The Merchant Of Venice Jade English Literature Essay

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In this paper the author firstly attempts to analyze and discuss how the language of The Merchant of Venice was adjusted or adapted to fit in the target actors and audiences without impacting upon the themes embedded and logical plot's development.

Then paper is going to discuss the challenges of using the script on these actors and put forward some corresponding suggestions.

For hundreds of years after the first performance, The Merchant of Venice is still continually drawing audience and new comments. Conventionally, this great work contributed by Shakespeare is categorized into comedy, but more and more new criticisms have probed into its tragic nature (Mahon, 2002).

How I adapt the language of the script and why.

Firstly, I attempt to put this play into a stage performance in a high school main land China. As Gill (2008) suggested, the drama performance in English learning can benefit target learners psychologically, socially and linguistically. The goal of doing the play is to involve young EF learners into interesting and heuristic English language context to learn language and teach them the themes embedded, especially the friendship and justice.

1.1 Actors

The actors are these 14 to 16-year around high school students who are EFL learners with nearly 8-year classroom EFL learning experiences. Though they have 8-year EFL learning experience, those young EFL learners are relatively poorer in oral English than their counterparts in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, they have quite limited vocabulary with around 3000 words.

1.2 Audiences

These young actors' classmates in the same grade will be invited to be the audience. The EFL teachers will be invited too but accounting for a very small proportion of audiences. Parents will be invited by their children but they are not the main intended audience. Surely the majority of the audience shares the similar English language proficiency level with the actors. And the intermediate level of English proficiency with around 3000- word vocabulary do not allow them to then the preliminary task for adapting original language is to simplify the language in order that the information in the play can be conveyed accurately and efficiently between the actors and the audience.

1.3 Language adaptation and adjustment

Firstly, much effort is devoted to simplify and clarify the original language into a modern one with easily understandable contemporary rhetorical characteristics. The Merchant of Venice is a typical Shakespeare's style, which is full of the words of ancient English and not so confined into our modern grammatical rules. Besides this, in Shakespeare's works, there are many intentionally vague expressions, thus I also attempt to attempt to adapt these expressions in The Merchant of Venice into easily- understood ones because both my young actors and audience would turn off if they found they have no access to understanding of the story. For example, when Bassanio met his Portia in Berlmont after finishing the court's affairs, he greeted or even fawned with the words "We should hold day with the Antipodes, if you would walk in absence of the sun" (Act 5, Scene 1, line 127). Young actors with less emotional experiences are hard to immerse in the acting context since those words are quite figurative. Also some difficult words like "Antipodes" (Act 5, Scene 1, line 127) should be explained clearly. Therefore, for my target young actors and audiences, it is more proper if I transformed the words into "We can share the sunshine with the world on the other side, if you…", which lacks of literature's touching and aesthetic power to some extent, but advocates the practicality for language learning and also implies the theme of love embedded. Meanwhile, the deep admiration of Bassanio to Portia is also strengthened. Additionally, the rhyme at the end of sentence is also used for easier memorizing and preserving literature flavor.

There are also some impolite words especially in Shylock' lines and occasionally in Gratiano's lines. For example, In Act 5, Scene 1, line 144, Gratiano argued with Nerissa about the ring she gave him, he just said "Would he were gelt that had it,…". Since it is inappropriate and a little misleading for Chinese young actors to utter these words directly and publicly in front of their teachers, I tend to change the word "gelt" into "dead".

How I handle the language as it impacts characters, themes and plots.

2.1 Characters

The simplification and clarification I discussed above do not mean all words of all characters should be completely simplified. Words are the main tool in a script to establish and symbolize a character. Then the language adaptation must support or strengthen the original characters rather than undermine them. In The Merchant of Venice, for example, Portia cannot share the same simple style of words with Nerissa because "a lady richly left" (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 161), a lady who can resolve the Antonio's problem with Shylock very smartly, also a lady who can win Bassanio from Antonio step by step, definitely should not speak in a similar style with her maid. Thus more original rhetorical characteristics in Portia's words should be preserved, while for Nerrisa, the language can be simplified in a wider range.

The same consideration is also taken for other main characters. By Shakespeare, Antonio was depicted as a devoted and loyal friend, a responsible and brave Christian. Thus in language adaption and simplification, I will follow the personality's characteristics. When talking with other characters except for Bassanio, Antonio's words should be more manly and strong, like the lines of facing Shylock. However, when facing Bassanio, Antonio's words should be preserved or adjusted in to a softer and emotional style, consistent with Shakespeare's potential emphasis on Renaissance friendship.

For the Gratiano's example discussed in the part 1, I do not plan to delete the exact line including the word "gelt", because Gratiano is a loyal, warm-hearted, and candid friend to Bassanio and Antonio. Gratiano even wished his beloved Nerissa were dead to exchange for Antonio's life at the very moment Shylock was going to cut. Thus, the deletion of the line discussed above may undermine Gratiano's candid character. That's why I used "dead" to substitute "gelt" in that example.

2.2 Plots and Themes

It is necessary for us to be very clear about the themes embedded: friendship, sacrifice, religious inclusion and exclusion, romance, justice, mercy, authority, promise, etc.

Any adaptation must keep conformed with these themes. Specifically, we can find that the plots in Venice are full of themes of sacrifice, justice, brutality, usury, revenge, while in Belmont everything turns out to a fairy tale. All problems previously stated come to a happy ending at Belmont and are resolved in a perfect way: "love and forgiveness conquer all" (Bemis, 2009, p: 126).

In original text, there are some lines aesthetically significant. But as to practical drama play for EFL language learning, those lines may be a little redundant to prevent the EFL young actors and audiences from understanding and memorizing of the whole story. What I tend to do is to cut part of these lines, by which I not only can preserve the complete plot, but also relieve the burden for the actors' memorizing.

For example, when it comes to the beginning of Act 5, Scene 1, when Jessica and Lorenzo were listening to the music under the sweet starry sky in front of the Portia's house, their sweet conversations (Act 5, Scene 1, line 1-24) include so many stories of devoted lover that 16-year old Chinese EFL student may find is very difficult to understand due to the lack of relevant literature knowledge. But I do not mean all these 24 lines between Jessica and Lorenzo (Act 5, Scene 1) should be deleted. My adapting is to cut the part from the line 7 to 14, all of which are talking about devoted lovers in literature works. The rest, the line 15 to 24 should be preserved since it is logically important. Namely, the conversation plot between Jessica and Lorenzo reminded audiences of the lover's previous experience, which is good for audience's understanding about the whole story, and it serves as a logical preparation for the good news about Antonio's business from Launcelot.

Secondly, the distribution of lines should be balanced. For example, in the last part of Act 5, Scene1, among those main characters-Portia, Bassanio, Nerissa, Gratiano, Antonio, Jessica and Lorenzo, the lines distributed to Antonio are obviously less than others', few lines actually.

For my part, I attempted to rearrange some lines to Antonio in order to achieve the balance of lines' load. Specifically, I tend to make a redistribution of lines that Antonio is responsible for specifically explain why the rings were given as rewards at the court. These lines of explaining this plot were originally distributed to Bassanio (line 209- 222, Act 5, Scene 1). Surly, my redisturibution was logical for the plot flow because Antonio knew the reason of losing ring clearly since he witnessed what happened at the court. Additionally, since these lines were mainly narrative, the redistribution of them would not impact the romance theme and relevant plot between Portia and Bassanio. Namely, in my adaption, when Portia purposefully blamed Bassanio for his failure to keep promise, it is Antonio instead of Bassanio should step forward to explain. In this way, the change also can further emphasize the theme of Renaissance male friendship between Bassanio and Antonio, and Antonio's loyalty to Bassanio's friendship is also shinning again.

What would the challenges be of doing the script with second language learners.

It is questionable whether my young learners can afford the complicated emotional changes behind the verbal delivery. For instance, as some criticisms (Menkel-Meadow, 2005; Cox, 2009) indicated, Portia loved Bassanio very much and smartly won him from Antonio, which implies the equity of competing with the male from a perspective view of feminism. It is time-consuming and embarrassing for a class activity to explain why a woman must compete with a man for winning another man' love to 16-year students of mainland, due to the more conservative learning context there. Therefore, specifically, it is quite challenging for the actress of Portia to express Portia's complicated interior emotions when she was introduced to Antonio for the first time and said "You should in all sense be much bound to him, for as I hear he was much bound for you." (Act 5, Scene 1, line 136-137)

Additionally, EFL learners as non-professional actors, definitely, are going to come across the problem of verbal utterance and physical performance, proper gestures and movement. Possibly we may find that the young actors are so devoted themselves to the recalling verbal content that body performance is neglected to some extent, or vice versa. And it is not usual to see an actor just tells the director he or she cannot perform at all on the stage. Actually, young EFL actors may get lost both physically and psychologically. They are so nervous about everything on the stage and just momentarily forget where to stand, when to speak, how to move, etc. By the way, especially for young EFL learners, there is always a risk for actors to burn into laugh when performing. In The Merchant of Venice, a young actor is difficult to act as a greedy, brutal villain but advocating reasonable justice and racial equity at the same time. If the young dislikes the bad from the bottom of heart, then how can he or she be a successful Shylock?

How I overcome the challenges in rehearsal, and with actors.

Firstly, the detailed role interpretation must be done by the teacher in advance. The adequate role interpretation is a powerful assistant to help young actors understand the script. The role interpretation should include individual characters, and the interactive relationship between them. It is better to design a plot map for these young actors (see Appendix 2). Meanwhile, the improvisation can be used to relieve those young learners' discomfort of exposure to the public and motivate them to be creative so that they can willingly and easily immerse into the performance context, because the improvisation, to a large extent, like games, which involves spontaneous play in a rehearsal room (Perry, 2001).

Secondly, performance involves every actor as an entirety. An individual mistake can ruin the whole. Thus, on the one hand, the director should clarify actors' movement on the stage as specific as possible. For example, in the Act 5, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice, Portia's movement should be confined into the central area of the stage. For some extremely important moments in the play, the director even needs to regulate the exact direction and steps the actress can walk away and back, like the famous court scene including so many characters once. On the other hand, for each important moment, there are one or two key characters, who actually manage the performance for the director. For instance, at the end of the story, the other characters should pay much attention to the Portia's words, gestures, and movements because it is Portia in this performance (Act 5, Scene 1) to initiate, finish, and shift the direction of conversation topic and target. For example, Portia initiated the further questioning about the ring by coordinating the argument between Gratiano and Nerssia, and then shift the conversation target to Bassanio, specifically by defending for Nerssia.

(2226 words)


Anderson, M. & Donelan, K. (2009). Drama in schools: meeting the research challenges of the twenty-first century, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 14(2), 165-171.

Baldwin, P. (2008). The Primary Drama Handbook: A Primary Guide for Teachers New to Drama & Teaching Assistants. London: SAGE.

Bemis, J. (2009). The merchant of Venice on film. Ed. by Joseph Pearce, The Merchant of Venice With Contemporary Criticism, San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 119-139.

Cox, V., (2009). Gender and Eloquence in Ercole de' Roberti's Portia and Brutus, Renaissance Quarterly, 62 (1), 61-101.

Ed. by Joseph, P., (2009). The Merchant of Venice With Contemporary Criticism, San Francisco: Ignatius Press

Gorjian, B., Moosavinia, S. R., & Jabripour, A. (2010). Dramatic performance in teaching drama in EFL contexts, The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language, 13 (4).

Rastelli, L. R. (2006). Drama in language learning, Encuentro 16, 82-94.

Menkel-Meadow, C. (2005). Portia redux: another look at gender, feminism, and legal ethics, Ed. by Carle, S. D., Lawyers' Ethics and the Pursuit of Social Justice, A Critical Reader. NYU Press.

Wei, J., Mi, J., & Zhu, C., (2009). Application research of drama in college English education of China, 2009 Second Asia- Pacific Conference on Computational Intelligence and Industrial Applications. Available at Accessed on Mar,29, 2011.

Appendix 1

(Consecutive 3 pages in Act 5, Scene 1)

Enter BASSANIO, ANTONIO, GRATIANO, and their followers


We should hold day with the Antipodes (the world on the other side)

If you (beautiful lady) would walk in absence of the sun.


Let me give light, but let me not be light;

For a light wife doth (does) make a heavy husband,

And never be Bassanio so(make Bassanio be like this) for me:

But God sort all (But it is God decides everything)! You are welcome home, my lord.


I thank you, madam. Give welcome to my friend.

This is the man, this is Antonio,

To whom I am so infinitely bound.


You should in all (every) sense be much bound to him.

For, as I hear, he was much bound for you.


No more than I am well acquitted of (released from).


Sir, you are very welcome to our house:

It must appear in other ways than words,

Therefore I scant this breathing courtesy(cut short these courtesy words).


[To NERISSA] By yonder moon I swear you do me wrong;

In faith, I gave it to the judge's clerk:

Would he were gelt (dead) that had it, for my part,

Since you do take it, love, so much at heart.


A quarrel, ho, already! What's the matter?


About a hoop of gold, a paltry (valueless) ring

That she did give me, whose posy (inside inscription) was

For all the world like cutler's poetry

Upon a knife, 'Love me, and leave me not.'


What talk you of the posy(inscription) or the value?

You swore to me, when I did give it you,

That you would wear it till your hour of death

And that it should lie with you in your grave:

Though not for me, yet for your vehement oaths (devout promise),

You should have been respective (careful) and have kept it.

Gave it a judge's clerk! no, God's my judge,

The clerk will ne'er wear hair on's face that had it.


He will, and if he live to be a man.


Ay, if a woman live to be a man.


Now, by this hand, I gave it to a youth,

A kind of boy, a little scrubbed( short young) boy,

No higher than thyself(you); the judge's clerk,

A prating (garrulous)boy, that begg'd (begged) it as a fee:

I could not for my heart deny it him.


You were to blame, I must be plain with you,

To part so slightly with your wife's first gift:

A thing stuck on with oaths upon your finger

And so riveted with faith unto your flesh.

I gave my love a ring and made him swear

Never to part with it; and here he stands;

I dare be sworn for him he would not leave it

Nor pluck it from his finger, for the wealth

That the world masters (possesses). Now, in faith, Gratiano,

You give your wife too unkind a cause of grief:

And 'twere (If it were) to me, I should be mad at it.


[Aside] Why, I were best to cut my left hand off

And swear I lost the ring defending it.


My Lord Bassanio gave his ring away

Unto the judge that begg'd (begged) it and indeed

Deserved it too; and then the boy, his clerk,

That took some pains in writing, he begg'd(begged) mine;

And neither man( the clerk) nor master (judge) would take aught (anything)

But the two rings.


What ring gave you my lord?

Not that, I hope, which you received of me.


If I could add a lie unto a fault,

I would deny it; but you see my finger

Hath not the ring upon it; it is gone.


Even so void is your false heart of truth.

By heaven, I will ne'er (never) come in your bed

Until I see the ring.


Nor I in yours (bed)

Till I again see mine.


Sweet Portia,

If you did know to whom I gave the ring,

If you did know for whom I gave the ring

And would conceive for what I gave the ring

And how unwillingly I left the ring,

When nought (nothing) would be accepted but the ring,

You would abate the strength of your displeasure.


If you had known the virtue (power) of the ring,

Or half her worthiness that gave the ring,

Or your own honour to contain the ring,

You would not then have parted with the ring.

What man is there so much unreasonable,

If you had pleased (been willing) to have defended (defend) it

With any terms of zeal, wanted the modesty

To urge (would have been so wanting in modesty as to demand as a gift) the thing held as a ceremony (promise's token)?

Nerissa teaches me what to believe:

I'll die for't but some woman had the ring.

BASSANIO (replaced by Antonio for these lines)

No, by my honour, madam, by my soul,

No woman had it, but a civil doctor,

Which did refuse three thousand ducats of me (your lord, my dear friend).

And begg'd the ring; the which Bassanio did deny him

And suffer'd (allowed) him to go displeased away;

Even he that did uphold the very life

Of my dear friend(mine). What should I (your lord) say, sweet (noble) lady?

I (He) was enforced to send it after him (the judge);

I (Our dear Bassanio) was beset with shame and courtesy;

My (His) honour would not let ingratitude

So much besmear (pollute) it. Pardon me (him), good lady;

For, by these blessed candles of the night,

Had you been there, I think you would have begg'd (begged)

The ring of me to give (appreciated much toward) the worthy doctor.

PORTIA (after listening to Antonio's explanation, turn to Bassanio)

Let not that doctor e'er (ever) come near my house:

Since he hath (has) got the jewel that I loved,

And that which you (my lord) did swear to keep for me,

I will become as liberal as you;

I'll not deny him any thing I have,

No, not my body nor my husband's bed: