The Merchant of Venice

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In The Merchant of Venice, one of William Shakespeare's plays, the path to marriage is hazardous. To win Portia, Bassanio must pass a test prescribed by her father's will, choosing correctly among three caskets or chests. If he fails, he may never marry at all.

Bassanio and Portia also face a magnificent villain, the moneylender Shylock. In creating Shylock, Shakespeare seems to have shared in a widespread prejudice against Jews. Shylock would have been regarded as a villain because he was a Jew. Yet he gives such powerful expression to his alienation due to the hatred around him that, in many productions, he emerges as the hero.

Portia is most remembered for her disguise as a lawyer, Balthazar, especially the speech in which she urges Shylock to show mercy that "droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven".

Shakespeare is believed to have written The Merchant of Venice in 1596-97. It was published in 1600 as a quarto. He drew on several works as sources, but chiefly on a story from Ser Giovanni Fiorentino's Il Pecorone (The Dunce).[1]

Productions at the Folger

Early editions

First Folio

LUNA: First Folio: O4r - Q2v
Hamnet: STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68

Second Folio

LUNA: Second Folio: o4r - Q2v
Hamnet: STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07

First Quarto

LUNA: First Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22296 Copy 1

Second Quarto

LUNA: Second Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22297 Copy 1

Third Quarto

LUNA: Third Quarto
Hamnet: STC 22298 Copy 1

Modern editions

Merchant of Venice Folger Edition.jpg

The Merchant of Venice can be read online with Folger Digital Texts and purchased from Simon and Schuster.

Hamnet link to Folger Edition: PR2753 .M6 2002 copy 2 v.23

In popular culture


Watch the trailer for the 2004 adaptation of this challenging work, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Joseph Fiennes.


The Folger owns over 100 stand-alone translations of The Merchant of Venice in various languages (not including collected works). Cataloging of these works is ongoing as of early 2015, and many have full-level catalog records, but some works still have only partial records. Translations can be found Hamnet in by searching for "Translations"in the Genre/Form Term field, or by searching the Call Number (Left-Anchored) field for call numbers starting with PR2796 (see the list of Sh.Col. translations call numbers for specific language call numbers). Since not all translations are fully cataloged, some items may only turn up in one of these searches.

Performance materials

Other media


  1. Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1992 Folger Shakespeare Library.