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The Merchant of Venice

Antonio, the merchant in The Merchant of Venice, secures a loan from Shylock for his friend Bassanio, who seeks to court Portia. Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, recalls past insults from Antonio and, instead of asking interest on the loan, asks instead—in what he calls a "merry sport"—that if the loan is not repaid, Antonio will owe a pound of his own flesh.

Bassanio sails to Belmont, where the wealthy heiress Portia is being courted by suitors from around the world. Her father's will requires that the successful suitor solve a riddle involving chests of gold, silver, and lead. Where others have failed, Bassanio succeeds by selecting the right chest. Portia marries Bassanio; her waiting woman, Nerissa, marries his friend Gratiano.

Shylock's daughter, Jessica, has eloped  with Bassanio's friend Lorenzo, taking her father’s money with her. Shylock is devastated. When Antonio cannot repay the loan, Shylock demands the pound of flesh. When the news reaches Belmont, Bassanio returns to Venice. Portia and Nerissa also travel to Venice, disguised as a lawyer and his clerk. Portia uses the law to defeat Shylock and rescue Antonio.

Early printed texts

The Merchant of Venice was first printed as a quarto in 1600 (Q1). That text seems to have served as the basis for the 1619 quarto (Q2), the 1623 First Folio (F1), and the 1637 quarto (Q3). Most editions of the play, including the Folger, are based on Q1.

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Item Title: 
[Merchant of Venice] The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22296 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1600

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Item Title: 
[Merchant of Venice] The excellent history of the merchant of Venice.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22297 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1600 [i.e. 1619]

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Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

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Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

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Item Title: 
[Merchant of Venice] The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. VVith the extreame crueltie of Shylocke the Iewe towards the said merchant, in cutting a just pound of his flesh: and the obtaining of Portia by the choice of three chests. As it
Item Call Number: 
STC 22298 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1637

Picturing The Merchant of Venice

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Merchant of Venice is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

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Henry Irving as Shylock (1893)

Henry Irving as Shylock (1893)

Item Title: 
Mr. Irving as Shylock [in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice] [graphic] / Lock & Whitfield, copyright.
Item Call Number: 
ART File I72 no.18 PHOTO (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Lock & Whitfield, photographer.
Item Date: 
London : [s.n., 1893?]

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Edmund Kean as Shylock (early 19th century)

Edmund Kean as Shylock (early 19th century)

Item Title: 
Edmund Kean [as Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice] [graphic] / [mezzotint by Meyer after Watts].
Item Call Number: 
ART File K24.4 no.39 part 1 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Meyer, Henry Hoppner, 1783-1847, printmaker.
Item Date: 
[S.l. : s.n., 18--?]

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Marie Drofnah as Portia (1900)

Marie Drofnah as Portia (1900)

Item Title: 
Marie Drofnah as Portia [in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice] [graphic].
Item Call Number: 
ART File D783 no.2 PHOTO (size XS)
Item Date: 
[United States? : s.n., ca. 1900?]

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Portia and Nerissa (Act 1, scene 2; 1849)

Portia and Nerissa (Act 1, scene 2; 1849)

Item Title: 
Portia and Nerissa.
Item Call Number: 
FPa7
Item Creator: 
Brockmann, Friedrich, b. 1809, artist.
Item Date: 
1849

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Bassanio examining the caskets (Act 3, scene 2; 19th century)

Bassanio examining the caskets (Act 3, scene 2; 19th century)

Item Title: 
Der Kaufmann von Venedig = The merchant of Venice [act III, 2] [graphic] / M. Adamo del. ; G. Goldberg sc.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S528m3 no.46 copy 1 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Goldberg, Georg, 1830-1894, printmaker.
Item Date: 
[S.l. : s.n., 19th cent.]

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Shylock rebuffing Antonio (Act 3, scene 3; 1795)

Shylock rebuffing Antonio (Act 3, scene 3; 1795)

Item Title: 
Shylock Rebuffing Antonio
Item Call Number: 
FPa83
Item Creator: 
Westall, Richard, 1765-1836, artist.
Item Date: 
1795

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Jessica (1896)

Jessica (1896)

Item Title: 
The graphic gallery of Shakespeare's heroines ...
Item Call Number: 
ART Flat a24
Item Date: 
1896

More images of Merchant of Venice can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)