A-Z Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

“I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”

William Shakespeare

Awesomeness: 4/10

Because…it’s quite dull, really, and rather convoluted. Also anti-Semitism.

Colour: Purple

Date: 1596/7

Events: Bassanio needs money for reasons which are obscure to me but which somehow have to do with wanting to marry the rich and inaccesible Portia. He goes to Shylock, a moneylender, whom everybody hates because he is Jewish, and who therefore hates everybody. Antonio, Bassanio’s friend, offers security for the loan: if Bassanio fails to pay Shylock back the moneylender may take a pound of flesh from Antonio. Having obtained the money, Bassanio goes off to woo Portia, whose obviously passive-aggressive dead father has said in his will that Portia may only marry a man who makes the correct choice from three caskets – gold, silver and lead. Two suitors choose incorrectly; Bassanio eventually chooses the lead casket, which turns out to be the right one. He marries Portia, and his servant marries her maid. Then Antonio’s ships sink, and Shylock sues to collect his debt. The court (and specifically Portia disguised as a male doctor – I’m not exactly clear on this point) decides in Shylock’s favour, with the proviso that Shylock may not spill any of Antonio’s blood in collecting the pound of flesh. Shylock is reluctant, since, clearly, this is an impossible task. Then Portia announces that Shylock intended to kill Antonio in the course of collecting his debt, and that the moneylender is therefore a criminal under Venetian law; he’s punished by confiscation of his estate, part of which is given to his daughter Jessica who has run off with a Christian, Lorenzo.

First line: “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.”

Genre: Comedy, apparently. I didn’t find it very funny.

High point: The court scene when Shylock is sentenced.

Interesting fact: It’s also called The Jew of Venice.

Joke: “Not on thy sole but on thy soul, harsh Jew,/Thou mak’st thy knife keen.”

Killed: No-one.

Laughed at: The intriguingly-named Lancelot, a clown.

Musical: The train of the King of Morocco, one of Portia’s unlucky suitors, sings while he’s choosing one of the caskets.

Number of scenes: 20 spread over 5 acts.

Obscurity: 7/10 – some of the financial jargon is confusing.

Place: Venice

Quote: “I hold the world but as the world, Graziano -/A stage where every man must play a part.”

Role I’d play: Portia, who gets up to all sorts of high jinks during the latter half of the play.

Stolen from Ser Giovanni of Florence’s collection of fifty Italian tales Il Pecorone.

Time: Around Shakespeare’s


Voiced in my head by: Andrew Scott as Shylock.

Would I see it in a theatre? No.

X: The Tenth Line: “Like signors and rich burghers on the flood”

“Yes? Hello? What?” (The Snappy Quip): “All things that are/Are with more spirit chased than enjoyed.”

Z: The Last Line: “So sore as keeping safe Nerissa’s ring.”

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