The merchant of Venice

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The Merchant of Venice ( English The Merchant of Venice ) is a play by William Shakespeare . The work was written between 1596 and 1598 and was published in the first four-high edition in 1600 . The earliest known performance was on February 10, 1605, before King James I at the Palace of Whitehall . The play takes place in Venice and in Belmont , a country residence on the mainland. The plot is based on Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino and the Gesta Romanorum collection of anecdotes .


Antonio, a Venetian merchant, would like to support his friend Bassanio, who walks on the loose: Bassanio has fallen in love with Portia, a rich young noblewoman, and courtship promises to be expensive, but ultimately also very lucrative. In order to be able to help his friend with the necessary money, Antonio incurs debts himself to the Jewish moneylender Shylock. Shylock, who is despised by the Christians of Venice, is publicly insulted by Antonio, and who in turn hates Antonio on behalf of all Christians, offers, contrary to his usual interest rate practice, to forego interest this time. As security, he only demands this, apparently for fun: If the debtor does not manage to repay the borrowed money in time, Shylock is entitled to "a pound of meat" from Antonio's body. Antonio agrees and signs a corresponding promissory note, as he is sure that his merchant ships, which are currently on long voyages, will soon return to Venice richly loaded.

In Belmont, Bassanio also has to agree to an unusual agreement: Portia's late father has decreed in his will that her applicants must choose from three boxes (one gold, one silver, one leaden) that contains Portia's picture; if you fail to do this, you have to remain celibate for life. The first applicant, the greedy Prince of Morocco, chooses the golden box, because the leaden box says: "Whoever chooses me must give everything and dare what he has", and for lead he does not want to risk everything he has . The silver one says, “Whoever chooses me will get as much as he deserves,” which sounds like an invitation to torture to him. The golden one, however, says: "Whoever chooses me will win what many desire", which for him clearly alludes to Portia. In the golden box, however, there are only a few gold coins and a skull with a scroll on which the famous saying is written:

“Not everything that glitters is gold, / You have often heard that said - / Someone has sold their life / Only to see my appearance. / Gilded graves enclose worms. / If you had been as wise as you had been bold, / Young in the limbs, old in judgment, / Your answer would not have been written down like this - / Farewell, your advertising is cold. "

Thus, he is not a suitable applicant and must lead a life as a bachelor from now on.

The second applicant is the self-confident Prince of Arragon. He chooses the silver box because he thinks he "deserves" Portia. In it, however, he finds the image of a blinking idiot who holds out a piece of paper. This has also proven to be unsuitable. Finally, the last applicant is Bassanio. He notes that the line on the leaden box refers to the wedding as an important turning point in life. He chooses the right box and is allowed to marry Portia.

Back in Venice, he finds Antonio worried: the merchant's ships are missing and it seems hopeless that he will be able to repay Shylock the sum owed in time. Shylock is already sharpening his knife and has brought a pair of scales with him when the young "lawyer" Balthasar - who is actually Portia in disguise, who has come to Venice - appears and presents the solution at the last minute: Shylock has a contractual right to claim the flesh, but not on Antonio's blood, so he shouldn't shed a drop of blood while cutting it out. If he does, he faces the death penalty and all of his goods would be confiscated by the state. It is also stated in the laws of Venice that whoever seeks the life of a citizen as a stranger loses one half of his fortune to the opposing party (Antonio) and the other half to the state, his life depends on the duke's grace . The believer has to admit his defeat bitterly. But the Doge shows gentleness, and Antonio offers the return of his half of when Shylock to Christianity convert and his estate after his death bequeath his daughter Jessica and her boyfriend Lorenzo. The broken Shylock agrees to do anything and leaves the court. At the happy end, the couples Portia-Bassanio, Nerissa-Gratiano, Jessica-Lorenzo meet with Antonio in Belmont, who is pleased to learn that his ships have arrived safely in port.

Literary templates and socio-cultural references

The two main storylines of the play, the story of a promissory note issued on a pound of human flesh as pledge, and the story of courtship by choosing boxes, are based on traditional, widespread narrative motifs that have been used for centuries both on the continent and in England were in circulation and existed in various versions.

Ser Giovannis Il Pecorone , title page of a print of the Italian original from 1565

In the plot about Antonio and Shylock, Shakespeare's direct model is a story from the collection of short stories Il Pecorone , written by a certain Ser Giovanni from Florence , which was written around 1378 and was first printed in 1558. As the last episode of a fairytale romance , the story of the meat pledge with subsequent trial and fake lawyer including an appended ring episode is told.

Shakespeare's play not only agrees with this Italian novella in numerous details, such as the venues in Venice and Belmont, but also in the plot structure of the link between the promissory note motif and the courtship for the Lady of Belmont and the ring episode. An English translation of this novella has not survived; how Shakespeare came to know this tale Ser Giovanni's is unclear.

While the anecdotal attraction of the story as such is in the foreground in the Italian novella , Shakespeare, on the other hand, deepens the motivation of his characters and thematically highlights the problematic of the events. He also expands the episodes of the main plot and adds the contrasting subplots around Jessica and Nerissa according to the structure of his earlier comedies. At the same time, Shakespeare accentuates the dramatic and poetic-atmospheric moments in the story and replaces the erotic swaying motif of successful cohabitation in the novel with the more effective and relational motif of the choice of boxes.

This narrative motif of the choice of boxes can already be found in the Gesta Romanorum , a collection of short stories or fables that was rewritten several times and originally in Latin , which clergymen also used as examples for their sermons. Shakespeare's source was believed to have been an English translation and revision of this medieval collection by Richard Robinson printed in 1595. In this model, however, it is the achievement of the bride, a shipwrecked king's daughter rescued from the belly of a whale, to prove that she is the suitable wife for the son of the Emperor of Rome through the correct choice of the lead casket.

The godfather relationship that exists in Ser Giovanni's novella between the suitor and the victim of the usurer, Shakespeare transforms into a close male friendship, as he had already depicted in The Two Gentlemen of Verona or in early sonnets . In addition, the figure of the Jewish usurer, who remains a pale secondary character in the original Italian novella, finally becomes such a central figure in Shakespeare's play that the alternative title The Jew of Venice was entered in the Stationers' register .

Repulsive horror stories about bloodthirsty, greedy and anti-Christian Jews were widespread in the Christian West in all countries, regardless of whether there were any Jews there. For example, Barabas, the title character of Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (around 1589), is a diabolically scheming villain who is greedy for power in the Machiavellian sense. The relationship between Shylock and his daughter Jessica in Shakespeare's play is also reminiscent of the relationship between Barabas and his daughter Abigail in Marlowe's work. Shakespeare may also be familiar with the lost anonymous play The Jew , the main character of which is also described by the puritan Stephen Gosson in The School of Abuse (1579; The School of Abuse) as a money- and blood-hungry Jew.

Since England was one of the countries in which people of the Jewish faith had been expelled since 1290, it is rather unlikely that Shakespeare himself or his audience ever met practicing Jews. For most Englishmen at the time, the Jew was a mythical figure, although a small group of Jews lived in Elizabethan London, mostly assimilated or disguised as converts . One of these Jews was the Queen's Portuguese personal physician, Roderigo Lopes , who was accused in 1594 of participating in a planned poison attack against Elizabeth I. The interest and sensation his condemnation and public execution sparked may have been one of Shakespeare's reasons for choosing his subject, as well as the continued popularity of Marlowe's Jew of Malta .

In the figure of Antonio, in his role as a merchant, the historical background of the progressive expansion of trade from the middle of the 16th century is also reflected, which in the subsequent period led to the merger of merchants into companies such as the Muscovy Company for reasons of capital increase and risk reduction 1555, which led the Levant Company between 1581 and 1592 and the East India Company from 1606. The profits from these trading ventures, in which nobles and monarchs also participated, were extraordinarily high, but so was the risk of losing everything. Returns of 300 to 400 percent were considered normal, those of only 100 percent a failure. 1580 a record profit of 4700 percent achieved the expedition of Sir Francis Drake .


Title page of the first quarto edition 1600

The exact time of origin of the work is not known; however, there are probabilities in favor of the date 1596/97, which is common today. Only the latest possible point in time at which it was created ( terminus ad quem ) can be reconstructed with certainty . On July 22, 1598, James Robert had the piece entered in the Stationers' Register under the double title "a booke of the Marchaunt of Venyce or otherwise called the Iewe of Venyce" . The piece is also mentioned in the essay collection Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres , which was recorded in the print register on September 7th around six weeks later. Meres' book contains a list of the famous Shakespearean dramas; he names the Merchant of Venice as the last and therefore probably the youngest of Shakespeare's six comedies.

These two entries clearly show that the piece was part of the repertoire of Shakespeare's drama troupe by the summer of 1598 at the latest. Meres could only know the work from a previous performance; the registration for the printing of the comedy in July 1598 took place two years before the actual first printing and also contained a blocking clause ( proviso ) that the play could only be printed with the express consent of "Lord Chamberlain". This refers to Shakespeare's drama troupe, the Lord Chamberlain's Men , who wanted to secure the rights to the play in this way, probably in order to prevent unauthorized piracy.

Some Shakespeare researchers also consider the early registration for printing as an indication that the work was probably not written until the theater season 1597/98. According to the assumption, the blocking entry could have primarily served to protect the play, which was still performed with great success due to its topicality, from being copied by competing actors.

However, there is no unequivocal evidence or reliable information as to whether the piece was actually new when it was entered or whether it had already been written and possibly played some time before.

Even the earliest possible point in time of occurrence can no longer be determined with absolute certainty; as a terminus a quo of the summer is considered in the recent research generally 1596. This is based above all today hardly controversial text interpretation based on the input passage of the piece (i I, 27) as emblems of the Spanish ship San Andrés ( St. Andrews ) understands that it was captured by the English in 1596 in the port of Cadiz. The news of the capture of the Spanish ship reached the English court on July 30, 1596 and was the subject of general discussion; also in the summer and autumn of the following year the galleon in the hands of the English attracted attention several times, as it was in danger of being stranded or perishing. It is possible that the allusions in the opening scene of the play also refer to these later events in 1597.

In principle, it would be conceivable that the historical references in the opening scene were only added later to a previously completed version of the play; However, comparative stylistic analyzes with other works by Shakespeare speak against such an assumption, which also allow the possibility of a period before 1596 to be excluded with a relatively high degree of probability. In addition, the play is evidently influenced by Miles Mosse 's The Arraignment and Conviction of Usury , published in 1595, and should therefore not have been written before 1596.

Earlier dates of the work to 1594 are therefore largely unsecured from today's perspective. The anti-Semitic mood that had been sparked by the treason trial against Roderigo Lopes, Queen Elizabeth's Jewish personal physician, and his execution in 1594, was further fueled by the re-performance of Marlowe's The Jew of Malta from January to June 1596; Corresponding public interest was still to be expected at this time.

Text history

First folio edition 1623, printed by Edward Blount and Isaac Jaggard

The first quarto edition of The Merchant of Venice ( Q1 ) appeared in 1600; however, the corresponding entry in the Stationers' Register of October 28, 1600 records a transfer of the printing rights from James Roberts to Thomas Hayes. The title page of the first print contains the author ( “Written by William Shakespeare” ) as well as the addition “Printed by IR [James Roberts] for Thomas Heyes” and a reference to previous performances of Lord Chamberlaine's Men ( “As it hath beene diuers times acted by the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants " ). The background to the transfer of printing rights is unclear, as there is no reliable information about the business relationships between Roberts, Hayes and the Shakespeare company. Various Shakespeare editors suspect, however, that Roberts acted in his own name or on behalf of the Lord Chamberlain's Men and had to submit a theater copy or a direct book of the drama troupe to the Stationers to legitimize the printing in October 1600 . This is also supported by the strange redundancy in the stationer's entry ( “a booke called the booke of the m chant of Venyce” ), as the Elizabethan prompt books usually contained the inscription ( “The book of ...” ).

From today's text-critical point of view, the printing of the first four-high edition of The Merchant of Venice was most likely not based on a theater or stage copy, but a handwritten manuscript by Shakespeare - contrary to earlier hypotheses. The more precise stage directions characteristic of the prompt books are almost completely missing; In terms of orthography, correspondences with the draft version (so-called foul paper ) by Hamlet can also be found in prominent places . On the other hand, since the text has only a surprisingly small number of typographical errors or mistakes, a fair copy of the first smear version may have been used for printing.

In 1619 there was another print in four-high format ( Q2 ) with the deceptive information "Printed by J. Roberts, 1600" . For a long time this print was mistakenly regarded as the first four-high edition. Pollard , Greg and other Shakespeare researchers were able to prove beyond doubt at the beginning of the 20th century that it was actually a partially incorrect reprint of Q1 , which was carried out by William Jaggard on behalf of Thomas Pavier and was part of the so-called False Folio . Pavier, who apparently wanted to publish a first collection of Shakespeare dramas, did not have the necessary printing rights and therefore faked them by wrong backdating and untrue information. This second four-high edition ( Q2 ), which deviates from Q1 in various places , is no longer given any text authority as a rule.

The first folio edition ( F1 ) of The Merchant of Venice appeared in 1623 based on the four-high printing ( Q1 ) of 1600, as spelling and typographical matches show. However, the original text of Q1 was supplemented by various stage and stage directions as well as nudes, which suggests that a prompt book was also probably used for printing.

Further folio editions were published in 1632 ( F2 ), 1663 ( F3 ) and 1685 ( F4 ) as reprints of the first folio edition; a third four-high edition ( Q3 ), which largely follows the version of the first four-high edition ( Q1 ), was printed in 1637 by Hayes' son Laurence. However, these editions published after 1623 cannot claim any greater text validity as mere reprints of previous printed versions.

The work and its reception

Hardly any other Shakespeare drama has been received and interpreted as differently as The Merchant of Venice . Shylock as one of the main characters is one of the most discussed dramatic characters in Shakespeare. He has been interpreted as a demonic villain as well as a comical deceived fraudster or a pitiful tragic figure.

The range of answers to the repeatedly raised question about the author's fundamental statement or the underlying intention is just as broad. In addition to allegorical interpretations, in which the work was understood as a dramatization of the triumph of grace over justice in the strict sense, there are monothematic interpretations that see certain topic-specific terms such as "love's wealth" as the key to an overall understanding . In more recent interpretive approaches, Shakespeare's main intention is increasingly seen in portraying the supposedly victorious world of values ​​Antonio and Portia ironically or subversively as fragile and hollow.

This complete difference or contradiction in the interpretation of the piece is due on the one hand to the historically and culturally changing collective as well as individual attitudes towards Judaism and the money business, but on the other hand is just as fundamentally based on the nature of the work itself.

In this play, including the shorter sequences of events, Shakespeare links a total of five storylines, which as such are of a heterogeneous nature and have different dramatic potentials. The story of the bridal lottery and the puzzling choice of boxes, for example, is basically a fairy tale , the story of the promissory note and the loan dispute a fluctuation. All subplots or episodes come from traditions of popular narration that do not follow the dictates of probability or reality of the plot and operate with simple types of characters such as the beautiful rich heiress, the cunning cheater or the honorable merchant.

From these found materials Shakespeare develops theatrically highly effective scenes with complex characters and develops the themes and conflicts inherent in the actions. As in some of his other theatrical works, he refrains from combining all thematic aspects and dramatic moments into a closed, completely coherent whole. Some moments are unfolded to the level of the highest complexity, others are left as simple or fairytale-like as in the underlying source without major changes. The inconsistencies or inconsistencies that arise in this way are not corrected in all places or completely eliminated.

The interweaving of the various storylines, especially the main stories of the meat deposit and the choice of boxes, takes place via connecting figures, who act as plot carriers in all subplots. As was already recognized in the early criticism of Shakespeare in the 18th century, it was quite successful. Bassanio is at the same time the merchant's friend and the worthy, successful courtier. In this way, the popular theme of the competition between friendship and love is taken up by the personal union. Portia in turn is not only the courted rich heiress, but also acts in disguise as the legal expert who brings about the turning point in the process.

The scenes that form the backbone of the play from a dramaturgical point of view are also artfully designed and theatrically effective: the discussions and negotiations between Shylock, Antonio and Bassanio about the loan and the conditions associated with it, the three exciting and linguistically glamorous box selection and puzzle scenes, the large court scene, which covers almost the entire fourth act, and finally the equally extensive final scene in Belmont at night, which restores harmony at the end.

The scenes and action worlds of Venice and Belmont are represented by Shakespeare in their diversity, but brought into close relation to one another through the design of the thematic material they contain.

Antonio and Shylock, as opponents in the history of the pledge, are on the one hand opposing poles not only as Christian and Jew, but also as seriously melancholy hero and cunning-comic villain. On the other hand, they also represent different concepts and values ​​in business life.

Antonios' merchant ethos is based above all on the transfer of aristocratic values ​​and attitudes into the world of bourgeois trade: Antonio shows himself in his role as a merchant above all as a generous, selfless friend who is ready for every sacrifice and thus the ideal of the Renaissance -Humanism equates. For him, money is the basis of cultivated sociability and circulates freely between friends and lovers.

The attitude not only characterizes his behavior towards Bassanio; otherwise he acts in Shakespeare's play according to the historically new principle of business friendship and basically lends his money without interest or security. In addition to friendship, his performance as a businessman is also reflected in his willingness to take risks; Shakespeare's trade credo is essentially characterized by expressions and terms of risk or daring such as “hazard” or “venture” . His ships in particular are portrayed as "ventures" , which deliver him in his position as "royal merchant" to the capricious Fortuna , which, however, he endures with great serenity.

In contrast, Shylock is a businessman who demands interest. For him money is an end in itself; he only lends it to amass more money or to get the debtor completely under his control. He is accused of usury in Shakespeare's work, although such a procedure was already legitimate and customary in the early capitalist reality of the time. For Shylock, interest in the original sense of the term "interest" is self-interest; He demands security for his loaned money.

From his point of view, cunning is quite permissible in business life; he wants to hoard what he has acquired and is not prepared to give it away at any price. He hates Antonio as his opponent, who not only follows a different faith in religious terms, but also represents a completely different set of values ​​in his business practices. Against this background, Shylock regards trade as a form of struggle.

As a thematic parallel to the trade and loan history, Shakespeare expands the bride lottery into a parable about the same values ​​and attitudes: Portia is a rich heiress, just as Shylock and Antonio are rich. Whoever wins her as a bride makes a fortune. While in the literary genre of comedy, the close interlinking between soliciting love and acquiring assets is usually taboo, Shakespeare consistently focuses on thematic and leitmotif in his play . Portia is not only a model of virtue and beauty, but also an object of value. Their external wealth corresponds to their intrinsic worth; This connection is symbolically illustrated by the metaphor of money and trade , in which love appears as a barter and its rich wages as usury (III, ii).

As in the world of commerce, the willingness to take risks is crucial in the realm of love; In addition to the terms of luck, expressions of risk such as “hazard” , “venture” or “take a chance” can be found in the Portia scenes equally in central places . Portia herself is ready to take the risk by entrusting her own future fate to the bride lottery decreed by her father. Likewise, their suitors are bold and daring, for they must swear never to woo a woman again if they fail.

Bassanio is successful in courtship because he chooses the box with the saying that requires the person choosing to risk everything for something outwardly inconspicuous like lead. He is at a distance from the precious metal he strives for; his attitude corresponds to that of the businessman and he rightly wins.

The risky risk ( "venture" ) is expressed in Bassiano's choice of the leaden box in the same way as in Antonio's standing up for his friend; this daring stems at the same time from an attitude of play towards life that is also characteristic of Portias and Nerissa's virtuoso comedy in disguise. Shylock, on the other hand, cannot afford such a game; Accordingly, in the festive and playful world of Venice, he is seen as a foreign body, which Portia "plays over" in men's clothes by turning his legal claim against himself.

In practice, the black and white scheme of the good and the bad, the right and the wrong doer in The Merchant of Venice is relativized again and again, since Shakespeare does not portray his characters as consistent or completely free of contradictions, but rather them depending on the scenic Context can act differently.

In the world of Belmont, for example, Portia shows herself to be generous towards everyone else, while in her role as a false legal expert in the trial against Shylock she uses advocate tricks that are in clear contradiction to her previous behavior. In addition, she preaches the blessings of a grace that she herself does not accept.

The largest range of variations can be found in the design of the Shylock figure. While he appears in various scenes as a comic villain who gives himself up to ridicule, there are passages as well as his famous plea for the humanity of the Jews (III.1), which arouse the sympathy or sympathy of the audience and in which the audience definitely is tempted to share Shylock's view of the Christian business or commerce world as ruthless or unscrupulous companionship.

In the same way, Antonio, as a businessman and friend, is not only a role model in terms of persistence, but also has his dark or open-ended sides and character traits such as his emphasized sadness at the beginning of the piece. Nor is his relationship with Bassanio clearly clarified; It remains to be seen whether the two feel connected by a purely male friendship, whose conflict with love between man and woman was one of the popular Renaissance themes, or whether their relationship is at least subliminally homoerotic , as various modern interpreters assume.

Often there is only a loose cohesion between the individual scenes of the play; instead of cross-scene aspects, the local moments or concerns focused on the here and now come to the fore. The different structural elements or components of the piece are not consistently closely interlinked; Instead, separate and also disparate parts correspond with one another in a rather loose cohesion through repetitions, common leitmotifs or contrasting opposites.

In this regard, for example, lavish giving or venturing and narrow-minded calculation or greed are not only juxtaposed in a paradoxical imagery, but at the same time brought into a specific relationship to one another, which constantly calls into question the idealistic self-image of Venice's Jeunesse dorée .

The image of the harmoniously united couples conjured up in the final scene in a lyrically transfigured and cheerfully playful atmosphere and the symbolic notion of an interpersonal and cosmic harmony that is expressed in the platonic music of the spheres , which fades the discord in the events surrounding Shylock, is also overshadowed by contrast of the love tragedies that Lorenzo and Jessica recall in their duet.

The linguistic design of The Merchant of Venice is also shaped by the central contrast between the different worlds of Venice and Belmont. The language of the young lovers is funny and playful and is enriched by pictorial poetic comparisons, but also flexibly adapted to the respective situations by suggestive ambiguities or polished rhetoric.

Shylock's way of speaking, on the other hand, is determined by staccato repetitions or chopped off sentence particles , Old Testament expressions and pictorial expressions from the world of the lower or repulsive animals; his concrete, tangible diction stands in shrill dissonance not only with the playful way of speaking of the lovers, but also with the deeply emotional, melancholy expression of Antonios in several places , which in turn questions the cheerful and sociable tone of his friends. Despite Portia's saving intervention, which prevents him from falling victim to the conventional conflict of friendship and love, he, like Shylock, remains excluded from the happy community of united lovers in the comedy society.

In this respect, the correspondence between the title hero and his antagonist as an outsider or lonely person is definitely one of the disturbing moments of the play, which questions the transfiguration or idealization of the ultimately harmonious world of the comedy society. By throwing up these ironic breaks, Shakespeare's comedy comes close to a tragedy and, despite the apparently happy outcome, leads to positive uncertainty among the recipients, which has repeatedly provoked further engagement with the work on the part of readers, viewers, directors and critics .

The attempts in various newer interpretations of the Merchant of Venice , which aim to make a unified statement of the piece by one-sided highlighting of specific moments and the fading out of other aspects, on the other hand, probably ascribes a greater cohesion to the piece than Shakespeare himself intended.

To understand

Ludwig Devrient as Shylock (sketch by Wilhelm Hensel )
Shylock and Jessica by Maurycy Gottlieb (1856–1879)

In this play, Shakespeare and Shylock, the rich Jewish usurer, fall back on the figure of Vice . One encounters the Vice in various other characters of Shakespeare, for example in Richard III. , Iago , Lady Macbeth or in Hamlet's uncle, King Claudius. A demonization of the Jewish is no more present here than there is in the other examples a degradation of the kingship. The course of the piece does not focus on either Shylock's Judaism or its usury, but rather, as Karl Marx calls it, the merciless “Shylock's clinging to the letter of the law”. It is this blind insistence on law and order that falls back on Shylock himself at the climax of the plot. Portia says it unmistakably: "Because you insist on right, be sure: you will get what you want more than you want." (IV.1)

Antonio, Vice's opponent and leader of the good forces, is weighed down, similarly to Hamlet later, by melancholy. Although not mentioned again in the course of the play, it is announced to the audience by Antonio himself as the actual topic: “What kind of material it is, what is made of, I should first find out.” In Christianity, “melancholy” is under the term the acedia received. In connection with the sin of sins, arrogance , as hardening of the heart against God, she counts the Middle Ages as one of the deadly sins . In the transition to the Renaissance , the acedia is radically redefined and revalued as a virtue. This is the sense in which Shakespeare uses it: sadness comes from the virtue of sensitivity to the injustice of the world.

What , according to Theodor Mommsen , “Shylock requires his mortal enemy to be half ridiculous” is a moral allegory of Fortune or, to put it in a Christian term, of “ predestination or fate ”. Shakespeare likes to call Fortuna a “whore” because she “does it” with the good and the bad forces without distinction and now favors this and now that. The “Vice” always has that capricious goddess on his side first. In the case of Macbeth, her power comes in person as the "three sisters of fate". In “Kaufmann” she first gets the blows of fate against the selfless Antonio. “Not a single hit” he succeeds, and the higher powers seem to repay his love and generosity poorly. This is what Antonio's bitter irony aims at the fateful hour, at the fate, but more precisely at the justice of God: "For if only the Jew cuts deep enough, I immediately pay the debt [i.e. my love] with all my heart." (IV. 1)

The power of fate apparently has nothing to do with the sudden turnaround in the process. It is hardly a coincidence, however, that at the moment of change, the good covenant is again showing itself favorably, as if it actually had a hand in it. Fate is therefore also expressly pointed out: “Three of your galleons suddenly arrived richly laden; I am not telling you what kind of coincidence the letter leaked to me. "(V.1)


Shakespeare's comedy is often accused of being anti-Semitic , which was indeed not uncommon in Elizabethan theater. The best-known example next to Shakespeare's "Kaufmann" is Christopher Marlowe's much more undifferentiated drama The Jew of Malta . Shylock's actions are understandable through the suppression of the Jewish communities and the individual Jews (assuming the goodwill of the recipient), which does not play a central role in the play, but is definitely mentioned. Also Shylock's famous defense monologue, in which he complains about the injustices he has suffered: “If you tickle us, don't we laugh? If you poison us, won't we die? And if you offend us, shouldn't we take revenge? ”(III.1) softens the tenor of the piece. The generosity of the Christian protagonists of the piece contrasts with Shylock's vindictiveness and narrow-mindedness.

As in the medieval mystery games , this piece is intended to demonstrate the ethical principle of “grace before justice”. What is meant is that grace (Christian, New Testament) should still stand above law (Jewish, Old Testament). This is the tradition that Shakespeare adopts, even if his characters no longer appear as allegorical as they once did. However, Shakespeare's multi-faceted characterization of Shylock, who was actually designed as a comic villain, also enabled other interpretations of the material. As early as the middle of the 19th century, there were first compassionate depictions of Shylock that highlighted his tragic ambivalence. In his essay The Jew Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice", Ludwig Börne points to Shylock's human tragedy. Heinrich Heine does this even more actively in his remarks on Jessica and Portia in his book Shakespeare's Girls and Women.

While the figure of Shylock in the Nazi era, when the play was performed more frequently again (around 1943 at the Vienna Burgtheater or in the filming with Werner Krauss ), often as the embodiment of the image of the Jews corresponding to the National Socialist racial ideology with all the character and physiognomic ascribed to the Jews Stereotyped, the compassionate portrayal of Shylock has prevailed in the face of the Holocaust . The most recent film adaptation of the material, Michael Radford'sMerchant of Venice ” with Al Pacino in the role of Shylock, proceeds like this: The film begins with a montage of scenes that show contemporary anti-Semitism: inflammatory speeches by fanatical itinerant preachers, the burning of the Talmud print as well as spitting and beating Jews. Here it becomes obvious why Shylock is wrong at the crucial moment. He cannot grant the grace that is expected of him here because he lacks love as a prerequisite for it. It was destroyed by the Venetian Gentiles.

In more recent German productions, the problem of portraying Shylock itself has been made an issue. In the performances directed by Peter Zadek in 1973 and 1988, all norms of political correctness were deliberately provocatively called into question; In 1978, in his improvisations on Shylock, George Tabori presented the trauma of the German way of dealing with this work of Shakespeare, playing through the fate of Shylock twelve times.


Movie and TV

The first film adaptation, directed by Lois Weber , was the 1914 silent film The Merchant of Venice . In 1923, the comedy was again, this time by Peter Paul Felner , filmed . In 1969, German television showed a much-noticed interpretation in which the Jewish actor and director Fritz Kortner took on the role of Shylock. Max Eckard played the title role, Sabine Sinjen the Portia, Folker Bohnet the Bassiano, other roles were taken on by Boy Gobert , Karl Paryla , Gertraud Jesserer and Peter Vogel (director: Otto Schenk ). In Douglas Hickox 's 1973 horror film Theater des Grauens , Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart and Diana Rigg show a slight modification of the scene, which is announced and carried out there as a living theater. Another television version aired on September 18, 1990. Directed by George Moorse and Peter Zadek and after a translation of Elisabeth Plessen played Ignaz Kirchner to Antonio and the Prince of Morocco, Eva Mattes Portia, Gert Voss Shylock and the Prince of Arragon, Heinz Zuber the Salerio, Paulus Manker the Bassanio and Julia Stemberger the Jessica. In 2004 Michael Radford filmed a Hollywood version with Al Pacino as Shylock, Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynn Collins as Portia.


The well-known English playwright Arnold Wesker first published a new version of Shakespeare's comedy in 1977. In his work The Merchant , which also appeared as Shylock and was translated into German by Nina Adler in 1977 under this title, Wesker places Shakespeare's Shylock figure in a new context of interpretation. In the historical and social context of the Venetian world of 1563, Weskers Shylock is subject to the constraints imposed on the Jews by the local state authorities: He lives in a ghetto, is restricted in his professional activity to money trading and is arbitrated by the Venetian state Taxation exploited unscrupulously. In Wesker's play, it is not the Jew Shylock who is greedy for money, but rather the young aristocrats of the long-established families who, even in their courtship, are guided exclusively by material motives. For Wesker, Shylock's true wealth does not lie in his financial fortune, but in his books, which express the history of suffering of his people and allow Shylock to understand his own life situation in a larger context. With this knowledge he is superior to the Venetian protagonists and is able to see through their moral and ethical insubstantiality in dealing with the law. In Wesker's play, Antonio is Shylock's friend and admires his intellectuality and humanity. The contract is only concluded between the two because the Venetian law requires this for any business relationship between Jews and non-Jews. Shakespeare's pledge of the pound of meat is chosen by Shylock and Antonio in Wesker's play to express their contempt for Venetian laws. With Wesker, it is not Shylock, but the Venetian state that demands the application of the treaty to the letter as an instrument of destruction. As in Shakespeare's model, Portia succeeds in pulling the heads of Shylock and Antonio out of the noose; however, Shylock's books are confiscated for his mockery of the law. Wesker's humanistic, enlightening attitude thus fails because of a mechanistic understanding of legality, which is primarily based on racism and anti-Semitism.


The opera of the same name by the Polish composer André Tchaikowsky was based on Shakespeare's comedy The Merchant of Venice , which he completed after 24 years of work on the composition shortly before his death on June 25, 1982 with the exception of 28 bars of orchestration. The libretto comes from the American author John O'Brien , who shortened Shakespeare's original to three acts and an epilogue. The final completion and publication as a piano reduction and score was taken over by friends of Tchaikowsky's. The first performance of the work took place on July 18, 2013 at the Bregenz Festival .

Text output

Total expenditure
  • John Drakakis (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The Arden Shakespeare. Third Series. Arden, London 2010, ISBN 978-1-903436-81-3 .
  • MM Mahood (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012, ISBN 978-0-521-53251-8 .
  • JL Halio (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953585-9 .
  • Ingeborg Heine-Harabasz (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. English-German study edition. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 1982, ISBN 3-86057-547-3 .
  • Frank Günther (ed.): William Shakespeare: The merchant of Venice. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-423-12485-7 .


Web links

Commons : The Merchant of Venice  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: The Merchant of Venice  - Sources and full texts (English)

supporting documents

  1. Ina Schabert : Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 406. See also Ulrich Suerbaum : The Shakespeare Guide. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , p. 122 f. See also JL Halio (ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953585-9 , Introduction. P. 13 ff. Cf. also MM Mahood (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012, ISBN 978-0-521-53251-8 , Introduction. P. 2ff.
  2. Ina Schabert: Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , pp. 406f. See also Ulrich Suerbaum: The Shakespeare Guide. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , p. 123. See also JL Halio (ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953585-9 , pp. 17 ff, Introduction. See also MM Mahood (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012, ISBN 978-0-521-53251-8 , Introduction. P. 4ff.
  3. Ina Schabert: Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , pp. 406f. See also JL Halio (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice on the entry in the Stationers' Register . The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953585-9 , Introduction. P. 85.
  4. Ina Schabert: Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 407. See also Ulrich Suerbaum: Der Shakespeare-Führer. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , p. 123 f. Cf. also Hans-Dieter Gelfert : William Shakespeare in his time. CH Beck Verlag, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-65919-5 , p. 283, and Michael Dobson , Stanley Wells (ed.): The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, Oxford 2015, ISBN 978-0-19-870873-5 , p. 297. See also for details JL Halio (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953585-9 , Introduction. Pp. 1-16 and Sabine Schälting: The Merchant of Venice. In: Interpretations - Shakespeare's Dramas. Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-15-017513-2 , p. 137 ff.
  5. See Bernhard Fabian (Ed.): The English literature. Volume 1: Epochs and Forms. 3. Edition. Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-423-04494-2 , p. 47.
  6. ^ MM Mahood: The New Cambridge Shakespeare. 2000, Introduction pp. 1f., John Russel Brown: Arden Shakespeare. (Second Series) 2006, p. XIIf. and XXII. See also Jay L. Halio: Oxford Shakespeare. 2008, pp. 285f., As well as I. Schabert: Shakespeare-Handbuch. 2009, p. 506 as well as 197–199 and 205.
  7. John Russell Brown: Arden Shakespeare. (Second Series) 2006, p. XXVIf. and MM Mahood: The New Cambridge Shakespeare. 2000, p. 1f. See also Jay L. Halio: Oxford Shakespeare. 2008, p. 27f .; and Ina Schabert: Shakespeare-Handbuch. 5., corr. u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 406; and Hans-Dieter Gelfert : William Shakespeare in his time. CH Beck Verlag, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-65919-5 , p. 283.
  8. Jay L. Halio: Oxford Shakespeare. 2008, pp. 85ff., And John Russel Brown: Arden Shakespeare. (Second Series) 2006, pp. XI-XIII and XVf.
  9. ^ I. Schabert: Shakespeare manual. 2009, p. 211f.
  10. John Russell Brown: Arden Shakespeare. (Second Series) 2006, pp. XIII-XX. See also Jay L. Halio: Oxford Shakespeare. 2008, pp. 88-93.
  11. See Ulrich Suerbaum: The Shakespeare Guide. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , p. 124 f. See also Sabine Schälting: The Merchant of Venice. In: Interpretations - Shakespeare's Dramas. Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-15-017513-2 , p. 134 ff. And p. 151 ff.
  12. See Ulrich Suerbaum: The Shakespeare Guide. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , p. 124 f. See also Ina Schabert: Shakespeare-Handbuch. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 407 ff.
  13. Ina Schabert: Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 410.
  14. See Ulrich Suerbaum: The Shakespeare Guide. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , pp. 125–129. See also Ina Schabert: Shakespeare-Handbuch. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 408 ff.
  15. See Ulrich Suerbaum: The Shakespeare Guide. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , p. 129. In this context, see also MM Mahood (Ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012, ISBN 978-0-521-53251-8 , Introduction. Pp. 54ff and 64.
  16. Ina Schabert: Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 410.
  17. Ina Schabert: Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 410 f.
  18. See Ulrich Suerbaum: The Shakespeare Guide. 3rd, rev. Edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2015, ISBN 978-3-15-020395-8 , p. 129 f.
  19. ↑ on this, the interpretative approach in the SparkNotes The Merchant of Venice - Analysis: Act I, scene iii . Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  20. ^ Karl Marx: The capital. Critique of Political Economy . First volume. Edited by Friedrich Engels . Otto Meisners Verlag, Hamburg 1903, p. 251.
  21. on the connection here also JL Halio (ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953585-9 , Introduction, pp. 2ff.
  22. ^ Translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel, Project Gutenberg, Act I, Scene 1.
  23. See Theodor Mommsen: Roman History. First volume, 4th edition. Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlin 1865, p. 161.
  24. JL Halio (ed.): William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-953585-9 , Introduction. P. 46f.
  25. ^ Ludwig Börne: The ancestor in the project Gutenberg-DE
  26. Heinrich Heine: Shakespeare's girls and women . University of Trier. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  27. Zeno Ackermann (Ed.): Shylock after the Holocaust. To the history of a memory figure. P. 66f.
  28. Ina Schabert: Shakespeare Handbook. Time, man, work, posterity. 5th, continuous u. supplementary edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-38605-2 , p. 412.
  29. Bernhard Reitz: “Forget Things and you'll go to pieces”: Jewish identity between memory and rapprochement, utopia and Holocaust in contemporary English drama. In: Beate Neumeier (ed.): Jewish literature and culture in Great Britain and the USA after 1945. Wiesbaden 1998, ISBN 3-447-04108-0 , pp. 35–37.
  30. ^ The review by Juan Martin Koch: Respectable Shakespeare opera - intelligent sea spectacle: André Tchaikowsky's “Merchant of Venice” and Mozart's “Magic Flute” in Bregenz . In: Neue Musikzeitung . July 22, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2017.