Facts The Merchant of Venice was written around 1596/97. It is a comedy in 5 acts, written in verse and prose. The first performance took place in London before 1600. It was first printed in 1600. Shakespeare used sources like e. g. The jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, or Il Pecorone by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino. There appears the pound-of-flesh story for the first time. Plot Antonio, a well-off, venetian merchant is expecting the return of his ships from abroad, he is hoping for major profits. His special friend, named Bassanio wants to propose to a woman. This woman is a wealthy heiress named Portia, whose hand is to go to whichever of her suitors makes the right choice among three caskets (like a box) of gold, silver, and lead (Blei). Bassanio is now asking Antonio for a loan to impress Portia.
Antonio, expecting wealth in the near future, enables Bassanio to fulfill his phantasy by borrowing 3000 ducats of Shylock, a jewish usurer. Antonio and Shylock are opponents, first of all because Antonio treats Shylock as an inferior person. Secondly they are competitors in business. As a way for taking revenge on the one hand and as a guarantee to get back his money on the other hand, Shylock demands a pawn (gegenstSndl. Pfand) from Antonio. Just for fun as Shylock calls it, he wants to save the right to cut out one pound of Antonios flesh in the case of Antonio not being able to pay him back the money on time. Antonio agrees. After other suitors have failed, Bassanio wins Portia by choosing the plain, leaden casket. At the same time Jessica, Shylocks daughter, flees with her lover and all her fathers jewels and gold. There is another couple: Nerissa, Portias waiting-woman, and Graziano, another one of Antonios friends. Those three couples are enjoying themselves on portias country estate. Meanwhile at Venice Antonio is in peril of his life, for it is said that all of his ships have grounded. After hearing this, Bassanio hurries home to Venice to help his friend, by giving him some of Portias fortune, to pay Shylock back his money. Shylock refuses any amount of money, but insists on getting one pound of Antonios flesh. The case comes before the Duke of Venice.
Not even he knows how to judge this argument, and therefor seeks for an experts opinion. This expert is not the famous lawyer Bellario, as everyone thinks, but Portia, who has disguised herself. She turns Shylock s inhuman bond against himself, by noticing that there is not one word said in the contract of Antonio losing blood. Lawyer Bellario, or Portia admits that Shylock is entitled to get one pound of Antonio s flesh. Shylock is already sharpening his massive knive, when she says, that if he would only spill one tiny drop of Antonio s blood, all his fortune would be confiscated. In answer to this Shylock declares himself satisfied with the amount of money which had been proposed before. The Duke says No, because Shylock refused the money before, he won t get any now. Shylock ...
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