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The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare

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.