The Merchant of Venice

Codena

Task: list a few things of value in your life. Find a characteristic in one of these things that could (imaginatively) be used as a point of prejudice. Imagine yourself in a society that truely acted upon these prejudices. What if these prejudices were written into law? As a “free-thinker” how might you subvert these prejudices?

You might at this point like to read about the importance of justice in the play, here.

Now that you have seen the film, re-read your response from the task above. Read the section in the front of you script that helps describe the context of the play. Particularly focus on the sections that describe jews and anti-semitism at the time.

Task: Does the play reinforce anti-Semitic behaviour or was Shakespeare presenting ideas that were subversive to the time?

Meet the Cast

We will focus primarily on Antonio, Shylock, Portia and Bassanio as we develop our understanding of the play.

Task: upon seeing the film, brainstorm what you know about these characters. Share your ideas on this document. As you read through the play, add significant quotes or ideas as you discover them. 

Now look for specific details on these characters. Identify features of either Shylock or Antonio’s character as they discuss the details of the bond.  In pairs I will give you a couple of minutes preparation time. Then you must talk about the character for two minutes.

Shylock: 1.3.28-57; 1.3.103 – …

Antonio: 1.3.94 – through Shylocks speech; 1.3.127…

Two sides to old Shylock

Your initial thinking on this play considered whether Shakespeare was being subversive, anti-Semitic or perhaps simply representing the issues and leaving the audience to make up its own mind (much like Ibsen did).

A closer look at Shylock will help you find a position on this. Complete the following tasks as part of your investigation:

  1. Read scene 1.3 and focus specifically on Shylock’s aside 1.3.38. Take notes on what this says about him.
  2. Now look carefully at 3.1. What reasons does Shylock have to be angry at Solanio and Salerio?
  3. Look carefully at his monologue to Tubal 3.1.79. What might this suggest about the man?
  4. Now look carefully at his famous “To bait fish withal speech” 3.1. 40-69. Read and annotate carefully. Is his anger justified? Are his actions? What is the link between his two speeches in this scene?
  5. Decide: Is Shylock depicted as being heartless or is he simply, and understandably, in a rage due to years of oppression? Link this to the title discussion: subservient/anti-semitic.

Did you find in your annotating:

  • Repetition (several examples)
  • Word choice (selecting nouns instead of adjectives)
  • Alliteration
  • use of the possessive pronoun
  • use of varied sentence length
  • Rhetorical questions

Review:

Reread the Cummings study guide on the use of verse and prose and take notes on the significant differences.

Task: compare Shylock’s two monologues. Which is verse? Which is prose? What is the effect?

Extension

Compare Shylock’s two monologues to Portia’s caskets (specifically the inscription on the gold and lead caskets). Is there a link to be made here?

Image: ‘Condena

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