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The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, but it remains deeply controversial. The text may seem anti-Semitic; yet repeatedly, in performance, it has revealed a contrasting nature. Shylock, though vanquished in the law-court, often triumphs in the theatre. In his intensity he can dominate the play, challenging abrasively its romantic and lyrical affirmations. What results is a bitter-sweet drama. Though The Merchant of Venice offers some of the traditional pleasures of romantic comedy, it also exposes the operations of prejudice. Thus Shakespeare remains our contemporary.
88 pages, with a reading time of ~2.75 hours (22,073 words), and first published in 1598. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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Venice. A street.
[Enter ANTONIO, SALARINO, and SALANIO]
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad: It wearies me; you say it wearies you; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, What stuff ‘tis made of, whereof it is born, I am to learn; And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, That I have much ado to know myself.
Your mind is tossing on the ocean; There, where your argosies with portly sail, Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood, Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea, Do overpeer the petty traffickers, That curtsy to them, do them reverence, As they fly by them with their woven wings.
Believe me, sir, had I such venture forth, The better part of my affections would Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still Plucking the grass, to know where sits the wind, Peering in maps for ports and piers and roads; And every object that might make me fear Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt Would make me sad.
My wind cooling my broth Would blow me to an ague, when I thought What harm a wind too great at sea might do. I should not see the sandy hour-glass run, But I should think of shallows and of flats, And see my wealthy Andrew dock'd in sand, Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs To kiss her burial. Should I go to church And see the holy edifice of stone, And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks, Which touching but my gentle vessel's side, Would scatter all her spices on the stream, Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks, And, in a word, but even now worth this, And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought To think on this, and shall I lack the thought That such a thing bechanced would make me sad? But tell not me; I know, Antonio Is sad to think upon his merchandise.
Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it, My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate Upon the fortune of this present year: Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad.
Why, then you are in love.
Not in love neither? Then let us say you are sad, Because you are not merry: and ‘twere as easy For you to laugh and leap and say you are merry, Because you are not sad. Now, by two-headed Janus, Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time: Some that will evermore peep through their eyes And laugh like parrots at a bag-piper, And other of such vinegar aspect That they’ll not show their teeth in way of smile, Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable.
[Enter BASSANIO, LORENZO, and GRATIANO]
Here comes Bassanio, your most noble kinsman, Gratiano and Lorenzo. Fare ye well: We leave you now with better company.
I would have stay’d till I had made you merry, If worthier friends had not prevented me.
Your worth is very dear in my regard. I take it, your own business calls on you And you embrace the occasion to depart.
Good morrow, my good lords.
Good signiors both, when shall we laugh? say, when? You grow exceeding strange: must it be so?
We’ll make our leisures to attend on yours.
[Exeunt Salarino and Salanio]
My Lord Bassanio, since you have found Antonio, We two will leave you: but at dinner-time, I pray you, have in mind where we must meet.
I will not fail you.
You look not well, Signior Antonio; You have too much respect upon the world: They lose it that do buy it with much care: Believe me, you are marvellously changed.
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano; A stage where every man must play a part, And mine a sad one.