The Merchant of Venice - Dialogue

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on dialogue in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Almost without exception, any work of drama consists primarily of dialogue. In some ways this can make it more difficult to read and understand a play because you are missing the other elements essential to the text and only possible to convey through performance. That is, it can be much easier to understand a play when it is being performed on stage. Of course, reading a play gives you the chance to go slowly, to re-read and to think carefully about the dialogue.

Dialogue conveys meaning not only through its content, but also through specific details such as language choice, use of dialect and even interruptions and pauses.

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Ask yourself the following questions as you read The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare or any work of fiction: How do different characters speak? How does vocabulary vary between different characters? Does the way in which a character speaks change over time, or in different situations? Does it matter to whom the character is speaking? Since this is Shakespeare, you might even like to compare dialogue that is written in poetry with dialogue that is written in prose. What are the differences between the characters who speak in one but not the other?

Dialogue conveys much more than the individual beliefs and preferences of any character. Dialogue also gives you practical information, such as which events led to the point at which the play began or how characters are related and have engaged with one another in the past. In The Merchant of Venice it is valuable to pay close attention to how each character discusses money and love or friendship. What can this tell us about the relationship between two key themes of the play?

Memorising Shakespearean dialogue is not only a good way to impress your teacher, but also a useful method of preparing to write about the play. Create a list of the most significant examples of dialogue for each character, especially noting those that illustrate their characteristics or occur at a turning point in the text.

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  1. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "The quality of mercy is not strained. / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven"
    These lines begin Portia's famous speech on mercy, uttered while disguised as "Balthasar"
  2. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "When I told you / My state was nothing, I should then have told you / That I was worse than nothing"
    Bassanio finally realises the debt he owes to his friend Antonio and throws himself upon Portia's mercy
  3. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "So please my lord the Duke and all the court / To quit the fine for one half of his goods, I am content"
    Antonio resumes his place in society above Shylock. His request to distribute half of Shylock's wealth to his Christian son-in law after his death is portrayed as Christian mercy
  4. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "For the four winds blow in from every coast / Renownèd suitors, and her sunny locks / Hang on her temples like a golden fleece"
    Bassanio speaks eloquently of his love for Portia and of her beauty, but very often mentions her wealth in the same breath. His reference to the golden fleece refers both to the nature of the quest and the fabulous reward in store for the successful suitor
  5. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction"
    Shylock points out the hypocrisy of Christians whose violent and humiliating behaviour towards Jewish people undermines their public expressions of religion. He argues that he is merely following their example in insisting on his pound of flesh
  6. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Alack, what heinous sin is it in me / To be ashamed to be my father's child"
    Jessica is ashamed of her father, not for his "blood", or lineage, but for his behaviour. Although she chooses her course of action with conviction, she is also troubled by sorrow and doubt
  7. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "My purse, my person, my extremest means / Lie all unlocked to your occasions"
    Antonio offers all that he has to his dearest friend, Bassanio. The offer of his "person" foreshadows the nature of the forfeit he will later owe when unable to repay his debt to Shylock
  8. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "One half of me is yours, the other half yours — / Mine own, I would say, but if mine, then yours / And so all yours"
    Portia recognises both the love of her self and the love of her wealth that Bassanio feels, and even while recognising this, acknowledges her own desire for Bassanio
  9. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    If you had known the virtue of the ring,
    Or half her worthiness that gave the ring,
    Or your own honour to contain the ring,
    You would not then have parted with the ring.
    Portia knows of course that Bassanio gave the ring to her in her guise as Balthasar
  10. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "There I have another bad match. A bankrupt, a prodigal, who dare scarce show his head on the Rialto; a beggar, that was used to come so smug upon the mart. Let him look to his bond"
    In the shock of losing his daughter, Shylock focusses his longing for revenge on Antonio

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