The Merchant of Venice
- A Jewish moneylender in Venice. Angered by his mistreatment at the hands of Venice’s
Christians, particularly Antonio, Shylock schemes to eke out his revenge by ruthlessly demanding as
payment a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Although seen by the rest of the play’s characters as an
inhuman monster, Shylock at times diverges from stereotype and reveals himself to be quite human.
These contradictions, and his eloquent expressions of hatred, have earned Shylock a place as one of
Shakespeare’s most memorable characters.
- A wealthy heiress from Belmont. Portia’s beauty is matched only by her intelligence. Bound by a
clause in her father’s will that forces her to marry whichever suitor chooses correctly among three caskets,
Portia is nonetheless able to marry her true love, Bassanio. Far and away the most clever of the play’s
characters, it is Portia, in the disguise of a young law clerk, who saves Antonio from Shylock’s knife.
- The merchant whose love for his friend Bassanio prompts him to sign Shylock’s contract and
almost lose his life. Antonio is something of a mercurial figure, often inexplicably melancholy and, as
Shylock points out, possessed of an incorrigible dislike of Jews. Nonetheless, Antonio is beloved of his
friends and proves merciful to Shylock, albeit with conditions.
- A gentleman of Venice, and a kinsman and dear friend to Antonio. Bassanio’s love for the
wealthy Portia leads him to borrow money from Shylock with Antonio as his guarantor. An ineffectual
businessman, Bassanio proves himself a worthy suitor, correctly identifying the casket that contains Portia’s
- A friend of Bassanio’s who accompanies him to Belmont. A coarse and garrulous young man,
Graziano is Shylock’s most vocal and insulting critic during the trial. While Bassanio courts Portia, Graziano
falls in love with and eventually weds Portia’s lady-in-waiting, Nerissa.
- Although she is Shylock’s daughter, Jessica hates life in her father’s house, and elopes with the
young Christian gentleman, Lorenzo. The fate of her soul is often in doubt: the play’s characters wonder if
her marriage can overcome the fact that she was born a Jew, and we wonder if her sale of a ring given to
her father by her mother is excessively callous.