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English Literature   >   Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice


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Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice

In this course, Dr Sophie Duncan (University of Oxford) explores Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. We begin in the first module by thinking about Venice as a key setting for the play and its significance at the time Shakespeare was writing. After that, we consider the presentation of same-sex desire in the play, focusing in particular on the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio, before turning in the third module to Shakespeare’s sources for the play, how he changes and adapts them, and what the implications of those changes are. In the fourth module, we think about the three female characters of the play – Portia, Nerissa and Jessica – before moving in the fifth module to consider the Jewish identity and anti-Semitism in both the play and its performance history.

Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, ed. John Drakakis) unless otherwise specified. Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


In this module, we think about Venice as a key setting for the play and its significance at the time Shakespeare was writing, focusing in particular on: (i) the historical inaccuracies in Shakespeare’s portrayal of Venice, e.g. his (apparent) lack of knowledge about the Jewish ghetto in the city, and what Renaissance Venice was actually like; (iii) the impact of the Renaissance on European art, literature, religion, economics and education, and how these changes are reflected in the play; (iv) the idea of Venice as a cultural melting pot, in which people of different ethnicities are mixed together; (v) the importance of money-lending and credit in the play; (vi) the importance of Jews to the money-lending industry in 16th-century Venice; (vii) Shakespeare’s personal experience of money-lending; and (viii) the sheer amount of money that is lent and borrowed in the play.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Duncan, S. (2020, January 24). Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice - Venice [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Duncan, S. "Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice – Venice." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Jan 2020,


Dr Sophie Duncan

Dr Sophie Duncan

University of Oxford