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The Merchant of Venice
William Shakespeare


A STEP BEYOND

TESTS AND ANSWERS

TEST 1

_____ 1. In this play music and musical imagery

    A. create a mood of joyful abandon
    B. signal abrupt switches in emotional tone
    C. emphasize the value of harmony
_____ 2. "It's a wise father who knows his own child" is said by
    A. Jessica
    B. Launcelot
    C. Lorenzo
_____ 3. The young Venetians like to compare themselves to
    A. merchant ships
    B. unrefined gold
    C. musical instruments
_____ 4. The episode of the rings might be said to show
    A. that Bassanio does not take his marriage seriously
    B. that loyalty in spirit is more important than vows and sworn oaths
    C. that Bassanio will eventually have to choose between his best friend and his wife
_____ 5. In joking about her German suitor, Portia suggests
    A. placing a bottle of wine on the wrong casket
    B. he's in love with his horse
    C. he's a vile coward
_____ 6. Hanging and wiving are said to be alike because
    A. wise men avoid both
    B. both last forever
    C. both are determined by fate
_____ 7. "The shadowed livery of the burnished sun" refers to
    A. the new uniform Bassanio gives Launcelot
    B. the Prince of Morocco's complexion
    C. Shylock's hoarded gold
_____ 8. The casket picked by the Prince of Arragon is the wrong one because
    A. silver is less valuable than gold
    B. his choice was too obvious
    C. his choice was dictated by logic, not love
_____ 9. The song "Tell me where is fancy bred" says that
    A. unlike true love, fancy can be deceiving
    B. good breeding always shows in the end
    C. love at first sight is the best kind of love
_____ 10. Shylock hates Antonio because
    I. he is a Christian
    II. he has insulted him
    III. he deals in merchandise
    IV. he lends money without charging interest
    A. II only
    B. I and III only
    C. all of these
    D. I, II and IV only

11. What does The Merchant of Venice have to say about the relationship between love and wealth?

12. Most of the Italian cities mentioned in Shakespeare's plays are so vaguely described that they are virtually interchangeable. Venice is an exception. What does this play tell us about Venice and its people?

13. Is Shylock a comic character or a tragic one? Discuss.

14. Discuss the role of humor in The Merchant of Venice.

TEST 2

_____ 1. In The Merchant of Venice, love and money are

    A. enjoyed only by those who guard them carefully
    B. two forms of wealth
    C. in constant conflict
_____ 2. "The quality of mercy is not strained" means
    A. mercy is given freely, without constraint
    B. mercy should be given only when it puts no strain on the giver
    C. the good and bad aspects of mercy are hard to separate
_____ 3. "Love is blind" refers to
    A. the test of the three caskets
    B. Jessica's disguise
    C. Bassanio's failure to recognize Portia when she is dressed as a man
_____ 4. The lead casket is the right choice because
    A. lead symbolizes seriousness and weighty thoughts
    B. to find true love you have to be willing to take risks
    C. great beauty and inner worth never go together
_____ 5. Tubal added to Shylock's woes by telling him
    A. how Jessica squandered his money
    B. that Antonio's ships were coming safely to port
    C. that the Duke would not honor his contract
_____ 6. One sign of Gratiano's excessive wildness is his
    A. running off to Belmont
    B. hasty marriage to Nerissa
    C. fondness for dirty puns
_____ 7. Nerissa says that it is easiest to be happy if you are
    A. average
    B. married
    C. rich
_____ 8. The reason that Portia's father set up the test of the caskets is that
    A. Portia might have married a fortune hunter otherwise
    B. he wanted his daughter to have a wise husband
    C. never told to us in the play
_____ 9. Antonio pledges a pound of his own flesh because
    A. he is a good and generous friend
    B. he refuses to pay usury
    C. he knows the law will never allow Shylock to collect
_____ 10. In the trial scene, "I am content" is said by
    A. Bassanio
    B. Shylock
    C. Portia

11. Is Bassanio's speech about appearance versus inner worth at the time he chooses the lead casket consistent with what we know about his character? Why or why not?

12. How are music and musical imagery used throughout the play?

13. What is the significance of the episode of the rings?

14. What does the play have to say about the relationship between friendship and love?

ANSWERS

TEST 1
  1. C
  2. B
  3. A
  4. B
  5. A
  6. C
  7. B
  8. C
  9. A
  10. D

11. Love and money are closely intertwined in this play. By winning Portia, Bassanio solves his romantic problems and his financial ones simultaneously. Shylock, on the other hand, loses both his daughter Jessica and his ducats. Antonio demonstrates his friendship by lending money freely- even to the point of pledging his own flesh to guarantee the loan that Shylock extends to Bassanio. The very language that is used to describe human relationship underlines the theme of love as a form of wealth. Portia, declaring her love for Bassanio, describes herself in terms that recall a financial balance sheet- for example, she tells Bassanio that she wishes to stand high in his "account." Salerio and Solanio also use language which compares the progress of a person's life to the quest for profit through trade on the high seas. Other connections between love and wealth include the use of the gold rings which symbolize the vows exchanged by Portia and Bassanio, Nerissa and Gratiano. Finally, the test of the three caskets turns on a contrast between outward appearances and inner worth.

12. Venice is portrayed as a rich and cosmopolitan city, a busy seaport engaged in trade with exotic foreign lands. Although there is very little physical description of Venice, the behavior of Antonio and his friends tell us a good deal about Venetian life- or, at least, about Shakespeare's conception of it. These young men cheerfully live beyond their means, confident that money will come their way sooner or later. Bassanio, although he has just borrowed a large sum of money on his friend's credit, is not at all worried about keeping his expenses down- he plans to celebrate his departure for Belmont by holding a dinner party and a masque. Note, also, that most of the Venetian scenes take place in the street or in public places; the choice of settings emphasizes the importance of business and civic activities in the lives of the Venetians. Shylock is the only character we see at home, and his attachment to his house is offered as evidence of his gloomy, miserly personality. The trial scene further emphasizes that the Venetians' respect for law is related to their desire to assure foreigners that they will be treated fairly in business.

13. The part of Shylock has been played both ways over the centuries. Most Shakespeare scholars agree that the part of Shylock was written as a comic villain; however, modern actors are more likely to stress the serious side to Shylock's character. Whichever way you choose to answer this question, you should keep in mind that calling Shylock a comic character does not necessarily mean that his actions constantly provoke laughter. If you believe, for example, that sheer greed is the most important motivation for Shylock's plotting- and that he learns his lesson during the trial scene and has reason to accept the verdict against him as basically merciful, then you can justify seeing Shylock as the villain in a comedy. If you believe that Shylock suffers largely because he is an outsider and that his final line in the play is bitterly ironic, then you cannot help seeing him as a tragic figure.

14. In answering this question, you might choose to concentrate on the role of Launcelot, the clown. Launcelot's humor is based on his mangled vocabulary- a mixture of mispronounced words and silly puns- as well as on broad physical comedy. You might note, also, that while Launcelot's speeches are sheer silliness, they do echo some of the serious issues raised in the play- particularly Jessica's relationship to her father Shylock. Another form of humor is the more literate, though sometimes off-color, kind of pun which Gratiano specializes in. Gratiano's character provides an excuse for Shakespeare to indulge in this form of humor, while at the same time having other characters in the play gently reprove Gratiano for his bad taste. The protagonists of the play enjoy humor- Bassanio even hires Launcelot as a servant. But we are given to believe that extreme levity is a fault. The truly happy person does not have to be constantly cracking jokes.

TEST 2

  1. B
  2. A
  3. B
  4. B
  5. A
  6. C
  7. A
  8. C
  9. A
  10. B

11. Many readers feel that Bassanio's speech is out of character. Suddenly this charming spendthrift comes out with a philosophical meditation on the superficial nature of external wealth and beauty! On the other hand, if you think of the mottos inscribed on the various caskets- which are mentioned earlier during the scene with the Prince of Morocco- then Bassanio's choice is not out of character. It would be just like him to choose "hazard"- or chance- over a sure thing. In considering this question further, you might also ask yourself whether readers who find Bassanio frivolous in the early scenes of the play do him an injustice. After all, Bassanio does express concern for Antonio and wants to pay back the money he owes. Depending on your interpretations of Bassanio's speeches- and on your own views of friendship and financial responsibility- it is possible to defend differing opinions of Bassanio's character.

12. In discussing the role of music in the play, you should be sure to mention Portia's comments on music in Act III, Scene II as well as what she and Lorenzo say about music as the bringer of harmony in Act V. In the latter section of the play, you will recall, Lorenzo says that the man who has no feeling for music is not to be trusted- a comment that recalls Shylock's desire to shut the music of the masque out of his house. Lorenzo also says that music exists not so much to make us carefree and happy as to induce contemplation and thoughtfulness- and this is certainly the effect that the song "Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred" has on Bassanio in Act III, Scene II.

13. Readers who stress that the action of the play is circular tend to see the episode of the rings as symbolizing this circularity. Portia gives her ring to Bassanio, who gives it back to her thinking she is the lawyer Balthasar; she later gives the ring to Antonio who hands it back to Bassanio again. All of these exchanges together might be seen as emphasizing the play's theme that love only increases in power if it is given freely. Another way of looking at the rings is that they represent a gentle, loving bond between human beings- as opposed to the cruel bond (or promise) imposed on Antonio by Shylock. Either way, the important feature of the episode of the rings is that Bassanio is not punished for breaking his vow never to part with the token of Portia's love. In a tragedy, breaking such a promise would surely have terrible consequences. In this play, it becomes an occasion for some playful teasing but no serious repercussions.

14. The Merchant of Venice tells us that love and friendship are thoroughly compatible. Far from being jealous of her husband's friendship with Antonio, Portia says that "the bosom lover of my lord / must needs be like my lord." Portia not only saves Antonio's life, but at the end of the play Antonio is brought back to Belmont to share in the happy final scene. This, at least, is what the play says on its surface. Some readers, however, feel that there is a conflict between love and friendship expressed on a deeper level. These readers stress that Antonio, despite his brief visit to Belmont, cannot stay there long; he is shut out, without a bride of his own, and must return almost immediately to Venice.

[The Merchant of Venice Contents]


TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING

  • THE PLAY
    1. Choose one of the following interpretations and discuss:
      1. The Merchant of Venice is a problem play about the question of usury.
      2. The Merchant of Venice is a light romantic comedy which was never intended as a comment on important social issues.
      3. The Merchant of Venice contrasts the Old Testament view of God as law-giver with the New Testament view of God as offering salvation through divine mercy.
      4. Considering the times during which it was written, The Merchant of Venice expresses humane and tolerant values.
      5. The Merchant of Venice is an outdated play because it is a comedy based on assumptions which we today find unacceptable.
    2. Discuss the concept of harmony as presented in the play. Does this concept have any application to real life? Or does it make sense only in the unrealistically benign world of this play?
    3. What is the attitude towards money and its uses in the play? How does it compare with modern-day attitudes?
    4. How does Shakespeare weave together the stories of the "pound of flesh" and the "three caskets"?
  • THE CHARACTERS
    1. Defend or attack the view that Bassanio is nothing but a fortune hunter.
    2. Can you see any similarities between the characters of Antonio and Shylock? If so, what are they?
    3. Contrast the characters of Gratiano and Shylock. In what ways are they opposites?
    4. What function do Salerio and Solanio serve in the play?
    5. Did Portia give Bassanio a clue to the choice of the correct casket? How would such behavior affect your view of her character?
    6. Discuss how Shakespeare establishes Shylock's position as an outsider.
  • MISCELLANEOUS
    1. Choose one of the following types of imagery and discuss its use in the play:
      1. ships and the sea
      2. gold
      3. music
      4. money lent at interest
    2. As an exercise, rewrite one or more scenes of the play in the form of a story or prose sketch. Take the point of view of Shylock, of Portia, or of Bassanio.
    3. The critic E. M. W. Tillyard wrote: "Shakespeare's Shylock has been the victim of the great actor." Discuss. If possible, consult a stage history such as Toby Lelyveld's Shylock on the Stage.
    4. If you could direct a production of The Merchant of Venice, how would you go about interpreting the trial scene?... Or, the final moments of Act V?

REFERENCE
THE STORY, continued


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