Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
On completion of this unit on The Merchant of Venice, you should be able to:
1.Assess whether Shakespeare’s portrayal of Jews in the play is mostly anti-Semitic, largely sympathetic/empathetic, or an ambivalent balance of both.
2.Describe the different kinds of “minorities” or “others.”
3.Interpret what each example of symbolism means.
!! Written Assignment 3
Respond to four of the following six items with a minimum of 1½ pages of supported (by quotes and incidents) discussion for each item.
1.In this play, the Christians are members of “the golden world” of prestige and privilege, and the Jews are regarded as “others.” Using specific incidents of action and direct quotations from the play, examine the idea that most others envy those who live in the golden circle and that those who belong to the elite group tend to put down those who do not. (You might also think of this as “the popular kids” versus the “unpopular kids” situation.)
Quotes to Note
“All that glisters is not gold.” (Note in the golden casket, II, vii)
“The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” (Antonio, I, iii)
2.Do you believe this play reveals the typical Elizabethan anti-Semitic view of Jews or does Shakespeare also manage to sneak in a more enlightened, humanistic/progressive and at least slightly sympathetic view of Jewish people? On the other hand, does the play reflect a little of both kinds of attitudes? Support your analysis with short direct quotations and specific examples and incidents of action from the play.
Quotes to Note
“The quality of mercy is not strained … it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” (Portia, IV, i)
“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” (Portia, V, i)
3.Using Portia, Nerissa, and Jessica, examine Shakespeare’s attitude toward women in this play. Support your answers using short direct quotations and specific examples and incidents of action or behavior from the play.
4.Explore Shakespeare’s “larger meanings” within the symbolism of at least two of the following items: the three caskets, the ring, Shylock’s ducats, and the “pound of flesh.” Then using specific incidents of action and direct quotes from the play, analyze the meaning of at least two of the Quotes to Note in Items 1, 2, and 5, as they relate to the action and “messages” in the play.
5.Shylock’s treatment of Jessica and Jessica’s treatment of Shylock may tell us something about Shakespeare’s ideas about parenting and children’s obligations to parents. Is one blameless and the other to blame? Or are both parent and child “less than admirable” in their actions? Using specific incidents and actions and illustrative quotes from the play, examine what the interactions between this parent and child may be telling us.
Quotes to Note
“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” (Launcelot Gobbo, II, ii)
“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit.” (Jessica, II, vi)
6.Discuss the “unveiling of hypocrisy” within this play. (By “hypocrisy,” we mean the castigating of other persons for actions or beliefs that the person doing the castigating is him- or herself guilty of doing or
Note: You may find the online resource referenced for Unit 3:
The Merchant of Venice
*Schneider, Jr., Ben R. “Shylock Is Us.” Chap. 2 in Shakespeare’s Morals (in progress).
Use of the online resource is optional. Be sure all specific ideas, examples, and phrasings as well as direct quotations from this (and any online or other reference source) are thoroughly documented.