The Merchant of Venice (Folger Shakespeare Library)
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In The Merchant of Venice, the path to marriage is hazardous. To win Portia, Bassanio must pass a test prescribed by her father’s will, choosing correctly among three caskets or chests. If he fails, he may never marry at all.
Bassanio and Portia also face a magnificent villain, the moneylender Shylock. In creating Shylock, Shakespeare seems to have shared in a widespread prejudice against Jews. Shylock would have been regarded as a villain because he was a Jew. Yet he gives such powerful expression to his alienation due to the hatred around him that, in many productions, he emerges as the hero.
Portia is most remembered for her disguise as a lawyer, Balthazar, especially the speech in which she urges Shylock to show mercy that “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”
The authoritative edition of The Merchant of Venice from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An up-to-date annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Alexander Leggatt
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
foppery25 enter 35 My sober house. By Jacob’s staff 26 I swear, I have no mind27 of feasting forth28 tonight. But I will go. Go you before me sirrah, Say I will come. Gobbo I will go before sir. 40 ( aside to Jessica) Mistress, look out at window for all this. There will come a Christian by,29 Will be worth a Jewès30 eye. Shylock What says that fool of Hagar’s31 offspring, ha? Jessica His words were “farewell mistress,” nothing else. 45 Shylock The patch32 is kind enough, but a
counterfeit.84 What demigod Hath come so near creation?85 Move these eyes?86 Or whether riding on the balls of mine87 Seem they in motion? Here are severed88 lips 120 Parted with sugar breath: so sweet a bar89 Should sunder90 such sweet friends. Here in her hairs91 The painter plays the spider, and hath woven A golden mesh t’ entrap the hearts of men 77 may joy 78 drift/float up 79 like 80 ambiguous 81 i.e., the love she feels 82 abate, repress, calm 83 quantity 84 imitation,
Must yield to such inevitable shame As to offend, himself being offended, So can I give no reason, nor I will not, 60 More than a lodged30 hate, and a certain loathing I bear Antonio, that I follow31 thus A losing suit against him.Are you answered? Bassanio This is no answer, thou unfeeling man, To excuse the current32 of thy cruelty! 65 Shylock I am not bound to please thee with my answer! Bassanio Do all men kill the things they do not love? Shylock Hates any man the thing he would
I will ne’er come in your bed Until I see the ring. 190 Nerissa ( to Gratiano) Nor I in yours, till I again see mine. Bassanio Sweet Portia, If you did know to whom I gave the ring, If you did know for whom I gave the ring, And would conceive82 for what I gave the ring, 195 And how unwillingly I left the ring, When naught would be accepted but the ring, You would abate the strength of your displeasure! Portia If you had known the virtue of the ring, Or half her worthiness that gave
rather less judicious than Portia’s, whose attitude approximates that of the T. S. Eliot of After Strange Gods,The Idea of a Christian Society, and the earlier poems. If you accept the attitude towards the Jews of the Gospel of John, then you will behave towards Shylock as Portia does, or as Eliot doubtless would have behaved towards British Jewry,had the Nazis defeated and occupied Eliot’s adopted country. To Portia, and to Eliot, the Jews were what they are called in the Gospel of John: