The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice


William Shakespeare

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Reading and Interpretation Theme Analysis

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Themes and Colors
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Merchant of Venice, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon

Instances of reading and interpretation occur many times in The Merchant of Venice. An early scene in which Shylock and Antonio bicker over the meaning of Biblical scripture shows that the all-important distinction between Jews and Christians basically boils down to interpretive differences—different ways of reading and understanding a shared heritage of texts.

The play also stages "scenes of interpretation"—in which the act of reading becomes a dramatic event. The first major instance, connected to the themes of both law and love, is when the Prince of Morocco becomes the first suitor to try to solve the riddle of the caskets, with major consequences for both Portia and himself depending on whether he interprets it correctly. This scenario repeats with both the Prince of Aragon and Bassanio. The courtroom scene, in which Portia must find an alternative way to read and understand the law in order to save Antonio's life, similarly turns an act of interpretation into a highly dramatic game with very high stakes. The Merchant of Venice shows how the practice of reading (and not just reading literature) is woven into the structures of prejudice and intolerance, love, law, and justice—how it is central to everyday life.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Reading and Interpretation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Reading and Interpretation appears in each scene of The Merchant of Venice. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
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Reading and Interpretation Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

Below you will find the important quotes in The Merchant of Venice related to the theme of Reading and Interpretation.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.1
Explanation and Analysis:
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano—
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker), Gratiano
Page Number: 1.1.81-83
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.
It is engender'd in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.65-73
Explanation and Analysis:
There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue in his outward parts.
Related Characters: Bassanio (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.83-84
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
I never knew so young a body with so old a head.
Related Characters: Duke of Venice (speaker), Portia
Page Number: 4.1.164-165
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
We will answer all things faithfully.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.321
Explanation and Analysis: