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Merchant of Venice: Characters and Overview


  • Antonio: a merchant of Venice.
  • Bassanio: Antonio's friend; suitor to Portia.
  • Gratiano, Solanio, Salarino, Salerio: friends of Antonio and Bassanio.
  • Lorenzo: friend of Antonio and Bassanio, in love with Jessica.
  • Portia: a rich heiress.
  • Nerissa: Portia's waiting maid- in love with Gratiano.
  • Balthazar: Portia's servant, who Portia later disguises herself as.
  • Stephano: Nerissa's disguise as Balthazar's law clerk.
  • Shylock: a rich Jew, moneylender, father of Jessica.
  • Jessica: daughter of Shylock, in love with Lorenzo.
  • Tubal: a Jew; Shylock's friend.
  • Launcelot Gobbo: a servant to Shylock.
  • Old Gobbo: father of Launcelot.
  • Leonardo: servant to Bassanio.
  • Duke of Venice: Venetian authority who presides over the case of Shylock's bond.
  • Prince of Morocco: suitor to Portia.
  • Prince of Arragon: suitor to Portia.
  • Magnificoes of Venice, officers of the Court of Justice, Gaoler, servants to Portia, and other Attendants.


The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. Though classified as a comedy in the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its dramatic scenes, and is best known for Shylock and the famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech. Also notable is Portia's speech about "the quality of mercy". 

The title character is the merchant Antonio, not the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who is the play's most prominent and most famous character. Bassanio is a young and vital member of the aristocratic classes in 16th century Italy; however, Bassanio's impulsive nature and lavish lifestyle have put him deeply in debt, and he will need at least the pretense of a fortune if he is to win the hand of the beautiful Portia. Bassanio turns to his close friend Antonio, a successful businessman, for financial help, but with much of his fortune tied up in a sailing expedition, Antonio can do little to help him. To help Bassanio, Antonio turns to Shylock, a Jewish money lender who lives in Venice's Semetic ghetto. Antonio has often expressed his contempt for Shylock, who charges high rates for his loans, and Shylock clearly seems pleased at the ironic prospect of having Antonio as a customer; however, instead of interest, Shylock demands an unusual security on his loan -- though Shylock demands no interest, if Antonio does not repay the three thousand ducats in three months, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of his flesh.
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