Topic outline

    • The Merchant of Venice (By William Shakespeare)

      About the passage

      Read to understand

      A. Answer these questions with reference to the context.

      1. ‘I take full responsibility for my actions.’

      a) Who said this? Who was he or she responding to?

      Ans. Shylock said this in response to Portia’s speech on mercy.

      b) What does his response reveal about his or her attitude?

      Ans.  He was merciless and was determined to have his ‘pound of flesh’.


      2. ‘That can’t happen. There’s no power in Venice that can change an established law.’

      a) Who spoke these words?

      Ans. Portia spoke these words.

      b) Who was the person responding to? Who was the response expected from?

      Ans. Portia was responding to Bassanio’s request to the Duke to ‘bend the law’. The Duke was expected to respond.

      c) What does ‘that’ refer to in the first sentence?

      Ans. ‘That’ refers to ‘bending the law’, changing a decision in favour someone.

      d) What reason does the speaker give for why ‘that can’t happen’?

      Ans. ‘That can’t happen’ because the change would be recorded as a precedent, and many wrong legal decision will result.


      3. ‘I beg your honour to declare the verdict.’

      a) Who uttered these words?

      Ans. Antonio spoke these words.

      b) When did the speaker make this request?

      Ans. The speaker made this request after Shylock refused the offer of three times the money and Portia’s request to tear up the contract.

      c) Why was the speaker in such haste for the judgement to be declared?

      Ans. The speaker was in such haste for the judgement to be declared because he was sure that Shylock would take his revenge and the court proceedings also seemed to go in favor of Shylock.


      4. ‘Is that what the agreement says?’

      a) Who asked this question?

      Ans. Shylock asked this question.

      b) Who was it addressed to?

      Ans. The question was addressed to Portia.

      c) What aspect of the agreement was the speaker referring to? Why did he or she ask this question?

      Ans. The speaker was referring to having a surgeon present at the time when a pound of flesh would be taken from Antonio. He asked this question because Portia called a surgeon to be present to attend to Antonio and he was supposed to pay the surgeon but he was sure it was not in the agreement.

      B. Number these events in the order that they happened in the play.

      1. Antonio could not repay the money because his ships sank. 2

      2. Bassanio accused Shylock of being evil and malicious. 4

      3. Half of Shylock’s wealth was willed to his daughter and son-in-law. 10

      4. Portia punished Shylock for attempting to kill Antonio. 9

      5. Shylock said there was no power in the tongue of man to make him change his mind. 6

      6. Shylock agreed to take the principal amount. 8

      7. Antonia borrowed a huge sum of money from Shylock. 1

      8. Shylock took Antonio to court and refused to show mercy. 3

      9. Shylock was offered three times the amount borrowed. 5

      10. The court awarded a pound of flesh to be extracted without shedding a drop of blood. 7


      C. Answer these questions.

      1. Why do you think Shylock refused to have a surgeon attend to Antonio?

      Ans. He refused to have a surgeon attend to Antonio because he wanted Antonio to die.


      2. How did Portia use Shylock’s terms of agreement to save Antonio’s life?

      Ans. Portia referred to Shylock’s agreement in which a pound of flesh was expressly stated, no blood was mentioned. So, Portia insisted that since the agreement did not mention blood, Shylock could not remove any blood from Antonio’s body and it was very difficult for Shylock to cut exactly one pound of flesh without shedding a single drop of blood. This is how Portia used Shylock’s terms of agreement to save Antonio’s life.


      3. Did Shylock’s opinion of Portia as the ‘most learned judge’ change? Why? When do you think this change of opinion would have come about?

      Ans. Shylock’s opinion of Portia changed after he realized he could not fulfill the terms i.e. cutting exactly one pound of flesh without shedding a single drop of blood.


      4. Why do you think Portia insisted on ‘the penalty and the agreement’?

      Ans. Shylock did not respond to the appeals to show mercy and insisted on his agreement. That’s why Portia insisted on ‘the penalty and the agreement’.


      5. Do you think the Duke was just and merciful? Why?

      Ans. The Duke was just and merciful because when Portia subjected Shylock for conspiring against the citizen of Venice, he pardons Shylock and grants him his life.

      Discuss and write

      1. Who do you think showed the greatest mercy—the Duke, Portia, or Antonio? Justify your response.

      Ans. I think Antonio showed the greatest mercy because he did not take any of the wealth accorded to him. He made Shylock put the other half in trust with him for Shylock’s daughter and son-in-law.


      2. Comment on the character of Portia based on the extract.

      Ans. Portia is intelligent and quick-witted. She disguises herself as a man, and then assumes the role of a lawyer's apprentice whereby she saves the life of Bassanio's friend, Antonio, in court. She wins her case by referring to the details of the exact language of the law.