William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is both a witty comedy and a moving exploration of bigotry and stigmatisation, and this Penguin Shakespeare edition is edited by W. Moelwyn Merchant with an introduction by Peter Holland.
'The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven'
Bassanio, a noble but impoverished Venetian, asks his friend the merchant Antonio for a loan to impress an heiress. Antonio agrees, but is forced to borrow the sum from a cynical Jewish moneylender, Shylock, who forces him into a chilling contract, which stipulates he must honour the debt with a pound of his own flesh. But Bassanio's beloved is not as demure as she seems, and disguising herself as a lawyer, Portia proves herself one of Shakespeare's most cunning heroines, in a witty attack on Shylock's claim. A complex and controversial comedy, The Merchant of Venice explores prejudice and the true nature of justice.
This book contains a general introduction to Shakespeare's life and Elizabethan theatre, a separate introduction to The Merchant of Venice, a chronology, suggestions for further reading, an essay discussing performance options on both stage and screen, and a commentary.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden some time in late April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He wrote about 38 plays (the precise number is uncertain), many of which are regarded as the most exceptional works of drama ever produced, including Romeo and Juliet (1595), Henry V (1599), Hamlet (1601), Othello (1604), King Lear (1606) and Macbeth (1606), as well as a collection of 154 sonnets, which number among the most profound and influential love-poetry in English.
If you enjoyed The Merchant of Venice, you might like The Taming of the Shrew, also available in Penguin Shakespeare.
'The man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul'
Fans of the play will find this an intriguing adaptation. Hinds sets his version in modern dress and dramatically edits the text to the basics while keeping the Shakespearean flavor of the dialogue (increasingly as the book goes on). The coloring in shades of slate blue and pale gray gives it an antique patina that's counterbalanced by the way Hinds leaves construction lines visible. That makes it feel like reading someone's unpolished sketchbook, as though the characters were observed, not created. It's always a benefit to see Shakespeare acted out, to make the universal situations clear to the modern viewer, and that benefit extends to the graphic medium, especially when the characters have a sense of motion, as here. Some aspects of the original are still discomforting; Hinds is faithful to the play in its treatment of the bloodthirsty, money-hungry Shylock, and some readers may be put off by the inclusion of lines such as \x93you may be pleased to collect whatever usurious interest pleases your Jew heart.\x94 An author's note encourages further research on that matter and clarifies some of Hinds's creative decisions.