Full Title The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the Jew of Venice
Author William Shakespeare
Type of work Play
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.