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In The Merchant of Venice, the path to marriage is hazardous. To win Portia, Bassanio must pass a test prescribed by her father’s will, choosing correctly among three caskets or chests. If he fails, he may never marry at all.

Bassanio and Portia also face a magnificent villain, the moneylender Shylock. In creating Shylock, Shakespeare seems to have shared in a widespread prejudice against Jews. Shylock would have been regarded as a villain because he was a Jew. Yet he gives such powerful expression to his alienation due to the hatred around him that, in many productions, he emerges as the hero.

Portia is most remembered for her disguise as a lawyer, Balthazar, especially the speech in which she urges Shylock to show mercy that “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”

The authoritative edition of The Merchant of Venice from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:

-The exact text of the printed book for easy cross-reference
-Hundreds of hypertext links for instant navigation
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently linked to the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An annotated guide to further reading

Essay by Alexander Leggatt

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit

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