Understanding The Merchant of Venice: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents


The Merchant of Venice, even in its own time, was considered Shakespeare's most controversial play. Now, one of the most popularly read and performed works, the play raises even more important issues for our day, particularly anti-Semitism and the treatment of Jews. Shakespeare scholar Jay Halio brings together his fascinating literary insights and his considerable knowledge of Shakespeare's world to this student casebook. His analysis of the play helps students interpret Shakespeare's plot and interwoven subplots, the sources that helped shape the play and the characters, and the thematic issues relating to justice, mercy, and the myriad bonds of human relationships. These themes serve as starting points for a broader understanding of the issues discussed and documented: Elizabethan marriage and women's matrimonial rights; Renaissance concepts of male friendship; legal, moral, and religious views of usury; and the treatment of Jews in Venice and beyond. The concerns raised by the play are put into context with historical materials including Sir Francis Bacon's essay "Of Friendship," excerpts from Henry Smith's 1591 A Preparative to Marriage, extracts from Phillip Stubbes' 1583 Anatomy of Abuses, and Travel Accounts by Fynes Moryson that describe Venice and how Jews lived there in the early 1600s. This casebook also considers contemporary applications, with essays and editorials on current hate groups in the United States, the treatment of women, and male bonding. This section, culminating with a poignant interview in which actor Hal Halbrook discusses his stage portrayal of Shylock, will leave readers with an appreciation for how profoundly relevant The Merchant of Venice remains forour time.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Westport, CT
Publication year:
  • 2000


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