Stephen Greenblatt

Aug 14, 2023

Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" Part 1: The Story

A Discussion with Stephen Greenblatt

New Books Network 2023

The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s most gripping and challenging plays. Labeled as a comedy in Shakespeare’s First Folio, today it resonates as tragedy as well, thanks to its most unforgettable character: the Jewish moneylender Shylock. Shylock experiences humiliation and oppression at the hands of the Venetian Christians, particularly the merchant Antonio. But when Antonio must borrow money from Shylock to help his beloved friend Bassanio woo the wealthy Portia, Shylock finds his dearest enemy in his power — and we see what harvest hatred reaps. In this course, you’ll learn the story of The Merchant of Venice, hear the play’s key speeches performed and analyzed by world-class Shakespearean actors and literary scholars, and witness how this comedy plumbs the difficulty and discomfort that shadow our most hostile and our happiest relationships. In Part 1, you’ll be guided through a detailed account of the story with commentary by Stephen Greenblatt, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Professor Greenblatt discusses the complicated historical context behind Shakespeare’s representation of Venice and of Shylock, and the role Shylock comes to play in Shakespeare’s comedy. This summary is told using the language of the play itself, placing key quotations in context to help you understand where these lines come from and what they mean.

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