Suggested Essay Topics
Act I, Scenes 1-3
1. Compare and contrast Antonio’s situation in signing the agreement with Shylock, with Portia’s situation of being held bound to her father’s will.
2. Contrast Antonio’s loans to Bassanio with Shylock’s loan to Antonio and Bassanio
Act II, Scenes 1-9
1. What is the relationship—both structurally and thematically—of the Jessica/Lorenzo subplot to the main plots of The Merchant of Venice ?
2. Compare and contrast Morocco’s reasoning during the selection of caskets with Aragon’s speech during the same test.
3. Aside from the obvious one of comic relief, what function might Launcelot Gobbo be seen to have in the play?
Act III, Scenes 1-5
1. Compare and contrast Bassanio’s deliberations over the three caskets with those of his rivals.
2. Discuss Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech in relation to the various attitudes toward race demonstrated throughout the play.
3. How does Portia’s character develop over the course of Act III?
Act IV, Scenes 1-2
1. What factors motivate Antonio’s resignation in Act IV, Scene 1? Discuss this in relation to his ambiguous position of both envying his friend’s new relationship and yet sacrificing himself to make it possible.
2. How does the plot of the rings relate to the other contractual obligations dramatized in the play?
3. Consider and discuss the process by which Portia turns the situation in the court from Shylock’s advantage to Antonio’s.
Act V, Scene 1
1. Trace the development of Portia from a daughter bound by her father’s will to a behind-the-scenes manipulator of events.
2. How do Lorenzo’s speeches concerning the moon and ¬music suggest other themes previously explored in The Merchant of Venice?
3. What purpose does the parallel romance of Gratiano and Nerissa serve in terms of an audience’s evaluation of the relationship between Bassanio and Portia?