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THE MERCHANT OF VENICE BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Introduction: “The Merchant of Venice” is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare, in which the Venetian merchant named Antonio failed to pay a massive loan from the Jewish moneylender, Shylock. Although in this play Antonio is the main character, the audience is drawn to Shylock who sues Antonio and Portia, the rich heiress who marries Antonio ‘s friend Bassanio and saves Antonio ‘s life in a dramatic court scene.

Summary of The Merchant of Venice

Antonio is a wealthy merchant of Venice. He is a respected and popular man. Among his many friends is a young man named Bassanio who wants to marry a woman called Portia from Belmont but he can’t afford to pay for his clothes and travel to Belmont. He goes to his friend Antonio and asks him if he can borrow some money from him. Antonio has no money to lend his friend, so he approaches Shylock, a Jew, a harsh moneylender. Shylock agrees to lend the money on a strange condition that if Antonio doesn’t pay it back by a certain period of time, he will lose a pound of flesh, which Antonio agrees. Bassanio arrives at Portia’s estate and they declare love for one another. Meanwhile, all of Antonio’s ships appear to be lost. Shylock then insists on his pound of flesh. He wants it from Antonio’s heart which means Antonio would die. Shylock moves to the court to plead before the Duke. There, Portia and her maid Nerissa come disguised as a male lawyer and a male clerk respectively. Portia insists that Shylock can take Antonio’s flesh but must not spill even a drop of his blood or he would lose his own life, a sentence the Duke supports. Thus, Shylock is humiliated and defeated.

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Bassanio returns to Belmont where Portia reveals that she was the lawyer in disguise. Antonio receives the positive news that his ships made safely back to Venice.

Character Sketch of Shylock

Shylock, the Jew lived in Venice. He was a usurer by profession. He had amassed an immense fortune by lending money at a great interest rate to christen merchants. Being a hard-hearted man, he exacted the payment of the money he lent with such severity that he was much disliked by all good men. His hard-heartedness had also made Antonio reproach him. Shylock was accused for his selfish behaviour in the whole city of Venice.

Shylock had tremendous enmity with Antonio. He had cooked revenge against him for which he was always looking for the opportunity. This opportunity came his way when Antonio approached him with a plea that he needed three thousand ducats. Shylock made Antonio sign a bond that if he failed to repay the money on a certain day he would have to forfeit a pound of flesh. Luck went Shylock’s way. Antonio failed to repay the money. Shylock took the case to the duke of the Venice claiming for the penalty. The enemies next met in the court. To feed his greed, Shylock sharpening his knife much to the dismay of Antonio. He was impatient to see Antonio dying at his feet, But this could not happen. The counsellor turned the table against Shylock by saying that Shylock could cut his pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast, but he must not shed even a single drop of Antonio’s blood. This sabotaged the conspiracy of Shylock, for it was impossible for him to cut the flesh without shedding some blood. Shylock, after this, suffered another setback when the young counsellor charge-sheeted for plotting against the life of a Christian and a citizen of Venice. He demanded death sentence for Shylock besides this he demanded that his whole property be seized. Thus the cruel merchant met a dreadful end.

Character sketch of Portia

Portia is the protagonist of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. A rich. beautiful, quick-witted and intelligent heiress of Belmont. She is full of confidence. She can take Independent and quick decisions. She plans her own course of action to help her husband’s friend. Her Intellect acts with lightning speed. She disguises herself as a lawyer, (named Balthazar) where she successfully defends Antonio from Shylock’s gruesome retribution and saves Antonio’s life. While doing so, she showcases an impressive understanding of Venetian law. As opposed to Bassanio’s call for the rules to be ignored and Antonio’s melancholic resignation to his fate, Portia is able to work within the constraints of the court system to save Antonio’s life.

Theme(s) of The Merchant of Venice

The play “The Merchant of the Venice” revolves around several themes- love, sacrifice, and hatred. The beginning of the play describes the hatred of Antonio for an old jew, Shylock who charges a very high rate of Interest on his lent money to the needy. Shylock also hatches a plan to revenge the hatred of Antonio.

The play also highlights the Bassanio’s candid love for Portia. He does not want to lose her beloved at any cost.

Sacrifice is yet another theme reflected in the play. Antonio is an epitome of sacrifice. He lends his money to the needy without charging any interest. He risks his life and borrows money for his bosom friend from a cruel Jew, he does this to see his friend winning the love of Portia.

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Another important theme of the play is that we should not insist on the letter of the law as it is dangerous and may lead to injustice. The story is an attack on usury, i.e., charging heavy amount as interest. It also brings forth an idea of true friendship. Antonio is ready to sacrifice his life for Bassanio and Bassanio, in turn, is also ready to sacrifice his all for his friend Antonio. They teach us the true value of friendship.

Important Questions of The Merchant of Venice

Q. 1. Why does Shylock hate Antonio?

Ans: Shylock hates Antonio because he used to lend money to people in distress and would never take any interest in the money he lent.

Q. 2. How does Antonio help Bassanio?

Ans: Bassanio, who was in love with a rich and beautiful lady called Portia, needed money to propose her. He went to Antonio and asked him three thousand ducats. Antonio had no ready money to give as he had invested all his money in trade. Being eager to provide money to his friend, he borrowed it from his enemy Shylock by signing a dreadful bond that if he failed to repay the money on time. Shylock would cut a pound of flesh from his body.

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Q. 3. How does Shylock feel when Antonio asks for some money? Why is he interested to pay the required sum?

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Ans: Shylock feels happy when Antonio asks for some money because it is the right opportunity for him to catch Antonio into the trap. He is interested to pay the required sum to him in order to take revenge of the shames he has put upon him and to kill him as his rival in Business.

Q. 4. What condition does Shylock put forth if the debt Is not paid in time?

Ans: Shylock made a condition if Antonio failed to pay the debt in time that he would cut off a pound of flesh from his any part of the body.

Q. 5. How does Bassanio marry Portia?

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Ans: Bassanio was in love with Portia who lived in the city of Belmont. He wanted to travel to Belmont to propose her but didn’t have the money. He asked three thousand ducats to his friend Antonio who borrowed it from Shylock and gave it to him. Thus Bassanio succeeded in winning the hand of Portia by the help of Antonio.

Q. 7. Who is disguised aa the learned counsellor (Doctor Balthasar)? Why has he come to the court of Venice?

Ans: Portia, wife of Bassanio is disguised as the learned counsellor (Doctor Balthasar). He has come to the court of Venice to plead for Antonio.

Q. 8. How did the counsellor start his argument and how was he able to get the judgment in Antonio’s favour?

Ans: The counsellor began his argument in favour of Shylock and said that he indeed had the right to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. He appealed him to have mercy on Antonio but to no effect. Although shylock insisted upon the pound of flesh the counsellor was able to get the judgment in Antonio’s favour by his witty and clever arguments. He showed Shylock the bond on which was signed “a pound of flesh” without shedding a drop of blood. It was utterly impossible for Shylock to cut off a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body without shedding of blood.

Q. 9. How does Portia get back her ring?

Ans: When Bassanio asked Portia to accept a gift she suggested that he could give her the ring on his finger. He replied that the ring had been given to him by his wife and had made him promise to never part with it. Portia turned away pretending to be angry. Antonio insisted Bassanio to give her the ring as she had done a great service him. Bassanio could not say no to Antonio who had risked his life for him, unwillingly gave away the ring to Portia. Thus she got her ring back by her intelligence.

Q.10 Discuss the character of Portia.
Ans. Portia is one of the central characters of the play. She is full of self-confidence. She makes quick and independent decisions. She plans her own course of action to save Antonio, her husband‘s friend. She disguises herself as a lawyer and reaches the court. She very easily turns the tables on Shylock by making a passionate plea for mercy. Portia outwits Shylock completely with her superior intellectual jugglery.

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