‘The Merchant of Venice*’ Revision Notes
Themes in the play 1. Justice versus Mercy • Mainly seen in Act four, scene one. • Shylock is repeatedly asked to show mercy but instead focuses on justice / revenge. Is he right? • The Christians / Elizabethans believe mercy is a divine trait. They both believe they ‘save’ Shylock in the end. Is this true? • Portia is merciless in her administration of the law – to Antonio and Shylock. Is she objective?
Why do the Christians hate the Jews? • The killing of Christ. If they did not convert then they could not be ‘saved.’ • The stereotype of a Jew. In medieval times it was rumoured that Jews killed children and drank blood. Ritual sacrifice is hinted at in Act Four, scene one. • The practice of usury. Money-lending was an unpopular profession.
Themes in the play 2. Money as a motivating factor • Seen in the love and ‘bond’ plot of the play. Bassanio needs money to woo Portia; lack of it puts Antonio in Shylock’s power. • Attitudes to money differ: both merchants view it differently (one gives it away while the other is greedy for it - usury seen as morally wrong), Jessica and Bassanio waste it, it does not make Antonio / Portia happy. • Bassanio is not taken in by material wealth in the casket test. • Portia (the ‘Golden Fleece’) gives away her wealth for love. Shylock prefers his ducats to his daughter.
Themes in the play 3. Love, marriage and friendship • Portia plays the stereotypical role of an Elizabethan woman, dutiful to her father / husband and giving up all she has. • Antonio shows platonic love for Bassanio – he is prepared to give up his life for him. • The play shows the triumph of love / friendship over greed. Shylock hates Antonio because of his business practice, it stops his profit. Act four, scene one shows the extent of his greed.
Characters – Shylock* • His main traits are his: focus on money /
- Fall '16
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