Merchant of Venice – Essay Plan and Class Notes

Shylock behaves in an obsessive manner. How does Shakespeare describe his descent into obsession, and how does it influence your understanding of the character in the play as a whole.

Obsession is an unhealthy fixation with an idea or person. The Merchant of Venice, a 1598 play by William Shakespeare, makes obsession its central idea.

This essay will explore the way in which Shylock’s obsession affects our understanding of him.

The manner in which Shylock becomes increasingly obsessed has a strong effect on both our understanding of him as a character, and the plot of the play.


Set in Venice
Elizabethan society
Shylock is a Jewish money-lender
Antagonism between Christians and Jews
No rights for women

Antonio takes a loan for his friend Bassanio
If he forfeits the bond to Shylock he must give a pound of his flesh
Shylock’s daughter runs away and marries a Christian – trades his wife’s ring
Shylock is denied the flesh in court
Not allowed a drop of blood
Bassanio’s wife (Portia) saves Antonio
Shylock forfeits his money to the state and is forced to become a Christian.

Para 1
Shylock at the start.

• At the beginning of the play…
• To begin with…
• When we first meet Shylock,
• Shylock, when we are introduced to him

Mistreated as a Jew in Venice
• You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine(Shylock to Antonio)
• the Jew is the very devil incarnation (Bassanio)
• Thou call’dst me dog (Shylock to Antonio)

This is made clear when
We can see this

There is PREJUDICE in the play. (n)
Antonio is PREJUDICED. (adj)

A money-lender
• He complains that they “call me usurer”


Centuries of prejudice against the Jews

• He explains/ claimed/ stated/ elaborated/ specified “I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.”
We understand his “grudge”
Para 2
Describe the bond
Antonio takes the bond for Bassanio
3000 ducats
“a pound of your fair flesh”

Does not

The bond seems unusual
– if it is not repaid

He tries to reassure
• “a merry sport”
• Acquired
• Fanatical
• Obsessed

Make out

Antonio is overconfident
Not obsession at this point, but desire for revenge

Para 3
S: The loss of Jessica – the turning point

How does Shylock treat his daughter?

• Our house is hell – Jessica
• Clamber not you up to the casements then, Nor thrust your head into the public street – Shylock

This is why she wants to leave
She is helped by Christians
She marries a Christian, Gratiano
Shylock’s feelings?

Increasingly desperate

Shylock’s priorities
• ‘My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!’
He is emotionally hurt – the ring of his wife
• “I should not have traded it for a wilderness of monkeys”

From this point he is determined to have revenge and not the bond.

He has no desire for the bond.
He does not want
The bond is no longer his priority

Para 4
Shylock’s obsession is shown –
• Repeatedly – “Look to his bond”
Sense of injustice about his treatment
Feels revenge is his entitlement

Feels Christians would want the same thing
• The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction

Para 5
In court – the denouement
Shylock rejects offers of money
He is being unreasonable – blinded by revenge
• I crave the law
Portia uses his obsession against him
• The Jew shall have all justice – soft, no haste – He shall have nothing but the penalty.
His obsession with revenge destroys him
• You take my house, when you do take the prop That doth sustain my house

Do we sympathise with Shylock?
How does his obsession affect his fate?
What does this show about the nature of obsession?

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