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Discussion Questions for Middle and High School Students: The Merchant of Venice

Discussion Questions for Middle and High School Students: The Merchant of Venice

    1. Discuss the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio. What does their friendship reveal about their characters?

    2. Examine Shylock’s rhetoric. Pay special attention to the quality of his language—his use of metaphor and repetition, for instance. How do his speeches reflect his character as a whole?

    3. Discuss the relationship between Jessica and Shylock. Are we meant to sympathize with the moneylender’s daughter? Does Shakespeare seem ambivalent in his portrayal of Jessica?

    4. Compare and contrast Venice and Belmont. What is the significance of these distinct settings in the play?

    5. Analyze the way that time passes in The Merchant of Venice, paying special attention to conflicts between time in Venice and Belmont. Are there any inconsistencies, and, if so, how does the play handle them?

    6. To what extent is Shylock defined by his Jewishness? To what extent is he defined by his profession?

    7. Discuss Portia’s character. How does she compare to the men around her? Is Bassanio a worthy husband for her?

    8. All three women in the play (Portia, Nerissa, and Jessica) disguise themselves as men for specific reasons. What does each of their disguises accomplish? Could they have chosen another female disguise to reach their goal, or not?

    9. Discuss how the trial scene reveals a conflict between justice and mercy. Is the conflict resolved? If so, how?

    10. In one respect, The Merchant of Venice is a play about bonds and debts. What kinds of bonds are there between characters? What debts are incurred? Cite specific examples—from monetary exchanges to the debt incurred by oaths and promises.

    11. Look at Act 3, Scene 2, especially lines 73–185. Find specific examples in which the language of commerce is used to describe the value of exchange of love. Discuss why you think Shakespeare chose the imagery of commerce as the major poetic device in this scene.

    12. Discuss Shylock’s dramatic function in The Merchant of Venice. What do critics mean when they suggest that Shylock is “too large” for the play? Does he fulfill or exceed his role?

    13. In the end, how comic is The Merchant of Venice? Does the final act succeed in restoring comedy to the play?