The Merchant of Venice

Type: 
Comedy
First Performed: 
1596-97
First Printed: 
1600
"

There is some ill a-brewing towards my rest,
For I did dream of money-bags tonight.

"

One of Shakespeare's most challenging plays, The Merchant of Venice revolves around a culture of discrimination.

Set in Venice and in Belmont, the merchant Antonio is a well-intentioned man who seeks to help his friend Bassanio. Bassanio is in love with a beautiful young heiress named Portia, but has not the financial means to win her hand in marriage. Antonio seeks a loan from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender whom he has in the past treated with disdain. Antonio intends to repay the loan when his merchant ships return to port. Rather than charge him interest on the loan, Shylock persuades Antonio to sign a contract that requires the borrower to pay back the loan with a pound of flesh should he default.

With money in hand, and a test put forth by Portia's father passed, Bassanio weds his beloved Portia while his friend Gratiano weds Portia's lady in waiting Nerissa.

Meanwhile, a furious Shylock discovers that his daughter Jessica has eloped with a Christian named Lorenzo, intends to convert to his faith, and has stolen jewels and money from her father.

When Antonio's ships are presumably lost at sea, Shylock demands the terms of the loan be honored and that he receive his pound of flesh from Antonio. The Duke's court is assembled, with Portia and Nerissa posing in disguise as young judiciary experts. As Portia effectively manipulates and persuades the Duke's court, Antonio is eventually released from his bond. Shylock, however, becomes the persecuted and in the face of a death penalty must renounce his Jewish faith and release his own fortune to Antonio and Lorenzo.

While the couples (Bassanio and Portia, Gratiano and Nerissa, Lorenzo and Jessica) are all happily reunited and Antonio's fortune (and ships) recovered, the injustice inflicted on the Jewish moneylender Shylock echoes through the end of the play.