'The Merchant of Venice' - Study Guide

The Ultimate Student Study Guide to 'The Merchant of Venice'

This The Merchant of Venice Study Guide provides plot overviews, character analysis and modern translations for important scenes.

Written by William Shakespeare in around 1597, the story takes place in 16th century Venice and follows a merchant who has borrowed money from a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. With a history of bad debt behind, it is only a matter of time until this Venetian noble defaults on his debt and Shylock demands his "pound of flesh".

We hope that this Study Guide helps you really get to grips with this entertaining and often dramatic play.

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'The Merchant of Venice' – Plot Overview

The best place to start is by understanding the sometimes over-complex plot. Written in plain modern English, this plot overview will give you a full understanding of the events of the play, why they happen and how they culminate into the infamous courtroom scenes.

We have split this into two manageable chunks below:

  1. Plot Overview (Part 1)
  2. Plot Overview (Part 2)
Shylock from 'The Merchant of Venice'
Shylock from 'The Merchant of Venice'. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Shylock is the most memorable character from The Merchant of Venice. The jury is out over weather he is an outright villain or a more sympathetic character. On one hand he goes the extra mile to obtain his "pound of flesh", an act that he know will kill his debtor. But on the other hand he is badly treated and the final tragic ending of the play falls on Shylock.

This analysis digs into this issue further to explore the complex character of Shylock. More »

Shylock Gets His Appeal on the Streets of Stratford upon Avon
Shylock Gets His Appeal on the Streets of Stratford upon Avon. Photo © Lee Jamieson

Now you have read about him, see Shylock in action! There is a reason why Shylock is such a memorable character: his speeches and quotes. To help extend your study, we have complied the best Shylock quotes and speeches from the The Merchant of Venice. Enjoy! More »

Shylock's evil is balanced out by Portia in the play. She is a strong woman, comfortable in many roles. She is the beautiful, romantic heroine of the play, but she is a far cry from the weak and feeble female stock characters that we see in some of Shakespeare's other comedies.

She is witty and fiercely intelligent. In disguise, she enters the courtroom and fights a case with full knowledge of the law. She speaks articulately about mercy when confronting Shylock in the dock, demonstrating her good heart and natural warmth.

Discover more about Portia, and why she is so important in The Merchant of Venice, in our character analysis. More »

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Top 3 Portia Quotes and Speeches

As you will have discovered in the Portia character analysis above, Portia is a complex, intelligent and articulate character. So now let us see her in action!

To help extend your study, we have complied the best Shylock quotes and speeches from the The Merchant of Venice. Enjoy!

Shakespeare (illustration)
CSA Images/Printstock Collection/Getty Images

Detailed analysis and modern-day translations of The Merchant of Venice, all broken down into individual scenes to help you study this play closely.

Act One

Act 1, Scenes 1-2

Act 1, Scene 3


Act Two

Act 2, Scenes 1-3

Act 2, Scenes 4-7

Act 2, Scenes 8-9


Act Three

Act 3, Scene 1

Act 3, Scene 2 (Part 1)

Act 3, Scene 2 (Part 2)

Act 3, Scenes 3-4

Act 3, Scene 5


Act Four

Act 4, Scene 1 (Part 1)

Act 4, Scene 1 (Part 2)

Act 4, Scene 1 (Part 3)

Act 4, Scene 2


Act Five

Act 5, Scene 1 (Part 1)

Act 5, Scene 1 (Part 2) More »