William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. The story of the two friends Antonio and Bassanio on their quest for love and fortune is a favourite amongst exam boards. When getting to grips with one of the most iconic plays, it is important to have a good understanding of how the effectively analyse the play. This article will show how to analyse Othello in a manner that will ensure GCSE success.
Studying Shakespeare is often overwhelming to a lot of students. Understanding Elizabethan language is one of the key challenges when studying Shakespear, there is also the importance of the key themes to remember and important quotations to memorise. So, if you find you’re struggling with Othello then don’t panic, you are not the only one.
When it comes to revising for The Merchant of Venice, we suggest that students make sure they understand the key characters of the play. The characters and their attitudes as well as what are the key themes throughout, always play a key part in the exam questions. It also helps to revisit the plot of the play before the exam. When analysing The Merchant of Venice it is very important to understand the key themes, this will help to interpret the play in the correct way.
The Merchant of Venice was written between 1596 and 1599 by English playwright William Shakespeare. The play is set in the northern Italian city of Venice, where an anti-Semitic merchant named Antonio takes out a loan from Shylock the Jew to help his friend Bassanio to court a young lady named Portia. Antonio is unable to repay the loan, so Shylock demands a pound of his flesh as per the contract signed. After Portia and Bassanio marry, they hatch a plan in order to help Antonio. Portia dresses up as a male lawyer to try and trick Shylock into cancelling the loan, freeing Antonio, and banishing Shylock from the city.
The theme of friendship is very important in The Merchant of Venice because it sees friends risking their lives to help each other. Bassanio needs financial support and turns to his friend Antonio for help, even agreeing to giving Shylock a pound of his flesh if he is unable to repay the loan. The play depicts friendship as an intense emotional bond; the friendship of Antonio and Bassanio is so strong that it is deeper than dramatic love. The topic of friendship is also explored between Bassanio and Gratiano, and Portia and Nerissa. Both Gratiano and Nerissa show loyalty towards their friends, and the double marriage at the ends shows that the bond of friendship will never be broken.
Important friendship quotes:
Wealth is presented as a complex topic that can make the characters unhappy and places them in positions of disadvantage. The concept of greed is also linked to wealth and is used to show the difference between those who need money in order to live a better life, and those, like Shylock, who benefit and take advantage of these characters. Wealth also gives the characters a sense of freedom and power. For example, Portia’s wealth allows her to have the knowledge that helps trick Shylock and save her friends. Shylock is punished for his greed, while Antonio is rewarded for not letting wealth, or lack of wealth, change him as a person.
Important wealth quotes:
The theme of prejudice is used to create divisions between the characters, particularly between the Christian characters and the Jewish character of Shylock. The majority of the characters, including Shylock’s own daughter, Jessica, deeply dislike the Jew. This feeling is mirrored by Shylock, who constantly refers to his hatred for the Christians because of the pain and suffering they have forced upon him and his people. The ultimate betrayal for Shylock is his daughter running away to marry a Christian man. The Christian characters constantly judge and belittle Shylock due to his Jewish identity. Antonio makes it clear at the beginning of the play that just because he is borrowing money from Shylock, this will not change his opinion of him and the Jewish people. After Antonio is unable to repay the loan, the Christian characters blame Shylock’s Jewish identity for his lack of mercy and refusal to compromise. Shylock is not the only outsider that is mocked by the Christians; the dark-skinned Moroccan prince that attempts to court Portia is ridiculed by her, saying she did not want anyone who looks like him to win her hand in marriage.
Important prejudice quotes:
Revenge is a powerful and destructive force in The Merchant of Venice. Shylock wants to hurt Antonio because of his desire for revenge against the entire Christian community for the pain and suffering they have inflicted on his people. The plays shows that Shylock has been abused by the Christian community and blames them for “stealing” his daughter as well as the money she took when she ran away. Although his desire for revenge is a natural human response to being mistreated, Shylock ironically inflicts the same pain on Antonio that he accuses the Christians of inflicting upon him. Although he attempts to make it clear to the Christians that he is not different from them, his actions are controlled by his emotions, rather than logic, and he ends up loosing himself, his daughter, and his money in the process of carrying out his revenge.
Important revenge quotes: