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Essay on Homosexuality in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

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Homosexuality in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice


With every great story line comes a theme. William Shakespeare created an art of intertwining often unrecognizable themes within his plays. In Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, one hidden theme is the idea of homosexuality. This theme might not have even been noticed until modern Shakespeare fans discovered them. According to Alan Bray’s book, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, “the modern image of ‘the homosexual’ cannot be applied to the early modern period, when homosexual behavior was viewed in terms of the sexual act and not an individual's broader identity.” (Columbia University Press). This difference between homosexuality as a “sexual act” and an “identity” proves why, during Renaissance England, this theme in Shakespeare’s play was almost invisible. The actual merchant of Venice, Antonio, displays this homosexual identity that might only be recognizable to the modern day reader. Through a close reading of a speech given by Antonio, one can begin to understand the significance of Shakespeare’s word choice and how it plays into this idea of homosexuality.

The main plotline of The Merchant of Venice sets up this underlying theme of homosexuality. Bassanio, a friend of Antonio’s, presents Antonio with a proposition. Bassanio asks that he enter into a contract with a rich man, Shylock, so that Bassanio may pursue his one true love. Antonio agrees to enter into a contract with Shylock. The terms of the contract are that Shylock will lend Antonio and Bassanio twenty thousand ducats as long as Antonio pays him back within three months. If Antonio fails to repay Shylock, Shylock is allowed to take a pound of flesh from Antonio. A...


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...ed for Antonio to come off as being homosexual or if our modern general definition of homosexuality has influenced how we view Antonio. However, Shakespeare’s plays always seem to have shocking themes that are not meant to be seen without a close analysis. This analysis is able to prove why Shakespeare chose the word “ love” over any other word in order to invoke a certain homosexual feeling regarding Antonio and Bassanio’s relationship. Through this art of placing themes that Shakespeare uses, it is easy to see how homosexuality was intended to be placed as an underlying theme of The Merchant of Venice.

Works Cited


Columbia University Press. 2006. 6 Mar. 2006.


Oxford English Dictionary. 2005. 6 Mar. 2006.


Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. The Arden
Shakespeare ed. Brown, John Russell. England: The Chaucer
Press, 1977.


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