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The Merchant of Venice, written around 1598, is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It is a play of multitudinous themes and carries elements of both tragedy and comedy.

It is dominated by two major characters, Shylock, demonstrating the very essence of the mainly negative qualities then associated with ‘wicked’ Jews and their often hated but successful ruthless practices in business, particularly related to usury; and Portia the embodiment of Christian love and torch bearer of justice and mercy in the face of impossible odds when defending the apparently doomed Antonio whose fortunes have, with his ships, been smashed on the rocks of wild nature.

In the court scene dominated by her famous oratory which peaks with “The quality of mercy is not strained’, we see a sudden turnaround in Shylock’s fortunes where, in the light of Portia’s ‘brilliance’ his dark motives are exposed and he gets his just desserts. Or so it would seem, because, as always in Shakespeare, appearance and reality are constantly being contrasted. There is more to Shylock than meets the eye.


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