PLE – 11xEN1 – Home learning due Tuesday 1 April

Following our lesson today on themes in the play, please complete and develop the following, explaining what you think the most important theme is in the play:  ‘Above all, The Merchant of Venice is a play about (a theme)…’

You may consider one of the following themes or pick one I may have left out but which you think is the most important.

  • friendship
  • mercy
  • justice
  • revenge
  • prejudice
  • love

An independent enquirer working at:

  • Grade C will make a plausible choice and give developed reasons for their choice.
  • Grade B will explain the theme’s importance to the play, making references to some of the following: plot development; characterisation; an expression of the writer’s ideas; impact on the audience.
  • Grade A will make connections between character, plot and writer’s perspective when discussing themes in the play.






8 thoughts on “PLE – 11xEN1 – Home learning due Tuesday 1 April

  1. Rhiannon

    From the court scene, act 4, scene 2, prejudice is shown to be the most important theme because it hinders Shylock from getting what he desires, which is justice:
    “The pound of flesh which I demand of him
    Is dearly bought. ‘Tis mine, and I will have it.'”
    From this phrase we can see that Shylock is using the Venetian laws to have his way, having the knowledge that he drew up a contract with Antonio, and they are both fully aware that there is a forfeit in play. However prejudice is shown when Shylock is referred to as the ‘Jew,’ which suggests that this name is not important because of his religion.

    Shakespeare shows that Shylock as a result of this is actually the victim of prejudice as he is seen to be a villain for wanting to take the pound of flesh, as Portia explains that if he wants revenge, it could result in his own damnation:
    “Therefore, Jew,
    Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
    That in the course of justice none of us
    Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
    And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
    The deeds of mercy.”
    This shows that Shylock is being discriminated against because of what he desires: the clauses in the contract in the eyes of the law are ludicrous, particularly from a Jew who is seen to be inferior, as the text suggests. Portia acts as a voice of reason, but underlying that is her dislike towards Jews, because she does not want to see Shylock receiving the justice he set out for due to his background.

    Finally, Shylock is the victim of prejudice because he is entitled to more justice than he actually receives, but is excluded from the exclusive group that receives justice and forgiveness from the law. This is also due to Shylock’s religion because he is not Christian, and therefore has a lack of rights, especially where the law is concerned because he is seen as not worthy of being listened to, and ends up the victim of his own plea for justice. He has very little option and can only use the law and hope it is on his side because as a Jew he is not a very likeable character, and in the end he loses everything as a result of being Jewish.

    1. Mr Legowski Post author

      Thanks Rhiannon. I like your comment in the third paragraph about Shylock’s rights via-a-vis the Christians’ in Venice. And I agree that Portia’s (and others’) use of Jew as a form of address is disrespectful, worse in fact.
      You have made some statements, though, which need linking to direct parts of the quotations you have given. For example, can you show the connection between this passage (‘The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is dearly bought. ‘Tis mine, and I will have it.’) and prejudice? Please explain the proof of prejudice in the passage. Also, how does the passage quoted in the middle paragraph show ‘that Shylock is being discriminated against because of what he desires’?

      This is a strong C. Considering the importance of prejudice the play as a whole would life it to a B grade.

  2. Lucy Stone

    Above all, The Merchant of Venice is a play sourced mainly around the principal of prejudice. Many times in the play, prejudice towards one another is heavily displayed by the more prominent characters, as well as the less prominent. This shows that Shakespeare was aiming to relate the happenings in the play to that of Venetian society, as well as relaying the themes of everyday life at the time.
    Evidence of prejudice is Act 3 Scene 1, as Shylock speaks of his bitterness at being treated as an outcast (‘Hath not a Jew eyes…’) and regrets the loss of the turquoise ring his wife gave him, and is excited to hear that Antonio has lost another ship. This is a part of the play in which many elements of the play come forth, such as the story of Shylock and his history with prejudice, and again, the prejudice towards those of the Jewish religion (Shylock) at the time. In other evidence, Act 4 Scene 1 also shows an amount of prejudice towards the Jewish religion. In the trial scene, Shylock demands his pound of flesh as he prepares for his fulfilment of justice (brought on by his mistreatment by Antonio in earlier parts of the play, as well as the broken promise). However, when Portia finds a legal loophole he loses half his wealth and is required to convert to Christianity. This shows that perhaps justice (another important theme in the play) only comes to people of a certain group, thus relaying the theme of prejudice.

    1. Mr Legowski Post author

      A good answer to the question, Lucy. You’ve managed to show how prejudice permeates the play throughout. I have a question for you: is Shylock’s own attitude towards Christian ways (eating pork) and beliefs (reference to Jesus as the prophet Nazarite, instead of being the son of God) also prejudice?

      This is a B grade answer.

  3. Daisy :)

    Friendship is one of the most prominent themes in the play through Antonio and Bassanio, Nerissa and Portia and so on, for example in Act 1 scene 1, the first time the audience see Bassanio and Antonio together, Bassanio talks of how close they are, ‘To you, Antonio, i owe the most in money and in love, And from your love i have a warranty..’ which sets an expectation from the audience of what their friendship is going to be like for the rest of the play. Without the friendship between the two of them there wouldn’t be a storyline, as Bassanio needs Antonio, as he is considered ‘sufficient’, so he can borrow the money from Shylock.

    Bassanio and Antonio’s friendship is reinforced to the audience during the court scene, Act 4 scene 1 when Antonio believes he is going to die under the bond between himself and Shylock, Bassanio claims ‘The jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all, [instead of Antonio’s] Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood’, showing that despite Bassanio seeming to have alternative motives for being friends with Antonio (money), he really does care for him.

    Furthermore the friendship between Nerissa and Portia is shown in Act 1 scene 2, when Nerissa comforts Portia when she is feeling weary by offering positive advice and giving Portia an opportunity to rant about the poor suitors that have come in quest of her. Their friendship is reinforced in the court scene when Nerissa dresses up with Portia for support, despite not having much to contribute to the trial.

    1. Mr Legowski Post author

      Thanks for this, Daisy – it’s a well-written, well-sourced answer – a good, strong B in fact. Accurate points which are supported by apt quotations, ably explained.
      How could you up the grade to an A? See the graded criteria above.

  4. harriet

    I think that above all friendship is an important theme expressed in the merchant of Venice. It is shown through a variety of characters such as Antonio and Bassanio and Portia and Nerissa.
    Friendship helped in the cout scene in act 4 as the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio is put to the teat by shylocks demand for Antonio’s life.
    It is also portrayed in this scene through the characters of Portia and nerissa as they want to save their friend (Antonio) by dressing up as men to save the day.
    This is important to the plot and context of the play as at this time women could not be lawyers so it shows Portia and nerissas commitment when trying to save their friend.

  5. Mr Legowski Post author

    Thank you, Harriet. You’ve made some accurate observations of the relationships between characters in the play. Consider, though – are Portia and Nerissa really ‘friends’? What does friendship mean/imply and does this relate to these characters?
    Two targets: 1) please ensure correct use of punctuation, even when writing on the blog; 2) use quotations from the text to support your points.


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