Study Questions & Essay Topics Study Questions 1. Discuss Shylock’s dramatic function in The Merchant of Venice. What do critics mean when they suggest that Shylock is “too large” for the play? Does he fulfill or exceed his role? Model Answer – In order to ensure that we understand Shylock as a threat to the happiness of Venice’s citizens and lovers, Shakespeare uses a number of dramatic devices to amplify Shylock’s villainy. In doing so, however, he creates a character so compelling that many feel Shylock comes to dominate the play, thereby making him “too large. Certainly, Shylock is a masterful creation. At his cruelest, he is terrifying, even more so because all of his schemes exist within the framework of the law. Seen in this light, Shylock becomes a kind of bogeyman, turning Venetian society’s own institutions on themselves. On the other hand, Shylock is also pitiable, even sympathetic, at times. He has been harshly handled by Venetian society and has seen his daughter elope with one of the same men who despise him.
His passionate monologue in Act III, scene i reveals that he feels the same emotions as his opponents, and we cannot help but see him as a man. In fact, Shylock’s character is so well-rounded and intricate that many see him as the only interesting figure in a play that is not, in theory, supposed to center about him. Shylock’s scenes are gripping and fascinating, and many critics believe the play deflates every time he makes an exit. 2. In the end, how comic is The Merchant of Venice? Does the final act succeed in restoring comedy to the play? Model Answer –
The Merchant of Venice contains all of the elements required of a Shakespearean comedy, but is often so overshadowed by the character of Shylock and his quest for a pound of flesh that it is hard not to find in the play a generous share of the tragic as well. Lovers pine and are reunited, a foolish servant makes endless series of puns, and genteel women masquerade as men—all of which are defining marks of Shakespearean comedy. In sharp contrast to these elements, however, Shakespeare also presents Shylock, a degraded old man who has lost his daughter and is consumed with a bloody greed.
The light language of the play’s comedic moments disappears for whole scenes at a time, and Antonio’s fate is more suspenseful than funny. The final act redeems the play’s claims to be a comedy, piling on the necessary humor and serendipity, but the rest of the play is overcast by the fact that Antonio may soon pay Bassanio’s debt with his life. 3. Discuss the relationship between Jessica and Shylock. Are we meant to sympathize with the moneylender’s daughter? Does Shakespeare seem ambivalent in his portrayal of Jessica? Model Answer –
In looking at the relationship between Jessica and Shylock, we are again forced to walk a fine line between sympathizing with and despising Shylock. For all intents and purposes, the play should label Shylock’s mistreatment by his own daughter as richly deserved. After all, he is spiteful, petty, and mean, and in his more cartoonish or evil moments, it is hard to imagine why Jessica should stay. At other times, however, Jessica’s escape seems like another cruel circumstance inflicted on Shylock, and her behavior offstage borders on heartless.
Shylock is never more sympathetic than when he bemoans the fact that Jessica has taken a ring given to him in his bachelor days by his wife and has traded it for a monkey, the most banal of objects. Nor is Jessica ever able to produce satisfactory evidence that life in her father’s house is miserable. Her seeming indifference to Antonio’s fate—she and Lorenzo are more interested in the price of bacon—makes us wonder whether Jessica is actually more selfish and self-absorbed than the father she condemns. While Shylock is no saint, his resolve to collect his debt only seems to strengthen beyond reason after he discovers that Jessica has fled.
Suggested Essay Topics 1. Discuss the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio. What does their friendship reveal about their characters? 2. Examine Shylock’s rhetoric. Pay special attention to the quality of his language—his use of metaphor and repetition, for instance. How do his speeches reflect his character as a whole? 3. Compare and contrast Venice and Belmont. What is the significance of these distinct settings in the play? 4. Analyze the way that time passes in The Merchant of Venice, paying special attention to conflicts between time in Venice and Belmont.
Are there any inconsistencies, and if so, how does the play handle them? 5. To what extent is Shylock defined by his Jewishness? To what extent is he defined by his profession? 6. Discuss Portia’s character. How does she compare to the men around her? Is Bassanio a worthy husband for her? 7. Discuss how the trial scene reveals a conflict between justice and mercy. Is the conflict resolved? If so, how? STUDY QUESTIONS- II 1. Is Shylock justified in his hatred for Antonio? 2. Explain the test of the caskets. 3. What superior values does mercy have over justice? 4.
What are the hypocrisies of the Christian society in the play? 5. Explain the significance of the trial scene. What are the comic interludes provided and how do they provide relief? 6. Discuss the characters of Antonio and Shylock, underlining their similarities and differences. 7. What is Portia’s role in the play? 9. Comment on Antonio’s motivation. Are his stated motives sufficient to account for his words and actions in the play? What hidden motives might we suspect? 10. What characters do you think are the most coveted roles in the play? Why? Exam Advice – Shakespeare –The Merchant of Venice
There are two questions on the paper, both containing two opposing statements on the topic of characters or opposing themes e. g. The Merchant of Venice is a play about friendship The Merchant of Venice is a play about hatred What justification is there to support each of these views? OR Antonio is a kind, generous character Antonio is a harsh and cruel character What is your view about the character of Antonio? Either way, you will have to write your answer focusing on both statements. Make sure you read the question carefully. What should I include in my essay?
Your responses will be marked for four main aspects: i) strong, personal argument, structure to response, ii) clear knowledge of the text –extensive use of examples –both short one/ two word quotations embedded in your own sentences and longer quotations – about 12-15 in entire essay iii) analysis of language, able to weigh up different interpretations or meanings iv) context –understanding of the time in which the play was written and how different times and audiences may perceive the play. Suggested approach:- 1) Point –use short quotations to make your point 2) Evidence –a longer quotation is now needed ) Explain –why it is said, when etc 4) Analysis, linguistic comment – pick out words in your example and look for hidden/ double meanings 5) Context – how the different audience’s may feel/ react Then repeat the process again. Here are a few examples form the first Act of the play. Antonio’s first words in Act 1 Scene 1 In sooth I know not why I am so sad. Initial comment: establishes Antonio’s melancholic mood from the opening words in the play. Linguistic comment: the long vowel sounds and soft sibilance of the sounds emphasizes his weariness through slowing the pace of the speech.
And in the same scene Antonio says: I hold the world but as the world, Graziano A stage where every man must play a part, And mine a sad one. Initial comment: reinforces Antonio’s mood Thematic comment: players/ stage – could link to the theme of appearance vs reality. People playing or acting a part are not really themselves. Linguistic comment: imagery/ metaphor Shakespeare often used theatrical imagery (Tempest, As you like it) And to add to that in the very next speech, Graziano takes up the theme: There are a sort of men whose visages Do cream and mantle like a standing pond.
Later in Scene 1 Bassanio’s speech about Portia reveals his feelings for her (LOVE THEME) but it also tells us as an audience what to expect when the lady herself appears in the next scene. Does she live up to Bassanio’s description of her? In Belmont is a lady richly left Linguistic comment: Play on the word richly. Is she just rich in monetary terms (MONEY THEME) or is she rich in that she is precious? The word Belmont. The ‘Bel’ part means beauty. Why is this significant? In the same speech, ‘Fair’ is repeated. She is fair and fairer than that word …. I did receive fair speechless messages
Linguistic comment: is she just fair in beauty or fair in terms of JUSTICE? Certainly there are plenty other references to money in this speech: ‘undervalued’, ‘the means’, ‘thrift’ and ‘fortunate’ Also, the word fair is echoed in Act 1 Scene 3 when Bassanio show mistrust of Shylock and his bond I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind’ (see also the different plays on the word ‘kind’ used in this exchange). Etc… How might I revise? ¬ Read the play again ¬ Place ‘post it’ notes at various intervals in the play to help you revise –characters, themes, key quotations ¬ Read your quotation sheet Create revision cards for each theme/ character/ important scenes ¬ Plan and answer example questions ¬ Choose some examples to analyse in depth ¬ Act out the play with friends/ family ¬ Read through your file containing class notes Some of the following topics have not been covered – you may wish to revise these too; ? Animal imagery ? Words to do with money ? Different kinds of love ? Sound imagery in Act 5 ? Mercy and forgiveness vs revenge ? Appearance vs reality ? Racism and prejudice ? Money ? Friendship ? The role of women In the exam? Plan –this will help you give a structured response.
With your two opposing statements – if theme based – choose 3 or 4 characters to write about and how they prove both statements –evidence for both, if character based –choose 3 or 4 events in the play where they prove both statements. Remember, it is better to go back and forth between the opposing statements, than try to deal with one, then the other. 5 minutes left!!! ? Check your answer. Read your essay. Check you have used enough examples, have shown some analysis, have mentioned context and that you have answered the question. Add anything you need to with *.