The Merchant of Venice by William
Shakespeare - context
1 William Shakespeare, His
life and times
1.1 Shakespeare was born on April
26, 1564 and died April 23, 1616
1.2 Father: John Shakespeare
1.2.1 a glove-maker who also held a number of public offices over a twenty year
period, ranging from borough ale-taster to alderman to bailiff, the highest
public office in Stratford.
1.3 Mother: Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden)
1.3.1 Shakespeare's mother was born Mary
Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do
landowner in a lesser branch of an
aristocratic family. (The family gave its
name to the Forest of Arden,
which is the setting of Shakespeare's As
You Like It.)
1.4.1 Joan, born 1558,
died before 1569
1.4.2 Margaret, born
1562, died 1563
(aged 5 months).
1.4.3 Gilbert, born 1566, haberdasher, died
1612. (A haberdasher sells hats, clothes,
thread, ribbons etc.)
1.4.4 Joan, born 1569,
married William Hart,
18.104.22.168 William left his younger sister: "All my wearing Apparell.
. . and the house with th'appurtenances in Stratford
wherein she dwelleth."
1.4.5 Anne, born 1571, died 1579.
1.4.6 Richard, born
1.4.7 Edmund, born 1580,
"player," died 1607.
1.5 began his education at the age
of six or seven at the Stratford
1.5.1 In The Merry Wives of Windsor, there is a
comical scene in which the Welsh headmaster
tests his pupil's knowledge, who is
appropriately named William. There is little
doubt that Shakespeare was recalling his own
experiences during his early school years.
1.6 During the time that Shakespeare was alive
either King James I or Queen Elizabeth I was on
2 Shakespeare's comedies
2.1 As You Like It
2.2 All's Well That Ends Well
2.3 Comedy of Errors
2.4 Love's Labour's Lost
2.5 Measure for Measure
2.6 Merchant of Venice
2.6.1 The first recorded performance of 'The Merchant of Venice' was at court on
Shrove Sunday, 10 February, 1605. King James and his courtiers must have
enjoyed it because it was performed again two days later.
2.7 Merry Wives of Windsor
2.8 Midsummer Night's Dream
2.9 Much Ado about Nothing
2.10 Taming of the Shrew
2.12 Twelfth Night
2.13 Two Gentlemen of Verona
2.14 Winter's Tale
2.15 the globe theatre
2.15.1 The Globe was owned by actors who were also shareholders in Lord Chamberlain's Men.
Two of the six Globe shareholders, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage,
owned double shares of the whole, or 25% each; the other four men, Shakespeare, John
Heminges, Augustine Phillips, and Thomas Pope, owned a single share, or 12.5%.
2.15.2 The Globe was built in 1599 using timber from an earlier theatre
2.15.3 On 29 June 1613 the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII.
A theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams
and thatching. It was rebuilt the following year.
2.15.4 Like all the other theatres in London, the Globe was closed down
by the Puritans in 1642. It was pulled down in 1644, or slightly later
3 Christians and Jews in Elizabethan
3.1 anti-Semitism: hostility to or
prejudice against Jews.
3.2.1 In general, usury defined as the lending of money at high interest
rates, is frowned upon by religion. The three Abrahamic faiths -
Judaism, Christianity and Islam - take a very firm stance against it.
22.214.171.124 Although Jews were legally permitted to lend to Christians—and although Christians saw
some practical need to borrow from them and chose to do so—Christians resented this
relationship. Jews appeared to be making money on the backs of Christians while
engaging in an activity biblically prohibited to Christians on punishment of eternal
damnation. Christians, accordingly, held these Jewish usurers in contempt
3.2.2 Biblical law forbids taking or giving interest to “your brother”
(a fellow Jew), whether money or food or “any thing."
126.96.36.199 The Bible further permitted lending money
on interest to a “stranger”, but prohibited it
to a fellow Jew (“your brother”).
3.3 only Jews who had converted to
Christianity were allowed to live in
England in Shakespeare’s day
3.4 In Venice
Jews were forced to wear skull caps
so they could be identified as Jews.
3.5 Jews had been outlawed from many
European countries – forced to live in a
‘ghetto’ (a part of town created for them).
4 Venice in the 16th
4.1 Venice was a Cosmopolitan city, holding not only
natives, but also foreigners.
4.1.1 there were flourishing Greek, Armenian, Albanian and
4.1.2 Germans, Bohemians, Poles, Hungarians
and people from the Trentino area had
built their own Fondaco in Rialto.
188.8.131.52 A fondaco was a customs warehouse,
emporium, canteen and hostel.
4.1.3 Belmont is presented as a contrast to the city. It's also a place of easy wealth, beauty, and peace,
which makes it a refuge from the cosmopolitan world of Venice. Belmont's a lot like
the forest of Arden in As You Like It
4.2 Venice was an independent republic (Italy was not unified until 1870) and its
location meant that it could trade southwards with the rest of the Italian peninsula
and across the Alps to the north of Europe – it became a central bazaar through
which materials passed in all directions.
4.2.1 Each house had two 'front' doors – one to the centre of the island and one onto a canal, which meant
that each house was also a trading post, with goods travelling throughout the Mediterranean
4.2.2 The shallows between the islands were excavated to form navigable
canals, and gaps were opened in the sand bar, making the lagoon tidal.
Access to the lagoon could be easily guarded, and the tide ensured that the
water was relatively clean.