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The Merchant of Venice - Setting

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at setting in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The setting of any fictional work includes its location and the time in which its events take place. In addition to the events explicitly depicted by a play, there will be events occurring in the background to which characters might allude. A key component of a work’s setting, this wider fictional world is known as context (although it is important, of course, not to confuse the author’s real-life context with the fictional context associated with setting). Another important element of setting is atmosphere. In a play, atmosphere is very much a product of staging. Some playwrights explicitly describe the atmosphere they wish to be created onstage. Interestingly, The Merchant of Venice includes very few stage directions of this type, allowing directors free rein in the development of atmosphere.

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Spending some time considering the setting of any text you study is an important step in its analysis. Think about how the world in which the characters live affects the decisions which they make over the course of the plot. The effect of political or social events on characters can usually be seen in their behaviour and dialogue. The plot of The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare depends entirely on its setting for the vital interaction between the Anti-Semitism of the Venetians and their attitude of pragmatic openness to other cultures for the purposes of trade.

Geographical setting can include country, region, or city; environment (perhaps this is urban or rural); the buildings or specific sites where events occur; and even the weather. Do all the events occur in the same place? Do characters travel, or arrive from elsewhere? How are different settings contrasted with one another? Are certain characters associated with one setting while other characters are associated with another? Such contrasts are important in The Merchant of Venice.

For some texts, it can also be useful to compare the time it is set with when it was written. Do these times differ? Why might an author choose to set a text in the same time, but in an exotic place? Does this change our understanding of the story?

Answer the questions below on setting in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.

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  1. How might the Venice of the play be best described?
    The plot of The Merchant of Venice revolves around trade, money and exchange. These activities, which bring great wealth to the city, depend on strict adherence to the law
  2. How does Jessica describe her home?
    Jessica's unhappiness is apparent in her desperation to leave home, to keep her plans secret from her father and especially in her description of home as a "hell". Shylock describes his home as "sober" in contrast to the foolishness of revellers in the streets
  3. What is the role of the sea in the play?
    The sea is where Antonio and his merchant friends have made their fortunes, but it is also responsible for the devastating loss of his ships
  4. When is the play set?
    The play is set in Renaissance Venice, the time of its setting is contemporary with Shakespeare's own
  5. What characterises Venice's relationship with the rest of the world?
    Venice relied entirely on trade and capitalised on its easy access to the Mediterranean to engage in trade with countries across the known world, becoming an important centre for trade between East and West
  6. As Shylock leaves his house, he instructs his daughter to lock up his house, saying, "Do as I bid you. Shut doors after you. / Fast bind, fast find —". What impression does this give of his house?
    Jessica breaks Shylock's trust not only by abandoning their home, but also by leaving with jewels and gold. She thieves treacherously, in his eyes, from the inside, when he has entrusted her with the keys and safekeeping of the home
  7. Venice is a masculine environment of trade and law. How is Portia enabled to take part in this world?
    The only way in which Portia can take part in this world is through disguising herself as a man. A learned doctor (in this case, an expert in law) of the time could only be a man. This means that in the original performances of the play, when women could not be actors, a boy actor would play Portia disguising himself as a man!
  8. What is the significance of the Rialto?
    Shylock asks at two points in the play for the news from the Rialto, which is a bridge in Venice. This is also the site where Antonio shows great disrespect to Shylock by spitting on him in public
  9. Belmont is associated with which of the following?
    Music plays while Bassanio makes his decision and is playing once again in Act Five, when the characters return to Belmont. Belmont is a place of solace, grandeur and pleasure
  10. The Merchant of Venice is set in the city of Venice and in which of the following?
    Belmont is Portia's home

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