Merchant of Venice

Adaptations and cultural references

Film and TV versions

The Shakespeare play has inspired several films.

  • 1914—silent film directed by Lois Weber
    • Weber, who also stars as Portia, became the first woman to direct a full-length feature film in America with this film.
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 1916–The Merchant of Venice, a silent British film directed by Walter West for Broadwest.
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 1923–The Merchant of Venice, a silent German film directed by Peter Paul Felner.
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 1969–The Merchant of Venice, an unreleased 40-minute television film directed by and starring Orson Welles; the film was completed, but the soundtrack for all but the first reel was stolen before it could be released.
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 1972—British video-taped television version directed by Cedric Messina for the BBC's Play of the Month series
    • Cast includes Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay and Charles Gray and Christopher Gable
  • 1973—British video-taped television version directed by John Sichel
    • The cast included Laurence Olivier as Shylock, Anthony Nicholls as Antonio, Jeremy Brett as Bassanio, Joan Plowright as Portia, Louise Purnell as Jessica.
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 1980—A BBC video-taped version for the BBC Television Shakespeare directed by Jack Gold
    • The cast includes Gemma Jones as Portia, Warren Mitchell as Shylock and John Nettles as Bassanio
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 1996—A Channel 4 television film directed by Alan Horrox
    • The cast included Paul McGann as Bassanio and Haydn Gwynne as Portia
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 2001—A BBC television film directed by Trevor Nunn
    • Royal National Theatre production starring Henry Goodman as Shylock
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 2002—The Maori Merchant of Venice, directed by Don Selwyn.
    • In Maori, with English subtitles. The cast included Waihoroi Shortland as Shylock, Scott Morrison as Antonio, Te Rangihau Gilbert as Bassanio, Ngarimu Daniels as Portia, Reikura Morgan as Jessica.
    • The Maori Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database
  • 2003—Shakespeare's Merchant, directed by Paul Wagar and produced by Lorenda Starfelt, Brad Mays and Paul Wagar.
    • Shakespeare's Merchant at the Internet Movie Database
  • 2004—The Merchant of Venice, directed by Michael Radford and produced by Barry Navidi.
    • The cast included Al Pacino as Shylock, Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio, Lynn Collins as Portia, and Zuleikha Robinson as Jessica.
    • The Merchant of Venice at the Internet Movie Database


  • Josef Bohuslav Foerster's three act Czech opera Jessika was first performed at the Prague National Theatre on 16 April 1905.
  • Reynaldo Hahn's three-act French opera Le marchand de Venise was first performed at the Paris Opéra on 25 March 1935.
  • The late André Tchaikowsky's (1935–1982) opera The Merchant of Venice premiered at the Bregenz Festival[28][29] on 18 July 2013.

Cultural references

Arnold Wesker's play The Merchant tells the same story from Shylock's point of view. In this retelling, Shylock and Antonio are fast friends bound by a mutual love of books and culture and a disdain for the crass anti-Semitism of the Christian community's laws. They make the bond in defiant mockery of the Christian establishment, never anticipating that the bond might become forfeit. When it does, the play argues, Shylock must carry through on the letter of the law or jeopardise the scant legal security of the entire Jewish community. He is, therefore, quite as grateful as Antonio when Portia, as in Shakespeare's play, shows the legal way out. The play received its American premiere on 16 November 1977 at New York's Plymouth Theatre, with Joseph Leon as Shylock and Marian Seldes as Shylock's sister Rivka. This production had a challenging history in previews on the road, culminating (after the first night out of town in Philadelphia on 8 September 1977) with the death of the larger-than-life Broadway star Zero Mostel, who was initially cast as Shylock. The play's author, Arnold Wesker, wrote a book chronicling the out-of-town tribulations that beset the play and Zero's death called The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel.

David Henry Wilson's play Shylock's Revenge, which was first performed by The University Players at the Audimax, Hamburg, on 9 June 1989, can be seen as a full-length sequel to Shakespeare's drama.

The title of the film Seven Pounds is a reference to the "pound of flesh" from the play.

Edmond Haraucourt, the French playwright and poet, was commissioned in the 1880s by the actor and theatrical director Paul Porel to make a French-verse adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. His play Shylock, first performed at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in December 1889, had incidental music by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, later incorporated into an orchestral suite of the same name.[30]

One of the four short stories comprising Alan Isler's Op Non Cit is also told from Shylock's point of view. In this story, Antonio was a boy of Jewish origin kidnapped at an early age by priests.

Ralph Vaughan Williams' choral work Serenade to Music draws its text from the discussion about music and the music of the spheres in Act V, scene 1.

In both versions of the comic film To Be or Not to Be the character "Greenberg", specified as a Jew only in the later version, gives a recitation of the "Hath Not a Jew eyes?" speech to Nazi soldiers.[31]

In The Pianist, Henryk Szpilman quotes a passage from Shylock's "Hath Not a Jew eyes?" speech to his brother Władysław Szpilman in a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Given the questioning of Antisemitism in the speech and also the Nazi use of the play for antisemitic propaganda purposes, the quote is seen as particularly poignant and symbolic.

Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List depicts SS Lieutenant Amon Göth quoting Shylock's "Hath Not a Jew eyes?" speech when deciding whether or not to rape his Jewish maid.

The rock musical Fire Angel was based on the story of the play, with the scene changed to the Little Italy district of New York. It was performed in Edinburgh in 1974 and in a revised form at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, in 1977.

Christopher Moore combines The Merchant of Venice and Othello in his 2014 comic novel The Serpent of Venice, in which he makes Portia (from The Merchant of Venice) and Desdemona (from Othello) sisters. All of the characters come from those two plays with the exception of Pocket, the Fool, who comes from Moore's earlier novel based on King Lear.

Jane Lindskold's book Changer contains a scene in which the protagonists consider "using Portia's gambit from The Merchant of Venice" to escape from a situation and binding contract analogous to Antonio's.

The online satirical news site The Onion satirized the play in its article "'Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare Play In Time, Place Shakespeare Intended".[32]

The play has been quoted and paraphrased several times in the Star Trek Universe:

  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, while attacking the USS Enterprise in a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey, General Chang says the following: "Tickle us, do we not laugh? Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
  • In "'The Naked Now", the second episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an "intoxicated" Lt. Cmdr. Data paraphrases Shylock when explaining to Captain Picard how an advanced android can become affected similarly to a biological entity, saying, "I have pores, humans have pores. I have fingerprints, humans have fingerprints. My chemical nutrients are like your blood. If you prick me, do I not...leak?"
  • Diane Duane's novel, Dark Mirror, contains quotes from a Mirror Universe version of the play. In it, Portia successfully argues that Antonio does indeed owe Shylock a pound of flesh, a sentence which is actually carried out (Antonio's heart is cut out and given to Shylock). Portia's speech is also much more authoritarian – "The quality of mercy must be earned, and not strewn gratis on the common ground..."

The David Seltzer screenplay for the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" contains this line, near the end of the film: spoken by Willy Wonka, as if to himself, when Charlie returns the Everlasting Gobstopper: "So shines a good deed in a weary world"- derived perhaps from Portia's lines in Act V, Scene 1: "That light we see is burning in my hall. How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world."[33]

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