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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed.

National Portrait Gallery, London.
baptised 26 April 1564 (birth date
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire,
23 April 1616 (aged 52)
Died Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire,
Occupation Playwright, poet, actor
English Renaissance theatre
Spouse(s) Anne Hathaway (m. 1582–1616)
Susanna Hall
Children Hamnet Shakespeare
Judith Quiney

William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616)[a] was an English poet and
playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-
eminent dramatist.[1] He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon".[2][b] His
surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays,[c] 154 sonnets, two
long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major
living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.[3]

Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne
Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between
1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a
playing company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men. He appears
to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later. Few records of
Shakespeare's private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such
matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed
to him were written by others.[4]

Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613.[5][d] His early plays were
mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the
end of the sixteenth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet,
King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last
phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other

Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime.
In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of
his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's.

Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise
to its present heights until the nineteenth century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed
Shakespeare's genius, and the Victorians worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George
Bernard Shaw called "bardolatry".[6] In the twentieth century, his work was repeatedly adopted
and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly
popular today and are constantly studied, performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and
political contexts throughout the world.

• 1 Life
o 1.1 Early life
o 1.2 London and theatrical career
o 1.3 Later years and death
• 2 Plays
o 2.1 Performances
o 2.2 Textual sources
• 3 Poems
o 3.1 Sonnets
• 4 Style
• 5 Influence
• 6 Critical reputation
• 7 Speculation about Shakespeare
o 7.1 Authorship
o 7.2 Religion
o 7.3 Sexuality
o 7.4 Portraiture
• 8 List of works
o 8.1 Classification of the plays
o 8.2 Works
• 9 See also
• 10 Notes
• 11 References
• 12 Bibliography
• 13 External links

• 14 Related information

Main article: Shakespeare's life

Early life

William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, a successful glover and alderman
originally from Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer.[7]
He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and baptised on 26 April 1564. His actual birthdate is
unknown, but is traditionally observed on 23 April, St George's Day.[8] This date, which can be
traced back to an eighteenth-century scholar's mistake, has proved appealing because
Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616.[9] He was the third child of eight and the eldest surviving

Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare
may have been educated at the King's New School in Stratford,[11] a free school chartered in
1553,[12] about a quarter of a mile from his home. Grammar schools varied in quality during the
Elizabethan era, but the curriculum was dictated by law throughout England,[13] and the school
would have provided an intensive education in Latin grammar and the classics.
John Shakespeare's house, believed to be Shakespeare's birthplace, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

At the age of 18, Shakespeare married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. The consistory court of
the Diocese of Worcester issued a marriage licence on 27 November 1582. Two of Hathaway's
neighbours posted bonds the next day as surety that there were no impediments to the marriage.
The couple may have arranged the ceremony in some haste, since the Worcester chancellor
allowed the marriage banns to be read once instead of the usual three times.[15] Anne's pregnancy
could have been the reason for this. Six months after the marriage, she gave birth to a daughter,
Susanna, who was baptised on 26 May 1583.[16] Twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith,
followed almost two years later and were baptised on 2 February 1585.[17] Hamnet died of
unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried on 11 August 1596.[18]

After the birth of the twins, there are few historical traces of Shakespeare until he is mentioned
as part of the London theatre scene in 1592. Because of this gap, scholars refer to the years
between 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare's "lost years".[19] Biographers attempting to account for
this period have reported many apocryphal stories. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare’s first
biographer, recounted a Stratford legend that Shakespeare fled the town for London to escape
prosecution for deer poaching.[20] Another eighteenth-century story has Shakespeare starting his
theatrical career minding the horses of theatre patrons in London.[21] John Aubrey reported that
Shakespeare had been a country schoolmaster.[22] Some twentieth-century scholars have
suggested that Shakespeare may have been employed as a schoolmaster by Alexander Hoghton
of Lancashire, a Catholic landowner who named a certain "William Shakeshafte" in his will.[23]
No evidence substantiates such stories other than hearsay collected after his death and the name
Shakeshafte was common in the Lancashire area.[24]

London and theatrical career

"All the world's a stage,

and all the men and women merely players:

they have their exits and their entrances;

and one man in his time plays many parts..."

As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7, 139–42.[25]

It is not known exactly when Shakespeare began writing, but contemporary allusions and records
of performances show that several of his plays were on the London stage by 1592.[26] He was
well enough known in London by then to be attacked in print by the playwright Robert Greene:

...there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a
Player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and
being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.[27]

Scholars differ on the exact meaning of these words,[28] but most agree that Greene is accusing
Shakespeare of reaching above his rank in trying to match university-educated writers, such as
Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe and Greene himself.[29] The italicised phrase parodying the
line "Oh, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 3, along
with the pun "Shake-scene", identifies Shakespeare as Greene’s target.[30]

Greene’s attack is the first recorded mention of Shakespeare’s career in the theatre. Biographers
suggest that his career may have begun any time from the mid-1580s to just before Greene’s
remarks.[31] From 1594, Shakespeare's plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain's
Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the
leading playing company in London.[32] After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company
was awarded a royal patent by the new king, James I, and changed its name to the King's Men.[33]

In 1599, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the
Thames, which they called the Globe. In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars
indoor theatre. Records of Shakespeare's property purchases and investments indicate that the
company made him a wealthy man.[34] In 1597, he bought the second-largest house in Stratford,
New Place, and in 1605, he invested in a share of the parish tithes in Stratford.[35]

Some of Shakespeare's plays were published in quarto editions from 1594. By 1598, his name
had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages.[36] Shakespeare continued to
act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright. The 1616 edition of Ben Jonson's
Works names him on the cast lists for Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Sejanus, His Fall
(1603).[37] The absence of his name from the 1605 cast list for Jonson’s Volpone is taken by some
scholars as a sign that his acting career was nearing its end.[38] The First Folio of 1623, however,
lists Shakespeare as one of "the Principal Actors in all these Plays", some of which were first
staged after Volpone, although we cannot know for certain which roles he played.[39] In 1610,
John Davies of Hereford wrote that "good Will" played "kingly" roles.[40] In 1709, Rowe passed
down a tradition that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet's father.[41] Later traditions
maintain that he also played Adam in As You Like It and the Chorus in Henry V,[42] though
scholars doubt the sources of the information.[43]

Shakespeare divided his time between London and Stratford during his career. In 1596, the year
before he bought New Place as his family home in Stratford, Shakespeare was living in the
parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, north of the River Thames.[44] He moved across the river to
Southwark by 1599, the year his company constructed the Globe Theatre there.[45] By 1604, he
had moved north of the river again, to an area north of St Paul's Cathedral with many fine
houses. There he rented rooms from a French Huguenot called Christopher Mountjoy, a maker of
ladies' wigs and other headgear.[46]

Later years and death

Rowe was the first biographer to pass down the tradition that Shakespeare retired to Stratford
some years before his death;[47] but retirement from all work was uncommon at that time,[48] and
Shakespeare continued to visit London.[47] In 1612 he was called as a witness in a court case
concerning the marriage settlement of Mountjoy's daughter, Mary.[49] In March 1613 he bought a
gatehouse in the former Blackfriars priory;[50] and from November 1614 he was in London for
several weeks with his son-in-law, John Hall.[51]

Shakespeare's funerary monument in Stratford-upon-Avon.

After 1606–1607, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, and none are attributed to him after 1613.[52]
His last three plays were collaborations, probably with John Fletcher,[53] who succeeded him as
the house playwright for the King’s Men.[54]

Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616[55] and was survived by his wife and two daughters. Susanna
had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607,[56] and Judith had married Thomas Quiney, a
vintner, two months before Shakespeare’s death.[57]

In his will, Shakespeare left the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna.[58] The
terms instructed that she pass it down intact to "the first son of her body".[59] The Quineys had
three children, all of whom died without marrying.[60] The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who
married twice but died without children in 1670, ending Shakespeare’s direct line.[61]
Shakespeare's will scarcely mentions his wife, Anne, who was probably entitled to one third of
his estate automatically.[62] He did make a point, however, of leaving her "my second best bed", a
bequest that has led to much speculation.[63] Some scholars see the bequest as an insult to Anne,
whereas others believe that the second-best bed would have been the matrimonial bed and
therefore rich in significance.[64]

Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death.[65]
The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curse against moving his
bones, which was carefully avoided during restoration of the church in 2008:[66]
Shakespeare's grave.
Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.[67]

Sometime before 1623, a funerary monument was erected in his memory on the north wall, with
a half-effigy of him in the act of writing. Its plaque compares him to Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil.
In 1623, in conjunction with the publication of the First Folio, the Droeshout engraving was

Shakespeare has been commemorated in many statues and memorials around the world,
including funeral monuments in Southwark Cathedral and Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Main articles: Shakespeare's plays and Shakespeare's collaborations

Most playwrights of the period typically collaborated with others at some point, and critics agree
that Shakespeare did the same, mostly early and late in his career.[70] Some attributions, such as
Titus Andronicus and the early history plays, remain controversial, while The Two Noble
Kinsmen and the lost Cardenio have well-attested contemporary documentation. Textual
evidence also supports the view that several of the plays were revised by other writers after their
original composition.

The first recorded works of Shakespeare are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written
in the early 1590s during a vogue for historical drama. Shakespeare's plays are difficult to date,
however,[71] and studies of the texts suggest that Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The
Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare’s
earliest period.[72] His first histories, which draw heavily on the 1587 edition of Raphael
Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland,[73] dramatise the destructive results of
weak or corrupt rule and have been interpreted as a justification for the origins of the Tudor
dynasty.[74] The early plays were influenced by the works of other Elizabethan dramatists,
especially Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, by the traditions of medieval drama, and by
the plays of Seneca.[75] The Comedy of Errors was also based on classical models, but no source
for The Taming of the Shrew has been found, though it is related to a separate play of the same
name and may have derived from a folk story.[76] Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which
two friends appear to approve of rape,[77] the Shrew's story of the taming of a woman's
independent spirit by a man sometimes troubles modern critics and directors.[78]

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing. By William Blake, c. 1786. Tate Britain.

Shakespeare's early classical and Italianate comedies, containing tight double plots and precise
comic sequences, give way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his greatest
comedies.[79] A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and comic
lowlife scenes.[80] Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romantic Merchant of Venice, contains
a portrayal of the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock, which reflects Elizabethan views but
may appear derogatory to modern audiences.[81] The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About
Nothing,[82] the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth
Night complete Shakespeare's sequence of great comedies.[83] After the lyrical Richard II, written
almost entirely in verse, Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late
1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. His characters become more complex and tender as
he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the
narrative variety of his mature work.[84] This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo
and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death;[85] and
Julius Caesar—based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives—
which introduced a new kind of drama.[86] According to Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro, in
Julius Caesar "the various strands of politics, character, inwardness, contemporary events, even
Shakespeare's own reflections on the act of writing, began to infuse each other".[87]

Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, and the Ghost of Hamlet's Father. Henry Fuseli, 1780–5. Kunsthaus
In the early 1600s, Shakespeare wrote the so-called "problem plays" Measure for Measure,
Troilus and Cressida, and All's Well That Ends Well and a number of his best known tragedies.
Many critics believe that Shakespeare's greatest tragedies represent the peak of his art. The
titular hero of one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, Hamlet, has probably been discussed
more than any other Shakespearean character, especially for his famous soliloquy "To be or not
to be; that is the question".[89] Unlike the introverted Hamlet, whose fatal flaw is hesitation, the
heroes of the tragedies that followed, Othello and King Lear, are undone by hasty errors of
judgement.[90] The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws,
which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves.[91] In Othello, the villain Iago
stokes Othello's sexual jealousy to the point where he murders the innocent wife who loves him.
In King Lear, the old king commits the tragic error of giving up his powers, initiating the
events which lead to the murder of his daughter and the torture and blinding of the Earl of
Gloucester. According to the critic Frank Kermode, "the play offers neither its good characters
nor its audience any relief from its cruelty".[93] In Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of
Shakespeare's tragedies,[94] uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth,
to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne, until their own guilt destroys them in turn.[95] In
this play, Shakespeare adds a supernatural element to the tragic structure. His last major
tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, contain some of Shakespeare's finest poetry
and were considered his most successful tragedies by the poet and critic T. S. Eliot.[96]

In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more
major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration,
Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than
the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially
tragic errors.[97] Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene
view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day.[98]
Shakespeare collaborated on two further surviving plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble
Kinsmen, probably with John Fletcher.[99]


Main article: Shakespeare in performance

It is not clear for which companies Shakespeare wrote his early plays. The title page of the 1594
edition of Titus Andronicus reveals that the play had been acted by three different troupes.[100]
After the plagues of 1592–3, Shakespeare's plays were performed by his own company at The
Theatre and the Curtain in Shoreditch, north of the Thames.[101] Londoners flocked there to see
the first part of Henry IV, Leonard Digges recording, "Let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the
rest...and you scarce shall have a room".[102] When the company found themselves in dispute with
their landlord, they pulled The Theatre down and used the timbers to construct the Globe
Theatre, the first playhouse built by actors for actors, on the south bank of the Thames at
Southwark.[103] The Globe opened in autumn 1599, with Julius Caesar one of the first plays
staged. Most of Shakespeare's greatest post-1599 plays were written for the Globe, including
Hamlet, Othello and King Lear.[104]
The reconstructed Globe Theatre, London.

After the Lord Chamberlain's Men were renamed the King's Men in 1603, they entered a special
relationship with the new King James. Although the performance records are patchy, the King's
Men performed seven of Shakespeare's plays at court between 1 November 1604 and 31 October
1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice.[105] After 1608, they performed at
the indoor Blackfriars Theatre during the winter and the Globe during the summer.[106] The
indoor setting, combined with the Jacobean fashion for lavishly staged masques, allowed
Shakespeare to introduce more elaborate stage devices. In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter
descends "in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt. The ghosts
fall on their knees."[107]

The actors in Shakespeare's company included the famous Richard Burbage, William Kempe,
Henry Condell and John Heminges. Burbage played the leading role in the first performances of
many of Shakespeare's plays, including Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.[108] The
popular comic actor Will Kempe played the servant Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in
Much Ado About Nothing, among other characters.[109] He was replaced around the turn of the
sixteenth century by Robert Armin, who played roles such as Touchstone in As You Like It and
the fool in King Lear.[110] In 1613, Sir Henry Wotton recorded that Henry VIII "was set forth with
many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and ceremony".[111] On 29 June, however, a cannon
set fire to the thatch of the Globe and burned the theatre to the ground, an event which pinpoints
the date of a Shakespeare play with rare precision.[111]

Textual sources
Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout.

In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare's friends from the King's Men,
published the First Folio, a collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. It contained 36 texts,
including 18 printed for the first time.[112] Many of the plays had already appeared in quarto
versions—flimsy books made from sheets of paper folded twice to make four leaves.[113] No
evidence suggests that Shakespeare approved these editions, which the First Folio describes as
"stol'n and surreptitious copies".[114] Alfred Pollard termed some of them "bad quartos" because
of their adapted, paraphrased or garbled texts, which may in places have been reconstructed from
memory.[115] Where several versions of a play survive, each differs from the other. The
differences may stem from copying or printing errors, from notes by actors or audience
members, or from Shakespeare's own papers.[116] In some cases, for example Hamlet, Troilus and
Cressida and Othello, Shakespeare could have revised the texts between the quarto and folio
editions. In the case of King Lear, however, while most modern additions do conflate them, the
1623 folio version is so different from the 1608 quarto, that the Oxford Shakespeare prints them
both, arguing that they cannot be conflated without confusion.[117]

In 1593 and 1594, when the theatres were closed because of plague, Shakespeare published two
narrative poems on erotic themes, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He dedicated
them to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. In Venus and Adonis, an innocent Adonis
rejects the sexual advances of Venus; while in The Rape of Lucrece, the virtuous wife Lucrece is
raped by the lustful Tarquin.[118] Influenced by Ovid's Metamorphoses,[119] the poems show the
guilt and moral confusion that result from uncontrolled lust.[120] Both proved popular and were
often reprinted during Shakespeare's lifetime. A third narrative poem, A Lover's Complaint, in
which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor, was printed in the first
edition of the Sonnets in 1609. Most scholars now accept that Shakespeare wrote A Lover's
Complaint. Critics consider that its fine qualities are marred by leaden effects.[121] The Phoenix
and the Turtle, printed in Robert Chester's 1601 Love's Martyr, mourns the deaths of the
legendary phoenix and his lover, the faithful turtle dove. In 1599, two early drafts of sonnets 138
and 144 appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim, published under Shakespeare's name but without
his permission.[122]


Main article: Shakespeare's sonnets

Title page from 1609 edition of Shake-Speares Sonnets.

Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare's non-dramatic works to be printed.
Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that
Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership.[123] Even before the two
unauthorised sonnets appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, Francis Meres had referred in
1598 to Shakespeare's "sugred Sonnets among his private friends".[124] Few analysts believe that
the published collection follows Shakespeare's intended sequence.[125] He seems to have planned
two contrasting series: one about uncontrollable lust for a married woman of dark complexion
(the "dark lady"), and one about conflicted love for a fair young man (the "fair youth"). It
remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals, or if the authorial "I" who addresses
them represents Shakespeare himself, though Wordsworth believed that with the sonnets
"Shakespeare unlocked his heart".[126] The 1609 edition was dedicated to a "Mr. W.H.", credited
as "the only begetter" of the poems. It is not known whether this was written by Shakespeare
himself or by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, whose initials appear at the foot of the dedication
page; nor is it known who Mr. W.H. was, despite numerous theories, or whether Shakespeare
even authorised the publication.[127] Critics praise the Sonnets as a profound meditation on the
nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death, and time.[128]

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate..."

Lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18.[129]

The production of Shakespeare's Sonnets was in some way influenced by the Italian sonnet: it
was popularised by Dante and Petrarch and refined in Spain and France by DuBellay and
Ronsard.[130] Shakespeare probably had access to these last two authors, and read English poets as
Richard Field and John Davies.[130] The French and Italian poets gave preference to the Italian
form of sonnet—two groups of four lines, or quatrains (always rhymed a-b-b-a a-b-b-a) followed
by two groups of three lines, or tercets (variously rhymed c-c-d e-e-d or c-c-d e-d-e)—which
created a sonorous music in the vowel rich Romance languages, but in Shakespeare it is artificial
and monotonous for the English language. To overcome this problem derived from the difference
of language, Shakespeare chose to follow the idiomatic rhyme scheme used by Philip Sidney in
his Astrophel and Stella (published posthumously in 1591), where the rhymes are interlaced in
two pairs of couplets to make the quatrain.[130]

Main article: Shakespeare's style

Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in a
stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the
drama.[131] The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and conceits, and the
language is often rhetorical—written for actors to declaim rather than speak. The grand speeches
in Titus Andronicus, in the view of some critics, often hold up the action, for example; and the
verse in Two Gentlemen of Verona has been described as stilted.[132]

Soon, however, Shakespeare began to adapt the traditional styles to his own purposes. The
opening soliloquy of Richard III has its roots in the self-declaration of Vice in medieval drama.
At the same time, Richard’s vivid self-awareness looks forward to the soliloquies of
Shakespeare's mature plays.[133] No single play marks a change from the traditional to the freer
style. Shakespeare combined the two throughout his career, with Romeo and Juliet perhaps the
best example of the mixing of the styles.[134] By the time of Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and A
Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid-1590s, Shakespeare had begun to write a more natural
poetry. He increasingly tuned his metaphors and images to the needs of the drama itself.

Pity by William Blake, 1795, Tate Britain, is an illustration of two similes in Macbeth: "And
pity, like a naked new-born babe, / Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd / Upon the
sightless couriers of the air".
Shakespeare's standard poetic form was blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter. In practice,
this meant that his verse was usually unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken
with a stress on every second syllable. The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from
that of his later ones. It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the
end of lines, with the risk of monotony.[135] Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse,
he began to interrupt and vary its flow. This technique releases the new power and flexibility of
the poetry in plays such as Julius Caesar and Hamlet. Shakespeare uses it, for example, to
convey the turmoil in Hamlet's mind:[136]

Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting

That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly—
And prais'd be rashness for it—let us know
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well...
Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2, 4–8[136]

After Hamlet, Shakespeare varied his poetic style further, particularly in the more emotional
passages of the late tragedies. The literary critic A. C. Bradley described this style as "more
concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical".[137]
In the last phase of his career, Shakespeare adopted many techniques to achieve these effects.
These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence
structure and length.[138] In Macbeth, for example, the language darts from one unrelated
metaphor or simile to another: "was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself?" (1.7.35–
38); "...pity, like a naked new-born babe/ Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd/ Upon
the sightless couriers of the air..." (1.7.21–25). The listener is challenged to complete the sense.
The late romances, with their shifts in time and surprising turns of plot, inspired a last poetic
style in which long and short sentences are set against one another, clauses are piled up, subject
and object are reversed, and words are omitted, creating an effect of spontaneity.[139]

Shakespeare's poetic genius was allied with a practical sense of the theatre.[140] Like all
playwrights of the time, Shakespeare dramatised stories from sources such as Petrarch and
Holinshed.[141] He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and show as many sides
of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play
can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama.[142] As
Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and
distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays,
however. In Shakespeare's late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style,
which emphasised the illusion of theatre.[143]

Main article: Shakespeare's influence
Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head. By Henry Fuseli, 1793–94. Folger
Shakespeare Library, Washington.

Shakespeare's work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he
expanded the dramatic potential of characterisation, plot, language, and genre.[144] Until Romeo
and Juliet, for example, romance had not been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy.[145]
Soliloquies had been used mainly to convey information about characters or events; but
Shakespeare used them to explore characters' minds.[146] His work heavily influenced later poetry.
The Romantic poets attempted to revive Shakespearean verse drama, though with little success.
Critic George Steiner described all English verse dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson as "feeble
variations on Shakespearean themes."[147]

Shakespeare influenced novelists such as Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, and Charles
Dickens. The American novelist Herman Melville's soliloquies owe much to Shakespeare; his
Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick is a classic tragic hero, inspired by King Lear.[148] Scholars have
identified 20,000 pieces of music linked to Shakespeare's works. These include two operas by
Giuseppe Verdi, Otello and Falstaff, whose critical standing compares with that of the source
plays.[149] Shakespeare has also inspired many painters, including the Romantics and the Pre-
Raphaelites. The Swiss Romantic artist Henry Fuseli, a friend of William Blake, even translated
Macbeth into German.[150] The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud drew on Shakespearean
psychology, in particular that of Hamlet, for his theories of human nature.

In Shakespeare's day, English grammar, spelling and pronunciation were less standardised than
they are now,[151] and his use of language helped shape modern English.[152] Samuel Johnson
quoted him more often than any other author in his A Dictionary of the English Language, the
first serious work of its type.[153] Expressions such as "with bated breath" (Merchant of Venice)
and "a foregone conclusion" (Othello) have found their way into everyday English speech.[154]

Critical reputation
Main articles: Shakespeare's reputation and Timeline of Shakespeare criticism
"He was not of an age, but for all time."
Ben Jonson[155]

Shakespeare was never revered in his lifetime, but he received his share of praise.[156] In 1598, the
cleric and author Francis Meres singled him out from a group of English writers as "the most
excellent" in both comedy and tragedy.[157] And the authors of the Parnassus plays at St John's
College, Cambridge, numbered him with Chaucer, Gower and Spenser.[158] In the First Folio, Ben
Jonson called Shakespeare the "Soul of the age, the applause, delight, the wonder of our stage",
though he had remarked elsewhere that "Shakespeare wanted art". He was also recognised highly
by James I by making them his 'Kings Men'.[159]

Ophelia (detail). By John Everett Millais, 1851–52. Tate Britain.

Between the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the end of the seventeenth century,
classical ideas were in vogue. As a result, critics of the time mostly rated Shakespeare below
John Fletcher and Ben Jonson.[160] Thomas Rymer, for example, condemned Shakespeare for
mixing the comic with the tragic. Nevertheless, poet and critic John Dryden rated Shakespeare
highly, saying of Jonson, "I admire him, but I love Shakespeare".[161] For several decades,
Rymer's view held sway; but during the eighteenth century, critics began to respond to
Shakespeare on his own terms and acclaim what they termed his natural genius. A series of
scholarly editions of his work, notably those of Samuel Johnson in 1765 and Edmond Malone in
1790, added to his growing reputation.[162] By 1800, he was firmly enshrined as the national poet.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, his reputation also spread abroad. Among those
who championed him were the writers Voltaire, Goethe, Stendhal and Victor Hugo.[164]

During the Romantic era, Shakespeare was praised by the poet and literary philosopher Samuel
Taylor Coleridge; and the critic August Wilhelm Schlegel translated his plays in the spirit of
German Romanticism.[165] In the nineteenth century, critical admiration for Shakespeare's genius
often bordered on adulation.[166] "That King Shakespeare," the essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote in
1840, "does not he shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet
strongest of rallying signs; indestructible".[167] The Victorians produced his plays as lavish
spectacles on a grand scale.[168] The playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw mocked the cult
of Shakespeare worship as "bardolatry". He claimed that the new naturalism of Ibsen's plays had
made Shakespeare obsolete.[169]

The modernist revolution in the arts during the early twentieth century, far from discarding
Shakespeare, eagerly enlisted his work in the service of the avant garde. The Expressionists in
Germany and the Futurists in Moscow mounted productions of his plays. Marxist playwright and
director Bertolt Brecht devised an epic theatre under the influence of Shakespeare. The poet and
critic T. S. Eliot argued against Shaw that Shakespeare's "primitiveness" in fact made him truly
modern.[170] Eliot, along with G. Wilson Knight and the school of New Criticism, led a movement
towards a closer reading of Shakespeare's imagery. In the 1950s, a wave of new critical
approaches replaced modernism and paved the way for "post-modern" studies of Shakespeare.
By the eighties, Shakespeare studies were open to movements such as structuralism,
feminism, New Historicism, African American studies, and queer studies.[172][173]

Speculation about Shakespeare


Main article: Shakespeare authorship question

Around 150 years after Shakespeare's death, doubts began to emerge about the authorship of the
works attributed to him.[174] Proposed alternative candidates include Francis Bacon, Christopher
Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.[175] Several "group theories" have also been
proposed.[176] Only a small minority of academics believe there is reason to question the
traditional attribution,[177] but interest in the subject, particularly the Oxfordian theory, continues
into the 21st century.[178]


Main article: Shakespeare's religion

Some scholars claim that members of Shakespeare's family were Catholics, at a time when
Catholic practice was against the law.[179] Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, certainly came
from a pious Catholic family. The strongest evidence might be a Catholic statement of faith
signed by John Shakespeare, found in 1757 in the rafters of his former house in Henley Street.
The document is now lost, however, and scholars differ on its authenticity.[180] In 1591, the
authorities reported that John had missed church "for fear of process for debt", a common
Catholic excuse.[181] In 1606, William's daughter Susanna was listed among those who failed to
attend Easter communion in Stratford.[181] Scholars find evidence both for and against
Shakespeare's Catholicism in his plays, but the truth may be impossible to prove either way.[182]

Main article: Sexuality of William Shakespeare

Few details of Shakespeare's sexuality are known. At 18, he married the 26-year-old Anne
Hathaway, who was pregnant. Susanna, the first of their three children, was born six months later
on 26 May 1583. However, over the centuries readers have pointed to Shakespeare's sonnets as
evidence of his love for a young man. Others read the same passages as the expression of intense
friendship rather than sexual love.[183] At the same time, the twenty-six so-called "Dark Lady"
sonnets, addressed to a married woman, are taken as evidence of heterosexual liaisons.[184]


Main article: Portraits of Shakespeare

There is no written description of Shakespeare's physical appearance and no evidence that he

ever commissioned a portrait, so the Droeshout engraving, which Ben Jonson approved of as a
good likeness,[185] and his Stratford monument provide the best evidence of his appearance. From
the eighteenth century, the desire for authentic Shakespeare portraits fueled claims that various
surviving pictures depicted Shakespeare. That demand also led to the production of several fake
portraits, as well as misattributions, repaintings and relabelling of portraits of other people.[186][187]

List of works
Further information: List of Shakespeare's works and Chronology of Shakespeare plays

Classification of the plays

The Plays of William Shakespeare. By Sir John Gilbert, 1849.

Shakespeare's works include the 36 plays printed in the First Folio of 1623, listed below
according to their folio classification as comedies, histories and tragedies.[188] Two plays not
included in the First Folio, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles, Prince of Tyre, are now
accepted as part of the canon, with scholars agreed that Shakespeare made a major contribution
to their composition.[189] No Shakespearean poems were included in the First Folio.
In the late nineteenth century, Edward Dowden classified four of the late comedies as romances,
and though many scholars prefer to call them tragicomedies, his term is often used.[190] These
plays and the associated Two Noble Kinsmen are marked with an asterisk (*) below. In 1896,
Frederick S. Boas coined the term "problem plays" to describe four plays: All's Well That Ends
Well, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet.[191] "Dramas as singular in theme
and temper cannot be strictly called comedies or tragedies", he wrote. "We may therefore borrow
a convenient phrase from the theatre of today and class them together as Shakespeare's problem
plays."[192] The term, much debated and sometimes applied to other plays, remains in use, though
Hamlet is definitively classed as a tragedy.[193] The other problem plays are marked below with a
double dagger (‡).

Plays thought to be only partly written by Shakespeare are marked with a dagger (†) below.
Other works occasionally attributed to him are listed as apocrypha.


Comedies Histories Tragedies

Main article: Shakespearean Main article: Shakespearean Main article: Shakespearean
comedy history tragedy

• All's Well That Ends • King John • Romeo and Juliet

Well‡ • Richard II • Coriolanus
• As You Like It • Henry IV, part 1 • Titus Andronicus†
• The Comedy of Errors • Henry IV, part 2
• Love's Labour's Lost • Henry V • Timon of Athens†
• Measure for Measure‡ • Henry VI, part 1†
• The Merchant of Venice • Julius Caesar
• The Merry Wives of • Henry VI, part 2 • Macbeth†
Windsor • Henry VI, part 3
• A Midsummer Night's • Richard III • Hamlet
Dream • Troilus and Cressida‡
• Much Ado About • Henry VIII† • King Lear
Nothing • Othello
• Pericles, Prince of • Antony and Cleopatra
• The Taming of the • Cymbeline*
• The Tempest*
• Twelfth Night
• The Two Gentlemen of
• The Two Noble

• The Winter's Tale*

Poems Lost plays Apocrypha
Main article: Shakespeare
• Shakespeare's Sonnets • Love's Labour's Won Apocrypha
• Venus and Adonis
• The Rape of Lucrece • Cardenio† • Arden of Faversham
• The Passionate • The Birth of Merlin
Pilgrim[e] • Locrine
• The Phoenix and the • The London Prodigal
Turtle • The Puritan
• The Second Maiden's
• A Lover's Complaint Tragedy
• Sir John Oldcastle
• Thomas Lord Cromwell
• A Yorkshire Tragedy
• Edward III

• Sir Thomas More

The Merchant of Venice
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This article is about Shakespeare's play. For other uses, see The Merchant of Venice

Title page of the first quarto (1600)

The Merchant of Venice is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written
between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain
aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its
dramatic scenes, and is best known for Shylock and the famous 'pound of flesh' speech.

The title character is the merchant Antonio, not the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who is the
play's most prominent and more famous character. This is made explicit by the title page of the
first quarto: The moſt excellent Hiſtorie of the Merchant of Venice. VVith the extreame crueltie of
Shylocke the Iewe towards the ſayd Merchant, in cutting a iuſt pound of his fleſh: and the
obtayning of Portia by the choyſe of three cheſts.
• 1 Characters
• 2 Synopsis
• 3 Date and text
• 4 Performance
o 4.1 Shylock on stage
• 5 Themes
o 5.1 Shylock and the antisemitism debate
 5.1.1 The antisemitic reading
 5.1.2 The sympathetic reading
 5.1.3 Influence on antisemitism
 5.1.4 Character study
o 5.2 Sexuality in the play
 5.2.1 Antonio, Bassanio
• 6 Adaptations and cultural references
o 6.1 Film adaptations
o 6.2 Cultural references
• 7 Notes
• 8 References

• 9 External links

• Antonio - a merchant of Venice;
• Bassanio – Antonio's friend, in love with Portia;
• Gratiano, Salanio, Salarino, Salerio – friends of Antonio and Bassanio;
• Lorenzo – friend of Antonio and Bassanio, in love with Jessica;
• Portia – a rich heiress
• Nerissa – Portia's waiting-maid
• Balthazar – a servant of Portia
• Stephano – a servant of Portia
• Shylock– a rich Jew, father of Jessica
• Tubal – a Jew; Shylock's friend
• Jessica – daughter of Shylock, in love with Lorenzo; Jewess,
• Lancelot Gobbo – a foolish man in the service of Shylock
• Old Gobbo – father of Lancelot
• Leonardo - servant to Bassanio
• Duke of Venice - Venetian authority who presides over the case of Shylock's
• Prince of Morocco – suitor to Portia
• Prince of Aragon – suitor to Portia
• Magnificoes of Venice, officers of the Court of Justice, Gaoler, servants to
Portia, and other Attendants

Long ago, the city of Venice in Italy was one of the richest of the world. Among the wealthiest
of its merchants was Antonio. He was a kind and generous person. Bassanio, a young Venetian,
of noble rank but having squandered his estate, wishes to travel to Belmont to woo the beautiful
and wealthy heiress Portia. He approaches his friend Antonio, who has previously and repeatedly
bailed him out, for three thousand ducats needed to subsidize his traveling expenditures as a
suitor for three months. Antonio agrees, but he is cash-poor; his ships and merchandise are busy
at sea. He promises to cover a bond if Bassanio can find a lender, so Bassanio turns to the Jewish
moneylender Shylock and names Antonio as the loan’s guarantor.

Shylock hates Antonio, both because he is a Christian and because he insulted and spat on
Shylock for being a Jew. Also, Antonio undermines Shylock's moneylending business by lending
money at zero interest. Shylock proposes a condition for the loan: if Antonio is unable to repay it
at the specified date, he may take a pound of Antonio's flesh. Bassanio does not want Antonio to
accept such a risky condition; Antonio is surprised by what he sees as the moneylender's
generosity (no "usance" — interest — is asked for), and he signs the contract. With money at
hand, Bassanio leaves for Belmont with his friend Gratiano, who has asked to accompany him.
Gratiano is a likeable young man, but is often flippant, overly talkative, and tactless. Bassanio
warns his companion to exercise self-control, and the two leave for Belmont and Portia.

Meanwhile in Belmont, Portia is awash with suitors. Her father has left a will stipulating each of
her suitors must choose correctly from one of three caskets – one each of gold, silver, and lead. If
he choose the right casket,he got Portia, if he lost, he had to go away and never trouble her or
any other woman again with a proposal of marriage. The first suitor, the luxury- and money-
obsessed Prince of Morocco, reasons to choose the gold casket, because lead proclaims "Choose
me and risk hazard", and he has no wish to risk everything for lead, and the silver's "Choose me
and get what you deserve" sounds like an invitation to be tortured, but "Choose me and get what
most men desire" all but spells it out that he that chooses gold will get Portia, as what all men
desire is Portia. Inside the casket are a few gold coins and a skull with a scroll containing the
famous verse All that glisters is not gold / Often have you heard that told / Many a man his life
hath sold / But my outside to behold / Gilded tombs do worms enfold / Had you been as wise as
bold, / Young in limbs, in judgment old / Your answer had not been inscroll'd: / Fare you well;
your suit is cold.

The second suitor is the conceited Prince of Aragon. He decides not to choose lead, because it is
so common, and will not choose gold because he will then get what many men desire and wants
to be distinguished from the barbarous multitudes. He decides to choose silver, because the silver
casket proclaims "Choose Me And Get What You Deserve", which he imagines must be
something great, because he egotistically imagines himself as great. Inside the casket, however,
is the picture of a court jester's head on a baton and remarks "What's here? the portrait of a
blinking idiot . . . / Did I deserve no more than a fool's head?"[1] The scroll reads: Some there be
that shadows kiss; / Such have but a shadow's bliss: / . . .Take what wife you will to bed, / I will
ever be your head -- meaning that he was foolish to imagine that a pompous man like him could
ever be a fit husband for Portia, and that he was always a fool, he always will be a fool, and the
fact that he chose the silver casket is mere proof that he is a fool.
The last suitor is Bassanio, who chooses the leaden casket. As he is considering his choice of
caskets, members of Portia's household sing a song which says that "fancy" (not true love) is
"engend'red in the eyes, / With gazing fed."[2] Seemingly in response to this little bit of
philosophy, Bassanio remarks, "So may the outward shows be least themselves. / The world is
still deceived with ornament." And at the end of the same speech, just before choosing the least
valuable, and least showy metal, Bassanio says, "Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence; /
And here choose I; joy be the consequence!" He has made the right choice.

At Venice, Antonio's ships are reported lost at sea. This leaves him unable to satisfy the bond (in
financial language, insolvent). Shylock is even more determined to exact revenge from
Christians after his daughter Jessica flees his home to convert to Christianity and elope with
Lorenzo, taking a substantial amount of Shylock's wealth with her, as well as a turquoise ring
which was a gift to Shylock from his late wife, Leah. Shylock has Antonio arrested and brought
before court.

At Belmont, Portia and Bassanio have just been married, as have Gratiano and Portia's handmaid
Nerissa. Bassanio receives a letter telling him that Antonio has been unable to return the loan
taken from Shylock. Shocked, Bassanio and Gratiano leave for Venice immediately, with money
from Portia, to save Antonio's life by offering the money to Shylock. Unknown to Bassanio and
Gratiano, Portia has sent her servant, Balthazar, to seek the counsel of Portia's cousin, Bellario, a
lawyer, at Padua. The climax of the play comes in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock
refuses Bassanio's offer of 6,000 ducats, twice the amount of the loan. He demands his pound of
flesh from Antonio. The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but unwilling to set a dangerous legal
precedent of nullifying a contract, refers the case to a visitor who introduces himself as
Balthazar, a young male "doctor of the law", bearing a letter of recommendation to the Duke
from the learned lawyer Bellario. The "doctor" is actually Portia in disguise, and the "law clerk"
who accompanies her is actually Nerissa, also in disguise. Portia, as "Balthazar", asks Shylock to
show mercy in a famous speech (The quality of mercy is not strained—IV,i,185, arguing for debt
relief), but Shylock refuses. Thus the court must allow Shylock to extract the pound of flesh.
Shylock tells Antonio to "prepare". At that very moment, Portia points out a flaw in the contract
(see quibble): the bond only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, not the "blood", of Antonio.
Thus, if Shylock were to shed any drop of Antonio's blood, his "lands and goods" would be
forfeited under Venetian laws.

Defeated, Shylock concedes to accepting Bassanio's offer of money for the defaulted bond, but
Portia prevents him from taking the money on the ground that he has already refused it. She then
cites a law under which Shylock, as a Jew and therefore an "alien", having attempted to take the
life of a citizen, has forfeited his property, half to the government and half to Antonio, leaving
his life at the mercy of the Duke. The Duke immediately pardons Shylock's life. Antonio asks for
his share "in use" (that is, reserving the principal amount while taking only the income) until
Shylock's death, when the principal will be given to Lorenzo and Jessica. At Antonio's request,
the Duke grants remission of the state's half of forfeiture, but in return, Shylock is forced to
convert to Christianity and to make a will (or "deed of gift") bequeathing his entire estate to
Lorenzo and Jessica (IV,i).
Bassanio does not recognize his disguised wife, but offers to give a present to the supposed
lawyer. First she declines, but after he insists, Portia requests his ring and his gloves. He parts
with his gloves without a second thought, but gives the ring only after much persuasion from
Antonio, as earlier in the play he promised his wife never to lose, sell or give it. Nerissa, as the
lawyer's clerk, also succeeds in likewise retrieving her ring from Gratiano, who does not see
through her disguise.

At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa taunt and pretend to accuse their husbands before revealing they
were really the lawyer and his clerk in disguise (V). After all the other characters make amends,
all ends happily as Antonio learns from Portia that three of his ships were not stranded and have
returned safely after all.

Date and text

The date of composition for The Merchant of Venice is believed to be between 1596 and 1598.
The play was mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598, so it must have been familiar on the stage by
that date, and the title page of the first edition in 1600 states that it had been performed "divers
times" by that date. Salarino's reference to his ship the "Andrew" (I,i,27) is thought to be an
allusion to the Spanish ship St. Andrew captured by the English at Cadiz in 1596. A date of
1596–97 is considered consistent with the play's style.

The play was entered in the Register of the Stationers Company, the method at that time of
obtaining copyright for a new play, by James Roberts on July 22, 1598 under the title The
Merchant of Venice, otherwise called The Jew of Venice. On October 28, 1600 Roberts
transferred his right to the play to the stationer Thomas Hayes; Hayes published the first quarto
before the end of the year. It was printed again in a pirated edition in 1619, as part of William
Jaggard's so-called False Folio. (Afterward, Thomas Hayes' son and heir Laurence Hayes asked
for and was granted a confirmation of his right to the play, on July 8, 1619.) The 1600 edition is
generally regarded as being accurate and reliable, and is the basis of the text published in the
1623 First Folio, which adds a number of stage directions, mainly musical cues.[3]

The earliest performance of which a record has survived was held at the court of King James in
the spring of 1605, followed by a second performance a few days later, but there is no record of
any further performances in the seventeenth century.[4] In 1701, George Granville staged a
successful adaptation, titled The Jew of Venice, with Thomas Betterton as Bassanio. This version
(which featured a masque) was popular, and was acted for the next forty years. Granville cut the
Gobbos in line with neoclassical decorum; he added a jail scene between Shylock and Antonio,
and a more extended scene of toasting at a banquet scene. Thomas Doggett was Shylock, playing
the role comically, perhaps even farcically. Rowe expressed doubts about this interpretation as
early as 1709; however, Doggett's success in the role meant that later productions would feature
the troupe clown as Shylock.
In 1741 Charles Macklin returned to the original text in a very successful production at Drury
Lane, paving the way for Edmund Kean seventy years later (see below).[5] Arthur Sullivan wrote

Shylock on stage

See also: Shylock

Jewish actor Jacob Adler and others report that the tradition of playing Shylock sympathetically
began in the first half of the 19th century with Edmund Kean[7], and that previously the role had
been played "by a comedian as a repulsive clown or, alternatively, as a monster of unrelieved
evil." Kean's Shylock established his reputation as an actor.[8]

From Kean's time forward, all of the actors who have famously played the role, with the
exception of Edwin Booth, who played Shylock as a simple villain, have chosen a sympathetic
approach to the character; even Booth's father, Junius Brutus Booth, played the role
sympathetically. Henry Irving's portrayal of an aristocratic, proud Shylock (first seen at the
Lyceum in 1879, with Portia played by Ellen Terry) has been called "the summit of his career".[9]
Jacob Adler was the most notable of the early 20th century: Adler played the role in Yiddish-
language translation, first in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and later on Broadway, where, to
great acclaim, he performed the role in Yiddish in an otherwise English-language production.[10]

Kean and Irving presented a Shylock justified in wanting his revenge; Adler's Shylock evolved
over the years he played the role, first as a stock Shakespearean villain, then as a man whose
better nature was overcome by a desire for revenge, and finally as a man who operated not from
revenge but from pride. In a 1902 interview with Theater magazine, Adler pointed out that
Shylock is a wealthy man, "rich enough to forgo the interest on three thousand ducats" and that
Antonio is "far from the chivalrous gentleman he is made to appear. He has insulted the Jew and
spat on him, yet he comes with hypocritical politeness to borrow money of him." Shylock's fatal
flaw is to depend on the law, but "would he not walk out of that courtroom head erect, the very
apotheosis of defiant hatred and scorn?"[11]

Some modern productions take further pains to show how Shylock's thirst for vengeance has
some justification. For instance, in the 2004 film adaptation directed by Michael Radford and
starring Al Pacino as Shylock, the film begins with text and a montage of how the Jewish
community is cruelly abused by the bigoted Christian population of the city. One of the last shots
of the film also brings attention to the fact that, as a convert, Shylock would have been cast out
of the Jewish community in Venice, no longer allowed to live in the ghetto, and would still not
be accepted by the Christians, as they might feel that Shylock has not changed.

Shylock and the antisemitism debate

Shylock and Jessica by Maurycy Gottlieb

The play is frequently staged today, but is potentially troubling to modern audiences due to its
central themes, which can easily appear antisemitic. Critics today still continue to argue over the
play's stance on antisemitism.

The antisemitic reading

English society in the Elizabethan era has been described as antisemitic.[12] English Jews had
been expelled in the Middle Ages and were not permitted to return until the rule of Oliver
Cromwell. Jews were often presented on the Elizabethan stage in hideous caricature, with
hooked noses and bright red wigs, and were usually depicted as avaricious usurers; an example is
Christopher Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta, which features a comically wicked Jewish villain
called Barabas. They were usually characterized as evil, deceptive and greedy.

During the 17th century in Venice and in some other places, Jews were required to wear a red hat
at all times in public to make sure that they were easily identified. If they did not comply with
this rule they could face the death penalty. Jews also had to live in a ghetto protected by
Christians, supposedly for their own safety. The Jews were expected to pay their guards.[13]

Readers may see Shakespeare's play as a continuation of this antisemitic tradition. The title page
of the Quarto indicates that the play was sometimes known as The Jew of Venice in its day,
which suggests that it was seen as similar to Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. One interpretation of
the play's structure is that Shakespeare meant to contrast the mercy of the main Christian
characters with the vengefulness of a Jew, who lacks the religious grace to comprehend mercy.
Similarly, it is possible that Shakespeare meant Shylock's forced conversion to Christianity to be
a "happy ending" for the character, as, to a Christian audience, it saves his soul and allows him to
enter Heaven.

Hyam Maccoby argues that the play is based on medieval morality plays in which the Virgin
Mary (here represented by Portia) argues for the forgiveness of human souls, as against the
implacable accusations of the Devil (Shylock). On this reading, the Merchant is notably more
antisemitic than The Jew of Malta, in which there are no good Christian characters and the
Jewish villain seems to be regarded by the author with a certain covert sympathy.[citation needed]

[edit] The sympathetic reading

Shylock and Portia (1835) by Thomas Sully

Many modern readers and theatregoers have read the play as a plea for tolerance, noting that
Shylock is a sympathetic character. They cite as evidence that Shylock's 'trial' at the end of the
play is a mockery of justice, with Portia acting as a judge when she has no right to do so. The
characters who berated Shylock for dishonesty resort to trickery in order to win. In addition,
Shakespeare gives Shylock one of his most eloquent speeches:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,

dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?
Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his
sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.
The villainy you teach me, I will execute,
and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
(Act III, scene I)

Influence on antisemitism

Regardless of what Shakespeare's own intentions may have been, the play has been made use of
by antisemites throughout the play's history. One must note that the end of the title in the 1619
edition "With the Extreme Cruelty of Shylock the Jew…" must aptly describe how Shylock was
viewed by the English public. The Nazis used the usurious Shylock for their propaganda. Shortly
after Kristallnacht in 1938, "The Merchant of Venice" was broadcast for propagandistic ends
over the German airwaves. Productions of the play followed in Lübeck (1938), Berlin (1940),
and elsewhere within the Nazi Territory.[14]

The depiction of Jews in English literature throughout the centuries bears the close imprint of
Shylock. With slight variations much of English literature up until the 20th century depicts the
Jew as "a monied, cruel, lecherous, avaricious outsider tolerated only because of his golden

Character study

It is difficult to know whether the sympathetic reading of Shylock is entirely due to changing
sensibilities among readers, or whether Shakespeare, a writer who created complex, multi-
faceted characters, deliberately intended this reading.

One reason for this interpretation is that Shylock's painful status in Venetian society is
emphasized. To some critics, Shylock's celebrated "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech (see above)
redeems him and even makes him into something of a tragic figure. In the speech, Shylock
argues that he is no different from the Christian characters. Detractors note that Shylock ends the
speech with a tone of revenge: "if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" However, those who see
the speech as sympathetic point out that Shylock says he learned the desire for revenge from the
Christian characters: "If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian
example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will
better the instruction."

Even if Shakespeare did not intend the play to be read this way, the fact that it retains its power
on stage for audiences who may perceive its central conflicts in radically different terms is an
illustration of the subtlety of Shakespeare's characterizations.

In the trial Shylock represents the Jewish side in contrast to the Christian one in a matter of
highest importance: Justice (Jewish, Old Testament) is confronted with Mercy (Christian, New
Testament). In the Christian view mercy is the decisive step after justice is reached. Therefore
the Christians in the courtroom urge mercy. Beside the fact, that Shylock as a Jew is not in duty
to give mercy, he is not able as well, because for this you need love. He doesn't find love at all,
but hate. Shakespeare explains this in Shylock's monologue very clearly. To be merciful despite
the hate nevertheless you have to love your enemy (New Testament). That means in fact that the
Christians in the courtroom urge Shylock to behave like a very true Christian by loving his
enemies although they themselves failed even in loving just their neighbours (the Jews) in the
past before.

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Shylock, painted by Charles Buchel (1895–1935).

Sexuality in the play

Antonio, Bassanio

Antonio's unexplained depression—"In sooth I know not why I am so sad"—and utter devotion
to Bassanio has led some critics to theorize that he is suffering from unrequited love for Bassanio
and is depressed because Bassanio is coming to an age where he will marry a woman. In his
plays and poetry Shakespeare often depicted strong male bonds of varying homosociality, which
has led some critics to infer that Bassanio returns Antonio's affections despite his obligation to
marry:[citation needed]

ANTONIO: Commend me to your honourable wife:

Tell her the process of Antonio's end,

Say how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death;

And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge

Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

BASSANIO: But life itself, my wife, and all the world

Are not with me esteemed above thy life;

I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all

Here to this devil, to deliver you. (IV,i)

In his essay "Brothers and Others", published in The Dyer's Hand, W. H. Auden describes
Antonio as "a man whose emotional life, though his conduct may be chaste, is concentrated upon
a member of his own sex." Antonio's feelings for Bassanio are likened to a couplet from
Shakespeare's Sonnets: "But since she pricked thee out for women's pleasure,/ Mine be thy love,
and my love's use their treasure." Antonio, says Auden, embodies the words on Portia's leaden
casket: "Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath." Antonio has taken this potentially
fatal turn because he despairs, not only over the loss of Bassanio in marriage, but also because
Bassanio cannot requite what Antonio feels for him. Antonio's frustrated devotion is a form of
idolatry: the right to live is yielded for the sake of the loved one. There is one other such idolator
in the play: Shylock himself. "Shylock, however unintentionally, did, in fact, hazard all for the
sake of destroying the enemy he hated; and Antonio, however unthinkingly he signed the bond,
hazarded all to secure the happiness of the man he loved." Both Antonio and Shylock, agreeing
to put Antonio's life at a forfeit, stand outside the normal bounds of society. There was, states
Auden, a traditional "association of sodomy with usury", reaching back at least as far as Dante,
with which Shakespeare was likely familiar. (Auden sees the theme of usury in the play as a
comment on human relations in a mercantile society.)

Other interpreters of the play regard Auden's conception of Antonio's sexual desire for Bassanio
as questionable. Michael Radford, director of the 2004 film version starring Al Pacino, explained
that although the film contains a scene where Antonio and Bassanio actually kiss, the friendship
between the two is platonic, in line with the prevailing view of male friendship at the time.
Jeremy Irons, in an interview, concurs with the director's view and states that he did not "play
Antonio as gay".

Adaptations and cultural references

Film adaptations

The Shakespeare play has inspired several films.

• 1914—silent film directed by Lois Weber

o Weber, who also stars as Portia, became the first woman to direct a
full-length feature film in America with this film.
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 1973—television film directed by John Sichel
o The cast included Laurence Olivier as Shylock, Anthony Nicholls as
Antonio, Jeremy Brett as Bassanio, Joan Plowright as Portia, Louise
Purnell as Jessica.
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 1980—A BBC television film directed by Jack Gold
o The cast included Warren Mitchell as Shylock and John Rhys-Davies as
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 1996—A Channel 4 television film directed by Alan Horrox
o The cast included Paul McGann as Bassanio and Haydn Gwynne as
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 2001—A BBC television film directed by Trevor Nunn
o Royal National Theatre production starring Henry Goodman as Shylock
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 2002—The Maori Merchant of Venice, directed by Don Selwyn.
o In Maori, with English subtitles. The cast included Waihoroi Shortland
as Shylock, Scott Morrison as Antonio, Te Rangihau Gilbert as
Bassanio, Ngarimu Daniels as Portia, Reikura Morgan as Jessica.
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 2003 Shakespeare's Merchant, directed by Paul Wagar and produced by
Lorenda Starfelt, Brad Mays and Paul Wagar.
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 2004—The Merchant of Venice, directed by Michael Radford.
o The cast included Al Pacino as Shylock, Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph
Fiennes as Bassanio, Lynn Collins as Portia, and Zuleikha Robinson as
o The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
• 2006-Shakespeare's Collections - The Merchant of Venice, directed by Jack

Cultural references

Arnold Wesker's play The Merchant tells the same story from Shylock's point of view. In this
retelling, Shylock and Antonio are fast friends bound by a mutual love of books and culture and
a disdain for the crass anti-Semitism of the Christian community's laws. They make the bond in
defiant mockery of the Christian establishment, never anticipating that the bond might become
forfeit. When it does, the play argues, Shylock must carry through on the letter of the law or
jeopardize the scant legal security of the entire Jewish community. He is, therefore, quite as
grateful as Antonio when Portia, as in Shakespeare's play, shows the legal way out. The play
received its American premiere on November 16, 1977 at New York's Plymouth Theatre with
Joseph Leon as Shylock, Marian Seldes as Shylock's sister Rivka and Robert Maxwell as Portia.
This production had a challenging history in previews on the road, culminating (after the first
night out of town in Philadelphia on September 8, 1977) with the death of the larger-than-life
Broadway star Zero Mostel, who was initially cast as Shylock. The play's author, Arnold Wesker
wrote a book chronicling the out-of-town tribulations that beset the play and Zero's death called
"The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel."
Edmond Haraucourt, the French playwright and poet, was commissioned in the 1880s by the
actor and theatrical director Paul Porel to make a French verse adaptation of the Merchant of
Venice. His play Shylock, first performed at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in December 1889, had
incidental music by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, later incorporated into an orchestral
suite of the same name.[16]

One of the four short stories comprising Alan Isler's Op Non Cit is also told from Shylock's point
of view. In this story, Antonio was a boy of Jewish origin kidnapped at an early age by priests...

Ralph Vaughan Williams' choral work Serenade to Music draws its text from the discussion
about music and the music of the spheres in Act V, scene 1.

Gears of War 2 has an achievement named 'A pound of flesh' which is a reference to Shylock's
deal regarding a pound of flesh.[17]

Assassin's Creed II has an achievement named 'The Merchant of Venice'

The movie 7 pounds is centered around the concept of atonement for previously taken seven

In World of Warcraft, level 20-31 ghouls in the Duskwood and Stranglethorn Vale zones have a
trash drop named 'Pound of Flesh.'

In The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride Zira tells Simba that, if he wants his revenge for the outsiders
coming within the boundaries of the Pride Lands, that he may 'take his pound of flesh'.

In Borderlands, some of the Horde melee mobs will yell, "It's time for my pound of flesh!" while
running at the player.

Kansas City indie rock trio The Casket Lottery take their name from an event in the play.