Character: In its most general literary sense, a character is a figure in a literary work. That figure need not be human, although most characters are. Characters may be animals or even nonliving entities, provided that the author characterizes them by giving them the attributes of a human individual. Character also carries the non-literary connotations of personality and morality (or lack thereof) — hence, we speak of persons of good, bad, and “shady” character.

In Shakespeare’s time many countries did not take kindly to immigrants and foreigners, or those that were considered to be these, specifically those of religions other than the country’s national religion. One of the groups that people saw as outsiders was the Jews, “For indeed I noted some of them to be dost elegant and sweet featured persons, which gave me the occasion the more to lament their religion.” (The Merchant of Venice, pg. 141). This shows in the way that the character of Shylock is treated like an outsider, like he can’t be trusted:

Antonio: I am like to call the so again,

To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.

If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not

As to they friends, for when did friendship take

A breed for barren metal of his friend?

But lend it rather to thine enemy,

Who, if he break, thou mayst with better face

Exact the penalty.
(The Merchant of Venice 1.3.121-127)



Plot: The arrangement ad interrelation of events in a narrative work, chosen and designed to engaged the readers attention and interest (or even to arouse suspense or anxiety) while ago providing a framework for the exposition of the author’s message, or theme, and for other elements such as characterization, symbol, and conflict.

The plot of The Merchant of Venice is that Antonio, a merchant borrows money from Shylock, a jewish money lenders that his friend Bassanio can solve some riddles, to woo and marry, Portia, a nobleman’s daughter. Antonio’s ships crash while out at sea and he can no longer pay shylock the money he owes Shylock and so Shylock locks Antonio up and demands a pound of his flesh. A court ruling keeps Shylock from cutting Antonio up and taking that pound of flesh but Shylock loses half his wealth and has to convert to Christianity while Antonio is set free and his wealth is restored to him. This show the bias and prejudice that people of the time had against those of other religions, religious outsiders, and foreigners

Conflict: A confrontation or struggle between opposing characters or forces in the plot of a narrative work, from which the action emanates and around which it revolves.

The main conflict shown in The Merchant of Venice is the disagreement between the Christians and the Jews of Shakespeare’s day and the way the Christians treated the jews like outsiders and foreigners. This is also shown in the way that the other characters treat Shylock:

Portia: Tarry, Jew!

The law hath yet another hold on you.

It is enacted in the laws of Venice,

If it be proved against an alien

That by direct or indirect attempts

He seek the life of any citizen,

The party ‘gainst the which he doth contrive

Shall seize one half his goods; the other half

Comes to the privy coffer of the state,


And the offender’s life lies in the mercy

Of the duke only ‘gainst all other voice,

In which predicament, I say, thou stand’t;

For it appears, by manifest proceeding,

that indirectly and directly too
Thou hast contrived against the very life

Of the defendant; and thou hast incurred

The danger formerly by me rehearsed.

Down therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke.

(The Merchant of Venice 4.1.341-358)

Imagery: A term used to refer to: (1) the corpus of images or in a text; (2) the language used to convey a visual picture (or, most critics would add to represent any sensory experience); and (3) the use of figurative language, often to express abstract ideas in a vivid and innovative way. Imagery of this third type makes use of figures of speech such as simile, personification, and metonymy.

There is much imagery in The Merchant of Venice showing the conflict between Jews and Christians, especially having to do with or coning from Biblical scripture. Antonio claims quoting scripture doesn’t prove anything about your religion, which shows imagery representing the jews and outsiders and enemies:

Antonio: Mark you this, Bassanio,

The devil can site Scripture for his purpose.

An evil soul producing holy witness

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,

A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

(The Merchant of Venice 1.3.88-93)

Theme: The statement(s), express or implied, that a text seems to be making about its subject.



There are many themes shown in The Merchant of Venice. One of these themes is prejudice, specifically Anti-Semitism. Throughout the play jewish characters are presented as villainous evil devils to be hated by others. One specific instance of this is shown when Shylock’s daughter elopes and steals her father’s money:

Jessica: What, must I hold a candle to my shame?

They in themselves, good sooth, are too too light.

Why, ’tis an office of discovery, love,

And I should be obscured.

Lorenzo: So, you are sweet,

Even in the lovely garnish of a boy.

But come at once,

For the close night doth play the runaway,

And we are stayed for at Bassanio’s feast.

Jessica: I will make fast the doors, and gild myself

With some more ducats, and be with you straight.

Gratiano: Now, by my hood, a gentle and no Jew

Symbol: Something that, although it is of interest in its own right, stands for something larger and more complex — often an idea or a range of interrelated ideas, attitudes, and practices.

There are many symbols threaded through out The Merchant of Venice. One of these symbols is the three caskets which Portia uses to find a suitor and a husband. These caskets, one gold, one silver, one lead, can be used to symbolize the culture and legal system of Venice of the time. It shows the equal opportunities for men of all races, and religions but also shows the hidden prejudice, and bias against certain races and religions in Italy at the time, one example being the Christians biases and Racisms against the Jews.