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.
(“sight”) 11 act 1 • scene 1 My purse, my person,141 my extremest142 means Lie all unlocked143 to your occasions. Bassanio In my schooldays, when I had lost one shaft144 140 I shot his fellow of 145 the selfsame flight The selfsame way, with more advisèd watch,146 To find the other forth,147 and by adventuring148 both, I oft found both. I urge this childhood proof 149 Because what follows is pure innocence. 145 I owe you much, and like a willful youth That which I owe150 is lost, but
head.93 Well. ( pretending to read his own palm) If any man in Italy have a fairer table94 which doth offer95 to swear upon a book!96 I shall have good fortune. Go to, here’s a simple97 line of life,98 here’s a small trifle99 of wives. Alas, fifteen wives is nothing, eleven widows and nine maids is a 145 simple coming in100 for one man. And then to ’scape drowning thrice, and to be in peril of my life with101 the edge of a featherbed.102 Here are simple ’scapes.Well, if 87 i.e., so poor a
with a horn; Gobbo blends this with “horn” in the sense of a receptacle made of horn, overflowing like a cornucopia or “horn of plenty” 23 await, anticipate 24 at hand ϭ near, close by 25 group of musicians 26 bench 27 playing 28 floor of heaven ϭ the night sky 29 thin circular metallic plates, like tiles 30 i.e., producing, according to this Ptolemaic cosmology, the “music of the spheres” 138 act 5 • scene 1 Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.31 Such harmony is in immortal
hand, I hear his trumpet. We are no telltales, madam, fear you not. Portia This night methinks is but the daylight sick, It looks a little paler, ’tis a day, 125 Such as the day is when the sun is hid. enter Bassanio, Antonio, Gratiano, and Attendants Bassanio We should hold day61 with the Antipodes,62 If you would walk in absence of the sun. Portia Let me give light, but let me not be light, For a light wife doth make a heavy husband, 130 And63 never be Bassanio so for me. But God
not have thought to transcend, reminds us that Jew-baiting was in effect little different from bear-baiting for that audience. I do not hope for a better 153 an essay by harold bloom critic of Shakespeare than Goddard. Like Freud, Goddard always looked for what Shakespeare shared with Dostoevsky, which seems to me rather more useful than searching for what Shakespeare shared with Kyd or even with Marlowe or Webster. Despite his authentic insistence that Shakespeare always was poet as well as