characters.
Antonio, the merchant of the title, is the worst
bigot
Portia is also a racist, but not only were Jews
her only victims.
 Jew
against Christian
 Love against hate
 Usury against venture trading
 Mercy against justice
 Appearances
are rarely what the seem: gold
and silver prove worthless, identities are
mistaken, women disguised as men trick
their husbands.
 Bond
Plot
 Casket Plot
 Elopement Plot
 Ring Plot
 These
play.
plots are interwoven throughout the
Unlocking Shakespeare's Language, by Randal Robinson
 Unusual Word Arrangements
I ate the sandwich.
I the sandwich ate.
Ate the sandwich I.
Ate I the sandwich.
The sandwich I ate.
The sandwich ate I.
Robinson shows us that these four words can create six
unique sentences which carry the same meaning. Locate the
subject, verb, and the object of the sentence. Notice that
the object of the sentence is often placed at the beginning
(the sandwich) in front of the verb (ate) and subject
(I). Rearrange the words in the order that makes the most
sense to you (I ate the sandwich).
Poetry
We speak in prose (language without metrical
structure). Shakespeare wrote both prose and
verse (poetry). Much of the language discussion we
will have in this guide revolves around
Shakespeare's poetry. So, it is important that you
understand the following terms:
Blank Verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Iambic Pentameter: five beats of alternating
unstressed and stressed syllables; ten syllables per
line.
 Omissions
Again, for the sake of his poetry, Shakespeare
often left out letters, syllables, and whole
words. These omissions really aren't that much
different from the way we speak today. We say:
"Been to class yet?"
"No. Heard Albrecht's givin' a test."
"Wha'sup wi'that?“
We leave out words and parts of words to speed up our
speech. If we were speaking in complete sentences, we
would say:
"Have you been to class yet?"
"No, I have not been to class. I heard that Mrs. Albrecht is
giving a test today."
"What is up with that?"
A
few examples of Shakespearean
omissions/contractions follow:
'tis ~ it is
ope ~ open
o'er ~ over
gi' ~ give
ne'er ~ never
i' ~ in
e'er ~ ever
oft ~ often
a' ~ he
e'en ~ even
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The Merchant of Venice - Wappingers Central School