?The Merchant of Venice? was written by William Shakespeare almost certainly between 1596 and 1598 and was first performed at The Theater, London, in 1597. The play is classed as one of the sixteen comedy plays but it is also aproblem? play due to the tragic elements woven throughout the intricate plot. It was performed in front of a xenophobic, Elizabethan audience who were not particularly well educated or literate but they understood the complexities of the issues being raised in the play and would have been less sympathetic towards Shylock than a modern day audience. The play concludes with a harmonious ending but throughout the plot, reoccurring themes of sadness and tragedy are included. This is whyThe Merchant of Venice? falls into one of the more difficult comedy plays. .
The play is set in Venice, an ancient civic republic and not a nation ruled by a King or Queen. Venice fascinated the Elizabethans, as it was commercially hospitable to people from all parts of the world e.g. Greeks, Jews and Protestants. The city was also a trading centre of great importance; Venice itself was a Catholic city and was politically independent. A place of great beauty, luxury and extremely artistic, it is the perfect setting forThe Merchant of Venice?.
The play centres on two main characters, Antonio, an extremely wealthy merchant and Shylock, a very wealthy Jew. In Venice, your word was your bond. A promise made by word of mouth was the same as having an agreement in writing you had to keep your word or pay the consequences.
Shylock is a usurer, a person who lends sums of money to others, charging vast amounts of interest. However, Antonio also lends amounts of money, but minus the interest. This is one of the main reasons why Shylock hates Antonio with a vengeance as Antonio is supposedly causing Shylocks's profits to drop. Shylock also hates Antonio for the differences in their lifestyles and religions-.