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The Merchant of Venice (Folger Shakespeare Library) Paperback – June 15, 2010
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About the Author
Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.
Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.
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Top Customer Reviews
But modern readers have a hard time sympathizing with Antonio the Merchant and his superficial and hateful friends, Bassanio, Gratiano, et al. They are racist, quick to judge, wasteful, and unconcerned about others. They are delighted to treat Shylock like a dog and to invent phony excuses for their own nasty behavior. Shylock is no innocent victim. Indeed, he brings about his own ruin. But in a play whose key passage is Portia's courtroom discourse on the quality of mercy, mercy and justice are hard to find in any character. Shakespeare's language is as powerful as ever in this play, but the unlikeable Shylock and the venom doled out to him by his sordid persecutors makes this play a stomach-churning challenge.
Antonio gladly spits upon Shylock and calls him a dog, but stunningly, when Antonio finds himself in a financial pinch he goes to Shylock for money. More brash is Antonio's promise to act the same in the future: "I am as like to call thee so again, / To spet on thee again, to spurn thee, too." (1.3.127-28) From this point on, sympathy for Antonio is paralyzed in a modern reader's mind, from reminders of past images, from slavery and anti-Semitism, where the dehumanizing of a group of people is accepted by a society. The entire text afterward reads like an indictment of humanity, as if Shakespeare is making the Elizabethans laugh at their own behavior.
In perhaps the best argument in Shylock's defense in the trial, he point out the fact that those who speak of mercy own slaves. "What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong? / You have among you many a purchased slave." (4.1.89-90) Shylock, as fanatical as he is over the pound of flesh, is asking for only a pound of a man, when the slaveholders own the entire person. The play is littered with prejudiced remarks that clearly show how animalistic Shylock was to them.Read more ›
As one of Shakespeare's comedies, there is sure to be the sub-plots that include romantic intrigue and women in disguise. The play begins with the title merchant Antonio and his friend Bassiano making a deal with Shylock, a rich Jew. The deal is that Shylock will sponsor their merchant ships; if their ships should fail, Shylock can enact his revenge on Antonio by procuring one pound of his flesh. Meanwhile, Bassiano has fallen in love with Portia, a rich heiress, and tries to win her hand, while ultimately making sure that his friend Antonio doesn't lose his to Shylock.
Granted there is mistreatment of Shylock that is rooted in his Jewishness; but the jibes that are directed toward him deal more so with his attitude toward money than to his heritage. For Shylock is more concerned with his money than he is with his daughter; and when she runs away to marry a Christian, his sole concern is the jewels and money she stole from him. Shylock is a hateful man, not because he is a Jew, but because of his actions (and many seem to miss that). When Bassiano and Antonio's venture fails, Antonio is doomed to die at the hand of Shylock. But in typical Shakespearean comedy fashion, a woman in disguise wins the day and defeats Shylock's supposedly ingenous scheme.Read more ›
edit 9/12/2014: There is an actual properly annotated version now, the RSC Shakespeare in Modern Library Classics editions, such as The Merchant of Venice (Modern Library Classics). The complete Shakespeare is not yet available but is scheduled for Feb 2015.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I give this Shakespeare piece five stars due to its reputation of dramatic irony throughout .Published 3 months ago by lewis williams
It is what it is - Shakespeare. I'm not a huge fan of Shakespeare, though I love some of the classic quotes from his works. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Alex Doyle
MV should be read as Either the most anti-Semitic comedy in the English language OR the most potentially pro-Semitic. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Peter J. Alscher
Just what I had hoped for! An accessible version (original text along side contemporary) for my students to use!Published 6 months ago by Active Citizen