The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key 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.