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Vocabulary in The Merchant of Venice

Vocabulary Examples in The Merchant of Venice:

Act I - Scene I

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"unburthen..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Unburthen" means to unburden or reveal. Shakespeare uses this literary device to both tell the audience what Bassanio's plan is and show the intimate relationship between Antonio and Bassanio.

"maid not vendible..."   (Act I - Scene I)

A "maid not vendible" is a metaphor for an unmarried woman. With this metaphor, Gratiano turns women into commodities that can be bought and sold. Notice that most of the metaphors up to this point have been concerned with money.

"let no dog bark..."   (Act I - Scene I)

In this metaphor, Gratiano pokes fun of men who intentionally remain silent and melancholic so that others believe they are profoundly wise. He teases Antonio by making fun of "Sir Oracle," a sage so wise that even dogs listen when he speaks. Notice that none of Antonio's friends seem to take his sadness seriously.

"strange..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Strange" here means distant. Notice again that Salerio and Salanio place their business ventures above their friends in order of importance. This underscores the importance of money within the play.

"kinsman..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Kinsman" in this context means close friend instead of family member.

"vinegar aspect,..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Vinegar aspect" here refers to someone with a sour disposition. Salanio breaks the world into two types of people: fools who laugh at anything, and dour people who laugh at nothing.

" her high-top..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Here Salerio describes a ship wreck. The ship is "docked in sand" meaning it has run onto the shore and its "high top," or tall mast, has fallen lower than its "ribs", or its side.

"portly sail..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Portly" is an adjective used to describe people which means both plump and dignified. Salerio uses this adjective to show that the sails are full of wind. But the adjective also personifies the sails to equate them with a fat, rich, distinguished man.

"able..."   (Act I - Scene II)

After Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church tensions between Catholic Scotland and Protestant England became incredibly high. Scotland refused to join England's religious movement and England launched a series of raids and attacks on its neighboring country. "Box of the ear" means to punch someone in the side of the head. Here, Shakespeare uses the term to refer to English attacks on Scotland, and Scotland's inability to "repay" the hit on England's much larger military force.

"dumb show..."   (Act I - Scene II)

A "dumb show" is a series of gestures and facial expressions used to communicate without speaking. It was a pantomime technique generally used for comedic effect in Early Modern theaters. Because Portia and the English suitor cannot communicate, Shakespeare is able to avoid making fun of England with the same stereotypes that have characterized suitors from other nations.

"capering..."   (Act I - Scene II)

This means that the French Lord begins dancing every time he hears music playing. The French Lord tries to outdo everyone else to the point of being obnoxious.

"death's head ..."   (Act I - Scene II)

A "death's head" was a colloquial term for a skull in Shakespeare's time. It could also mean a prostitute, philanderer, or person of otherwise improper sexual conduct.

"breed for barren metal..."   (Act I - Scene III)

In this metaphor, Antonio argues that money making money is unnatural. Coins are barren, or infertile, and thus should not be able to breed more coins. In other words, more money should not be made from interest.

"in our mouths...."   (Act I - Scene III)

By this Shylock means that he and other Jewish lenders were just talking about Antonio, presumably because Antonio's interest free loans have spoiled their business. Notice again that Shylock is associated with consumption and eating.

"Will you pleasure me..."   (Act I - Scene III)

In this context, Bassanio means "will you give me the answer I want?" Bassanio is eagerly waiting for Shylock to agree to grant Antonio the loan.

"Alcides..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Alcides was Hercules's birth name. Morocco repeats this reference to Hercules to show that chance and luck take fortune away from those who deserve it.

"hedg'd me by his wit..."   (Act II - Scene I)

This means "confined me in his wisdom." Portia's language in these lines demonstrates her frustration with the suitor's test and her lack of control over her destiny.

"scanted..."   (Act II - Scene I)

In this context, "scanted" means constricted or restrained. Using this language, Portia paints herself as a prisoner within her father's will.

"lottery..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Portia refers to her fate as a "lottery" because it is up to chance; she has no control over her fate. She is not ruled by "maiden's eyes," which can be wooed, she is constrained by her father's test.

"boldest suit of mirth,..."   (Act II - Scene II)

A "boldest suit of mirth" are elaborate or ornamented party clothes. Unlike the "sober habit" that Gratiano proposes he wear, Bassanio ask him to dress extravagantly, to show off their wealth. Notice how religion and imagery of money are mixed within this scene.

"defect..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Defect" means falling short of or lacking. Gobbo means "effect." Notice that there is an element of truth to these malapropisms that the characters did not intend.

"impertinent..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Impertinent" means irrelevant. This is another malapropism since Launcelot actually means pertinent.

"infection..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Like his son, Gobbo uses malapropisms that twist the meaning of his lines. Instead of "infection," Gobbo means "affection."

"ergo..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Ergo" was a fancy way to say "therefore." Though he has showed himself to be dim witted, Launcelot uses this word to sound different, or more educated than he is.

"knave..."   (Act II - Scene III)

By this Launcelot means trick your father. Jessica is Shylock's daughter and Jewish, therefore, she would not be allowed to marry a Christian. Any Christian man would either have to trick Shylock, or Jessica would have to secretly convert. This foreshadows what will happen in the play.

"gentle..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

Gentle is a pun on gentile, the term used to refer to someone of the Christian faith. This suggests that Jessica has or will convert to Christianity.

"father..."   (Act II - Scene V)

In converting to Christianity, Jessica will gain a Christian father, or God, and Shylock will lose a Jewish daughter, or Jessica.

"By Jacob's staff..."   (Act II - Scene V)

This is an invented Jewish oath. Jacob is a Biblical character and the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. He left home carrying only a staff and made a covenant with God on his travels. This oath is more indication that this play is a Christian imagining of a Jewish character.

"dream of money-..."   (Act II - Scene V)

Dreaming of money was thought to be a sign that something bad was going to happen. It was a symbol of misfortune. Shylock sees his dream as a sign that he will lose his livelihood, but the audience could read an obsession with money into his words.

"Beshrew..."   (Act II - Scene VI)

"Beshrew" was a colloquial way to say, "curse me." In this line, Lorenzo states that he loves Jessica against his better judgement.

"carrion Death..."   (Act II - Scene VII)

A "carrion Death" is a colloquial term used to refer to a rotting human skull. Notice that the inside of the chest does not correspond to what is written on the outside, since men do not desire rotting skulls. The caskets emphasize one of the play's themes of something's appearance not matching its content.

"tried this..."   (Act II - Scene IX)

The "this" in this line refers to the silver. "Tried" means purified. The scroll references the silver making process to suggest that the decision to pick the silver casket did not go through as many trials of judgement as it took to make the chest.

"are distinct offices,..."   (Act II - Scene IX)

In other words, Portia says that Arragon cannot be both the judge and the recipient of the judgement. He cannot say that his case is unfair when it is a case about him. Portia's lines here mock Arragon's indignant questions in the previous lines.

"knapped ginger..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This is a colloquial saying that means to make up a spicy story. Solanio wishes that the woman who told Salerio was dishonest as it would mean that Antonio's fortunes were not wrecked.

"infidel..."   (Act III - Scene II)

An "infidel" is someone who does not believe in the "true religion"; a nonbeliever. By this, Gratiano refers to Jessica. Notice that even though Jessica has converted and married Lorenzo, she is still perceived as an "infidel."

"common drudge..."   (Act III - Scene II)

By this one line, Bassanio refers to the silver casket. "Common drudge" means servant at everyone's command and probably references silver's use as a common monetary form. Notice that Bassanio does not address what the boxes say but instead focuses on the materiality of each box. This suggests that Bassanio already knows the answer to the test and uses this speech to justify his knowing.

"fancy..."   (Act III - Scene II)

In this context, "fancy" means amorous love or devotion. Notice that Morocco and Arragon tried to solve the riddle of the caskets based on external and social understandings of what the caskets represented. For example, Morocco believed that "what men desire" was Portia, so gold must be the right choice. Here, the song focuses on the internal nature of love, suggesting that other suitors failed because they interpreted the test in a shallow way.

"rack..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"The Rack" was an Early Modern torture device used to get prisoners to confess to political treason. This is a hyperbolic way in which to say one suffers.

" quaint lies,..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"Quaint" was a pun on female genitalia. Telling "quaint lies" was a colloquial term that meant lying about the women one had slept with, generally in a bragging manner. Portia's words also invoke the lie she tells about her own gender in dressing up as a man.

"reed..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

A reed is a thin piece of wood placed in the mouthpiece of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, saxophones, and oboes. Portia uses this reference to suggest that she will disguise her voice by pitching it deeper.

"price of hogs..."   (Act III - Scene V)

By this Launcelot means that with more Christians, there will be more people eating pork, since Jews who keep kosher do not eat pork.

"The dearest ring..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

By dearest, Bassanio means the most expensive ring in Venice. Notice that Bassanio continues to assess value through money while Portia is trying to get him to state the ring's emotional importance.

"thou shouldst have had ten more,..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

By this Gratiano means that had he been in charge, Shylock would have faced a jury of twelve men and been sentenced to hang. Notice that even though Shylock has been defeated and forced to convert to Christianity, the Christians still see him as a hated other.

"A halter gratis..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

A "halter gratis" means a free noose. This shout from Gratiano is particularly grotesque as Shylock has just stated that he cannot survive in Venice.

"my principal..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

By principal, Shylock means his original bond of three thousand ducats. Defeated, Shylock simply asks for what he originally loaned and abandons his revenge or profit.

"I have thee on the hip...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

This is a colloquial term taken from wrestling that means to have the upper hand or the advantage. Notice that Gratiano uses Shylock's exact words against him to show that Shylock has lost; he robs Shylock's words of their intended meaning in order to use them against him.

"I am a tainted wether..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

A "wether" is a castrated sheep or a lamb. In calling himself a "wether" Antonio references the image of the Christian sacrificial lamb. In his metaphor, Antonio is dying for Bassanio's sins in much the same way that Jesus died for man's sins.

"The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,(100) Is dearly bought; 'tis mine, and I will have it:..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

"Dearly bought" can either mean expensively, or paid for in grave personal loss. This line can be performed and heard in two ways. It is either a sign of the money-hungry Shylock claiming that his loss of money means he deserves his pound of flesh, or it is a sign of his humanity. Shylock has lost everything, including his daughter, and now all that is left is his "dearly bought" revenge.

"loathes..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

By this Shylock means that the instinctive reaction one has often reveals how much they value it. Notice that Shylock speaks in language that sounds proverbial; however, he does not draw his lessons from scripture as he did in the beginning of the play but from revenge.

" inter'gatories..."   (Act V)

Inter'gatories are questions asked in a courtroom that the defendant must answer. Notice that even after the happy ending has been arranged, the language of contracts, legal boundaries, and obligation are still used to describe their relationships.

"manna..."   (Act V)

Manna is the divine food of the gods which fell to earth from heaven when the Israelites were exiled to the desert in Exodus. Notice that the Christians evoke Jewish imagery despite having degraded and abused Shylock.

"dumb..."   (Act V)

In this context "dumb" means unable to speak. Antonio cannot believe that his ships have come into the harbor, and Portia offers no explanation as to why they have returned or why she knows about it.

"cutler's poetry..."   (Act V)

By "cutler's poetry" Gratiano means a juvenile verse, similar to the kind of inscription that might be written on a knife. Gratiano adds insult to injury by devaluing the ring, a symbol of his commitment to Nerissa.

"light..."   (Act V)

By "light" Portia means unfaithful. Notice that Portia greets her husband's return with a pledge of her faithfulness, which she knows he has broken by giving away her ring.

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