Topic and Theme

Although not limited to, some of the broad topics explored in the play are justice, mercy (often at the same time), race, love and wealth.

Connect these topics to the two chief moments of the play we are examining.

TASK: Topic streams

Pulling it Together

Due to its anti-semitic ideas, the first three are most commonly discussed. Most interesting about this is figuring out the position the play takes on these ideas. Consider:

  • Is the play encouraging anti-semitic behaviour or is it designed to highlight the anti-semitic sentiments of society in order to encourage change?
  • Does the play pedestal the Christian sense of mercy or simply highlight it’s hypocrisy?
  •  Does the play demonstrate the importance of justice and the law or simply serve to demonstrate that the law protects the dominant power of a society?
  •  Does the play present love as being of primary importance or simply an inconvenience that must dealt with? (or something else here? I think there is more opportunity to explore than this polar position.)
  •  Does show us how absurd it is that societies value material possessions or simply demonstrate the lives are unavoidable lost to the intricacies of economic societies?


  1. Decide on a position for at least one of these topics.
  2. Find a passage in the text that demonstrates your position and annotate it.
  3. Decide: verse or prose? What does this add to your understanding of the text?
  4. Develop this into a theme. Remember a theme is more than “the theme of masculinity” but should show action. eg. Masculinity is fundamentally the cause of breakdown in relationships.
  5. Share your ideas on this blog so that others might read and comment upon. Include the extract plus your development of an understanding of theme.
  6. I will use criterion A and B of the Oral Criteria to give you feed back on your understanding. I would also like to see your annotations that demonstrate your development of this skill.
Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, demonstrates how mercy encourages hypocrisy and presents this as a theme throughout the play. This is most obviously evident in Portia’s speech in act four. Here she employs language to show how noble mercy is by comparing it to… <include example from my analysis>. Portia’s hypocrisy is clearly demonstrated when, given the opportunity to apply mercy to Shylock, she does not attempt to persuade the other members of the court to be merciful.
Equally none of the other members of the court appear to have heard Portia as neither Bassanio or Antonio makes an attempt to spare Shylock of  any shame. The only character who appears to show any mercy is the duke who stops short of insisting Shylock should be hung.
Image: ‘Knesseth Star

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