Saturday, 14 March 2015

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in a Nutshell

Because I don't post here nearly as often as I should, I'm making my rather belaboured way through putting all of Shakespeare's plays into nutshells; whittling the plot down to its most simple elements in order to explain what the play is about.

And on this occasion, it's the turn of The Merchant of Venice.


A wealthy merchant who's borrowed money on behalf of his friend, learns that his ships have been lost. Unable to repay the usurer he has abused in the past, he faces the prospect of paying the contract's specified penalty: a pound of his flesh.


Now that's the gist of the plot, but it's not really what The Merchant of Venice is about. And, in keeping the nutshell as concise as possible, I've left out two important strands of the plot - Portia's love trial (and her subsequent part in the Venetian trial), and the romance between Lorenzo and Jessica.

Ironically, though, I'd say what the play is actually about is much simpler than the logline I've given it above. It's about love; in various forms, including romantic, friendship, paternal and fillial. It's about prejudice, and the things hatred can engender. And it's about the law.

For more on The Merchant of Venice, take a look at:

A Quick Overview of The Merchant of Venice
The Casket Trial
Clever Portia and The Quality of Mercy
Is Shakespeare Anti-Semitic?

4 comments:

  1. As a Jew, I don't want this play banned. That is because not only is censorship rarely the answer, it's also in my opinion, pro semitic. In this play there is a bullied, oppressed, tormented and feeble, old, and Jewish man against the world. It's to show oppression. Shylock is against the world, and he loses. Why?! For the same reason he was tormented in the first place. The Christians are all unlikable, they're hypocrites, and they are also bullies. They bully Shylock until he can't take it anymore. In the end, despite their preaching of mercy, they show almost none to him. They force him to convert to Christianity. Also, Portia's name actually means pig, Shy-Lock means to me a man who is shy and locks his feelings deep inside because he is bullied,and while a few of the Christians have names that are good things, to me, a lot of them are ironic. For example, Gratiano shows no grace at all, and Antonio is the exact opposite of somebody who is praiseworthy. You don't praise somebody who bullies people who can't do a thing about it, at least, not in the modern day.

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    1. Hi, Robinanna.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I greatly appreciate that, and very much agree with you.

      If you haven't already seen it, you may like to take a quick look at my post on the anti-Semitic language in the play and why I think it's vital not to censor it: Why Anti-Semitic Language in The Merchant of Venice is Important

      Thanks again for commenting.
      Best wishes,
      SA

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    2. Indeed. It is necessary. In every book, you need to keep the language. We can't censor or chance every story.

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