Today we know the play as simply The Merchant of Venice, which seems to refer to Antonio, who is just that: a merchant living in Venice (as opposed to, say, Shylock, who is a moneylender living in Venice).
Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. So wrong.
Keep in mind that play titles were a little more elaborate in Shakespeare's day than they are now. In 1598, when the play was first listed in the Stationers' Register (a big record book where all plays were entered for publication), the entry read: "a book of the Merchant of Venice, otherwise called the Jew of Venice."
For some, the Station's Register entry raises a question about who the play's "hero" is—Antonio (the merchant) or Shylock (the Jewish moneylender). This ambiguity about whose side we're supposed to be on spills over into the action of the play, where Shakespeare portrays anti-Semitism but also offers a sympathetic portrait of Shylock. Still, others think the alternate title (Jew of Venice) clearly makes Shylock out to be the bad guy because the title sounds a lot like The Jew of Malta (c. 1589), a popular and blatantly anti-Semitic play by Christopher Marlowe.
To complicate matters, the title page for the first Quarto edition of the play (printed in 1600) is completely different. Here's what it says:
The most excellent
Historie of the Merchant
With the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the Jewe
towards the sayd Merchant, in cutting a just pound
of his flesh; and the obtaining of Portia
by the choice of 3
As it hath been divers times acted by the Lord
Chamberlaine his servants.
Written by William Shakespeare.
The title page of the first Quarto pretty clearly suggests that Shylock is the villain. You can check out a facsimile of the original here.
Essay Topic 1
Portia and Nerissa both have similar relationships with their husbands, but there are some notable differences. Please compare and contrast these relationships and explain how they affected the other characters around them.
Essay Topic 2
What were the inscriptions and contents of the three caskets and what significance do they play on the course of the plot?
Essay Topic 3
How is the theme of diversity shown in this play, and which characters are most affected by this?
Essay Topic 4
How were the roles of women different in the time of this play than they are now, and how does the theme of gender roles present itself in the text?
Essay Topic 5
Valor was a theme of this play that is very important to many of the characters involved. Where does this theme of valor present itself and how do these occurrences affect the characters involved in those...
(read more Essay Topics)
|This section contains 631 words|
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
View a FREE sample