The Merchant of Venice is one of the best-known plays of William Shakespeare. Its genre is traditionally defined as a comedy, however, the tragedy of the key character gives the possibility to call it a drama.
The plot of the play is not original. Shakespeare actually used an Italian short story by the unknown writer. Bassanio, a young Venetian of noble rank, wishes to marry Portia. He asks his friend Antonio for some money. Antonio agrees, but he is short of cash. He promises to cover a bond, so Bassanio turns to the Jewish moneylender Shylock. Shylock hates Antonio and proposes a condition for the loan: if Antonio is unable to repay it at the specified date, he may cut out a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Bassanio gets the money, wins the love of Portia and gets married. Unfortunately, Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea, so he cannot satisfy the bond. Shylock has Antonio arrested and brought before court. However, Portia as a lawyer manages to protect Antonio and accuse Shylock of an attempt to kill a citizen of Venice. Shylock is made to convert to Christianity and give Antonio half of his wealth.
Traditional for that time interpretation of the story about a bad Jew was changed by Shakespeare into a new type of the social conflict of global character, which is actually represented as one that cannot be solved historically. The author does not simply depicts the villain of a different faith, he makes the reader feel the two worlds of different religions and social and ethical systems – Christianity and Judaism.
The key feature of the play which makes it up-to-date even now is that the author does not try to prove one system to be right and the other one wrong and does not try to find the perfect ethical point of view, he just investigates how the mechanisms of different moral and religious positions correlate in modern life.