Merchant of Venice - the importance of hatred

Explore the importance of hatred to The Merchant of Venice. Refer to this extract from Act 3 Scene 3 and elsewhere in the play in your answer.

You can download a copy of the extract as a Word doc. here


Enter Shylock, the Jew, and Solanio, and Antonio,
and the Jailer.

Jailer, look to him. Tell not me of mercy.
This is the fool that lent out money gratis.
Jailer, look to him.
ANTONIO           Hear me yet, good Shylock—
I’ll have my bond. Speak not against my bond.                                    
I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond.                                    5
Thou call’dst me dog before thou hadst a cause,
But since I am a dog, beware my fangs.
The Duke shall grant me justice.—I do wonder,
Thou naughty jailer, that thou art so fond
To come abroad with him at his request.                                              10
ANTONIO I pray thee, hear me speak—
I’ll have my bond. I will not hear thee speak.
I’ll have my bond, and therefore speak no more.
I’ll not be made a soft and dull-eyed fool,
To shake the head, relent, and sigh, and yield                                       15
To Christian intercessors. Follow not!
I’ll have no speaking. I will have my bond.[He exits.]
It is the most impenetrable cur
That ever kept with men.
ANTONIO                     Let him alone.
I’ll follow him no more with bootless prayers.                                      20
He seeks my life. His reason well I know:
I oft delivered from his forfeitures
Many that have at times made moan to me.
Therefore he hates me.
SOLANIO                   I am sure the Duke
Will never grant this forfeiture to hold.                                                25
The Duke cannot deny the course of law,
For the commodity that strangers have
With us in Venice, if it be denied,
Will much impeach the justice of the state,
Since that the trade and profit of the city                                              30
Consisteth of all nations. Therefore go.
These griefs and losses have so bated me
That I shall hardly spare a pound of flesh
Tomorrow to my bloody creditor.—
Well, jailer, on.—Pray God Bassanio come                                         35
To see me pay his debt, and then I care not.
[They exit.]

Merchant of Venice - Act 4 Scene 1 - Extract & Exemplar response

Read again the following extract from Act 4 Scene 1.


SHYLOCK: I pray you give me leave to go from hence;

I am not well. Send the deed after me 

And I will sign it.

DUKE:                                               Get thee gone, but do it.

GRATIANO: In Christening shalt thou have two godfathers:

             Had I been judge, thou shouldst have had ten more

             To bring thee to the gallows, not to the font.

                                                                                                [Exit Shylock]

Many critics have claimed that The Merchant of Venice is effectively concluded with these lines: “…With the departure of Shylock from the stage, the play is over…”

To what extent do you agree?  

                                                                                                [25 marks]


Shylock a huge influence on the play so a tempting judgement

 Shylock merely a villain in 1594 – play a Comedy

 Much remains to be resolved in Act 5…


Shylock has such a huge influence in our response to The Merchant of Venicethat it is tempting to agree with the critical viewpoint expressed in the question. The central interest that this play, written more than four hundred years ago, has for us is the character of Shylock: he is dramatically interesting because he is a terrific portrait of a monster (evil is, sadly, intrinsically interesting in a way that virtue is not); he is complex psychologically in a way that distinguishes him from many of the other characters in the play; and his role in the play means that he is essential if the play’s central conflicts (and thus the play’s dramatic momentum) are to be maintained.   

It is undeniable, though, that at the end of Act IV, as Shylock leaves the stage, there is a great deal of “unfinished business” still to be resolved in The Merchant of Venice. The idea that the play has been “effectively concluded” implies that the final Act is superfluous. This is far from the case. The business of the rings is not simply trivial: when Bassanio gives away his wedding ring, Portia seizes the moment as an opportunity to “lay down the law” with her new husband. Never again will this young woman “be curbed by the will” (I.ii.23-24) of a man. Perhaps most importantly, the final Act begins with a dialogue between Jessica and Lorenzo that reveals that all is not well in this relationship that seemed to offer hope that the gap that separates Jew and Christian would not be an insurmountable one:

  Lorenzo.                                   In such a night

                        Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew

                        And with an unthrift love did run from Venice

As far as Belmont.

Jessica.                              In such a night 

             Did young Lorenzo swear he lov’d her well,

             Stealing her soul with many vows of faith,

             And ne’er a true one.


 While this scene is often played in a bantering fashion, it is clear that this is an important exchange in terms of the development of the relationship between these characters. It is the last time that we see the two together onstage and is tempting to see Jessica’s comment that Lorenzo has “St[olen] her soul” (V.i.19) as a final judgement on their marriage. Almost as significant is the cruel way that Lorenzo describes his wife’s flight from her father: the fact that he describes her as “steal[ing] from the wealthy Jew” reminds her of the fact that she literally stole her father’s gold and jewels to provide herself with a dowry and the description of her father as “the wealthy Jew” is deeply unsympathetic.  

It is also important to note that when this play was first performed in 1594 the play would have been considered to be a Romantic Comedy. Shylock, therefore, would have been regarded straightforwardly as the play’s villain. He would have been seen, primarily, as an obstacle in the way of the marriage of the two young lovers, Bassanio and Portia. The fact that the character of Shylock has come to take such prominence within the play is a consequence of the way in which the play has changed its meaning since the seismic change in the way in which anti-Semitism has been viewed since the Holocaust. The modern audience, aware of the terrible dangers of prejudice, is undoubtedly much more aware of the anti-Semitic nature of the work. Shylock is described as “the Jew” throughout and there can be little doubt that the way in which he is depicted conforms with the stereotypical view of Jews in European history: he is cruel and heartless throughout; is obsessed with revenge and money (“I did dream of money bags tonight”, II.v.18); and despises all Christians on principle (“I hate him for he is a Christian”, I.iii.37). Despite the occasional glimpses of a more interesting, complex character (particularly in the famous speech in III.i that has been transformed by modern critics into an eloquent plea for equality), Shylock is, essentially, an archetypal character: “the Cruel Jew”. Crucially, when we see him lose his daughter, Shakespeare does not grasp the opportunity to “humanize” him: “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear” (III.i79-80).

It is undoubtedly true that Shylock’s presence hangs over the play’s final Act, souring the comic mood. (Recent directors of the play have seized on this: in Trevor Nunn’s production Jessica brings the play to a close by singing the Torah, the Jewish lament for the dead; and in Michael Radford’s film a melancholy Jessica is seen standing alone, looking regretfully at Leah’s ring.) But to see the play as effectively concluding “with Shylock’s departure from the stage” is to distort the play. The play remains a Comedy (though it is a complex one). To view it as finishing with Shylock’s exit is to simplify it by transforming it into Shylock’s tragedy.            

 818 words

Merchant of Venice - Act 3 Scene 2 extract & Exemplar answer

Look again at the following extract from The Merchant of Venice. It is taken from Act 3, Scene 2, shortly after Bassanio has chosen the correct casket to win the hand of Portia.



  …But the full sum of me

 Is sum of something: which to term in gross

 Is an unlessoned girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d;

Happy in this, she is not yet so old 

But she may learn; happier than this, 

She is not bred so dull but she can learn;

Happiest of all, is that her gentle spirit

Commits itself to yours to be directed 

As from her lord, her governor, her king.

Myself and what is mine, to you and yours

Is now converted. But now I was the lord

Of this fair mansion, master of my servants,

Queen o’er myself; and even now, but now,

This house, these servants, and this same myself 

Are yours, my lord’s. I give them with this ring, 

Which when you part from, lose, or give away,

Let it presage the ruin of your love,

And be my vantage to exclaim on you.


Discuss the significance of Portia’s speech here to the play as a whole.           [25 marks]   


Exemplar Response

…But the full sum of me

                        Is sum of something: which to term in gross

                        Is an unlessoned girl…



It is difficult to establish “the full sum” of a character like Portia. Despite her emphatic words to her future husband in this speech (“Myself and what is mine, to you and yours/Is now converted…”), she is an enigmatic character who is difficult to pin down. The language in the opening quotation reveals a key aspect of her character: Portia has always been enormously wealthy; has, no doubt, been the focus of male attention for this reason; and is, therefore, very aware of the importance of money. Her language in this speech is pervaded with language associated with finance (“sum” appears twice; “gross” does not only mean “crude”, it refers to a specific number, 144). 

Perhaps the most important aspect of the speech, though, is the proleptic irony employed here by Shakespeare: we find out later in the play that Portia, far from subjecting herself to her husband’s will, is, in fact, determined to exert her independence in the relationship. She will use the ring referred to in III.ii.171 to launch “a pre-emptive strike” against Bassanio that will leave him in no doubt with regard to who has the “vantage” (III.ii.174) in their marriage. It appears clear that Portia, having been subject to her father’s will through the absurd business of the caskets (“so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father”, I.ii.23-24), is determined never to be dominated by a man again. The idea that Portia is a mere “unlessoned girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d” (III.ii.159) is simply absurd, and Bassanio is even more of fool than his empty headed oaf of a friend Gratiano if he believes a word of this speech.

This determination that Portia has to be her own “lord…governor…[and] king” (III.ii.165) sets her apart from many of the women in early modern England who were, quite literally, subject to the rule of their husbands and fathers. Portia’s speech is only comprehensible against this social background. Why, after all, would a young female lie at this moment when she has finally been released from the yoke introduced by her father by a man who she clearly admires enormously? The explanation lies in women’s subordinate position in 16thcentury England. In this period the relationship between husband and wife was such that the former basically owned the latter. Unless a woman was prepared to use her wits, she was unlikely to have much say in her own life.

Within Portia’s speech to her husband there is one particular adjective that has enormous significance within the play. When Portia describes her own “gentle spirit” (III.ii.163) the alert member of the audience should be reminded of the many other occasions in the play when the adjective “gentle” was used as a means of goading Shylock. In IV.i, for example, the court scene, the Duke of Venice uses the word to pun upon “gentile”:

            We all expect a gentle answer, Jew.


Shylock, used to a lifetime of abuse at the hands of the Venetians, was sure to understand the significance of the pun: a “gentile answer” is the same as a “gentle answer”: Shylock is to behave like a gentile and release Antonio from his bond. Portia use of the word “gentle” may not self-consciously involve this double meaning at this point in the play, but the audience hears the word and is reminded of the many occasions that the word was used to torture Shylock. It is appropriate that even in the midst of the highly romantic scene in Belmont, there is an echo of Shylock’s treatment at the hands of the Christians. This anti-Semitism theme in the play is so central to the audience’s experience of it in the theatre that Shylock tends to dominate the play even when he is not present on stage.   

653 words

Macbeth Quotation Map

If you click on the link below, you'll be able to download a word document which offers a quotation map for 'Macbeth'. Each quotation is supported by an accompanying note, explaining its significance to the themes of the play.

This is by no means definitive - you should supplement the quotations you find here with your own material, but these should get the ball rolling as part of your revision.

For the download click here

'Macbeth' - Malcolm whole text question

The Question

“We are not convinced that Malcolm will be a better King than Macbeth.”

How far do you agree with this view? Explore at least two moments from the play to support your ideas.                                                           [40] 



Malcolm, whilst liberating the throne of Scotland from a tyrant, may not display all the qualities that would be considered by an early modern audience as necessary in a monarch.

The first doubts fall over Malcolm in Act 2, Scene 3, following the murder of his father, King Duncan, by Macbeth. Both Malcolm and his brother Donalbain flee from the scene of the crime, suspecting that they will be blamed for their father’s murder. The line “let us not be dainty of leave-taking”, delivered by Malcolm to his brother, suggests that he has no real sense of who has murdered his father, or who will now take the throne, but instead considers only his own interests. It is unlikely that Malcolm could have resisted Macbeth after the murder – the latter would no doubt have been determined to poison the minds of the Scottish nobility against him – but as the God-given heir to the throne he should surely have stood and defended his right to the crown. In fact, Malcolm’s flight from Macbeth’s castle only strengthens Macbeth’s hand; Macbeth is, of course, keen to encourage the idea that the son, then Duke of Cumberland, and his father’s elected heir, was plotting against his father. In any case the kingdom of Scotland is abandoned by Malcolm to the whims of the bloody tyrant Macbeth.

On the other hand Malcolm, having fled to England, works hard to raise an army to take back the throne that is rightfully his. This noble action while in exile might be regarded as expunging the cowardice that he demonstrated in fleeing the kingdom in the first place. The Malcolm that we glimpse in England is often shown to be noble in nature: he “delight[s]/No less in truth than life” (IV.iii.129-130). Moreover, we are told by Malcolm’s doctor that

…there are a crew of wretched souls

That stay his cure…

…but at his touch,…

They presently amend.                       (IV.iii.141-145)

Malcolm, it seems, heals these ailing men with a healing “touch”: this miraculous power was believed to the gift of monarchs until the 18th century (and “The Royal Touch” was certainly practiced by King James I). This reference in the play to Malcolm’s health-giving powers was no doubt included by Shakespeare as a moment that would have likely appealed to the King (it is certainly a moment that has no real relationship to the play’s central plot). Malcolm’s kindness – indeed his supernatural compassion – is established in this scene and his contrast to the bloody tyrant Macbeth is very notable. Macbeth, conversely, is not trusted by his subjects, and does not trust them (in the Polanski film version of the play the murderers despatched to kill Banquo, Fleance and Macduff’s family are themselves shadowed and eventually killed by the evil Lennox). Macbeth’s tyrannical instincts are to spy on his chosen instruments of murder and Malcolm’s benevolence, a study in contrast, sheds light on the central character’s villainy.

Shakespeare also portrays Malcolm as a worthy King in Act 5, Scene 4 when he attacks Macbeth’s army under “drum and colours” (V.iv.SD). These “colours”, significantly, would presumably include both Scottish and English flags – a foreshadowing of the way in which the two Kingdoms would later be united under James I. It can be assumed that the uniting of the two countries against Macbeth is a noble achievement for Malcolm, and the image of the flags together would not only flatter the reigning monarch, but also demonstrate that Malcolm shared with James this kingly power to unite the two different peoples in a worthy cause.

Malcolm demonstrates great confidence, too, in his own ability to overthrow the seemingly invulnerable tyrant Macbeth. This self-confidence is reflected in Malcolm’s use of the royal “we” in Act 5, Scene 6 when he states “we/Shall take upon’s what else to do” ( We have to remind ourselves that Malcolm is not on the throne at this point. He certainly sounds like a King: the language that he employs here suggests that he is the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland and that God will deliver him to the throne as it is his by right.

In his final speech in the play Malcolm shows that he cares for Scotland and his subjects. He states that he has rid the country of its tyrant usurper and that he will restore the nation to health. This “new Scotland” is reflected in the fact that the “thanes and kinsman,/Henceforth be earls…” (V.ix.29-30) which emphasises the change from the old regime and it again links Malcolm to the reigning monarch in Shakespeare’s time, James I, who did the same when he became King of England and Ireland. This shift is the symbolic action that suggests Malcolm’s earlier cowardly action after his father’s death has been atoned for. The people of Scotland have been liberated from Macbeth’s reign of terror by a Christian King who seems determined to put his own personal stamp on the nation’s future.

825 words

You can download a copy of the exemplar here