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.
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.
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.)