Study Help Essay Questions

1. Why has the character of Shylock been interpreted in so many differing ways by so many different critics? Why is this dramatic character more puzzling, or more stimulating, than any other character in any of Shakespeare's other romantic comedies?

2. Many critics feel that the images of the sea in Act I, Scene 1, strike the keynote of the play, that they suggest the bond story as the central theme. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

3. What do the choice of caskets made by the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon show about their fitness to marry Portia? Explain.

4. Relate Antonio's naturally melancholy disposition, which is emphasized in the opening scene, to his stoic acceptance of misfortune when he has to forfeit the bond.

5. The famous eighteenth-century writer Samuel Johnson refers in one of his essays to the "improbability" of The Merchant of Venice. What qualities of the play are the most improbable?

6. The nineteenth-century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge speaks of Shakespeare's "representation of men in all ages and all times" in this particular play. What are the universal or timeless elements in it?

7. Compare the argument about usury (I.iii), the talk about friendship (III.ii), and the plea for mercy (IV.i) from the standpoint of dramatic intensity. Which one of these subjects, in your view, is the most important issue in this play?

8. Many critics think that The Merchant of Venice is more tragic than comic. Why do you think so? Or do you disagree? Why?

9. Justify Shylock's demand for revenge against Antonio.

10. From references in the play, quotes, allusions, etc., describe Venice as a setting and as a city for this play.

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