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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Study Guide
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The play, as the title suggests, is set in Italy. Venice, in the popular imagination of Elizabethan society, was a place of fabulous wealth, royal merchants, richly attired gentlemen, and refined culture. Antonio is very much a part of this society. But this is not the only part of the Venetian picture that is portrayed in the play; another less romantic view is also given. It is the cruel commercial and legal side of Venice, where ships are sunk at sea, fortunes are won and lost, moneylenders haggle for increased interest on the loans needed by businessmen, and the law is interpreted literally without mercy.

In contrast to this business-like picture of Venice, Belmont is the ideal romantic world, filled with music, happiness, harmony, and love. It is here that Portia lives, and where Bassanio and Gratanio come to find happiness.

LIST OF CHARACTERS / CAST

Major Characters

Antonio

A merchant of Venice. He is a model Christian gentleman. He is esteemed and loved by his many friends, though his outward appearance is sad. His dignity and generosity have earned him many admirers. A philosophical man, he is tired of frivolous activities and tends to be reflective. His early cruelty towards Shylock is partly evened out by the mercy he later shows the man. He has every desired virtue of nobility.


Shylock

A Jewish moneylender in Venice. He is shown as being oppressed by his private torments. The times have him constantly humiliated and scorned. He hates all Christians, and the feeling is mutual. His vengeful temperament leads him to seek the life of Antonio. He is ultimately trapped by the law, which is used against him. In the end, he is a betrayed father and a despised citizen.

Bassanio

A beloved friend of Antonio. He is a member of the nobility, who is about to give up his bachelorhood. His high- spirited and debt-ridden youth is giving way to a more serious and chaste life as a responsible man. He is not shown as being remarkably intelligent or imaginative. However, his basic goodness and his good nature win him the love of Portia and of Antonio.

Portia

A noble woman of Belmont. She is an intelligent and witty young woman with all the traits of a Christian noblewoman of her times. Her generosity and chastity are a shining part of her character. She combines thoughtfulness and a reflective nature with a playful love of life and nature.

Lorenzo

A friend of Antonio and Bassanio. He starts off as being an ordinary young nobleman. His quiet and gentle nature is not given to wit or brilliant conversation. He is overshadowed by the spirited and garrulous natures of his friends, Bassanio and Gratiano. His love for and elopement with Jessica, a Jew, brings him into the foreground of the play. He has a reflective and sensitive nature, which is given to the study of poetry and music.

Jessica

The daughter of Shylock. Though a Jew by birth, she is more at home with Venetian Christians. Her inclination is towards music and poetry as opposed to her father's hate for revelry of any sort. She elopes with a Christian and betrays her father. Fascinated with the idea of an afterlife, she sees her marriage to a Christian as her one route to salvation.

Gratiano

A friend of Bassanio. A nobleman by birth, he is not quite on the level of Antonio in nobility. He acts as a background for Bassanio's personality. Although he has a certain sense of ribald humor, he is limited to punning on words and situations. His clownish spirit and lack of intelligence leads him to be a pale imitation of Bassanio.

Minor Characters

Nerissa

Portia's maid. She acts as a cameo for Portia. She is intelligent enough to use her wit in her conversations. She is a loyal servant who throws in her lot with that of her mistress.

Launcelot

Shylock's servant, who leaves his service to join that of Bassanio. He is a clown. While working for Shylock, he is a bumpkin. His talk is transformed into smoother, pun-filled eloquence after he takes up service with Bassanio.

Salarino and Salanio

Ttwo friends of Antonio and Bassanio. They are typical of Venetian society and represent the average men of the times. They do not differ from each other. They act as observers of the events that take place.

Duke of Venice

The ruler of the state of Venice. He is concerned about the trade and the well-being of the citizens and is a merciful man.

Prince of Morocco

A suitor for Portia's hand.

Prince of Arragon

A suitor for Portia's hand.

Tubal

A friend of Shylock. He is also Jewish and willing to help his friend. He also mocks Shylock for Jessica's elopement with a Christian.

Old Gobbo

Launcelot's father.

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