Shakespeare Paper on Merchant of Venice

This paper will focus on The Merchant of Venice, to analyze an interpretive issue and show how it develops/responds to issues of concern to Renaissance culture.

I would like the paper to enter the interpretive question:
What are the power dynamics between Portia and Bassanio—in what ways do those dynamics challenge renaissance ideas about marriage?

A potential thesis idea I have and I’d appreciate if you’d make it stronger and more concrete is: Shakespeare challenges the strict social views put on women during the Elizabethan era through the portrayal of Portia who challenges male authority and is celebrated as a hero??

This is not have to be the thesis you take on but I would like the thesis to be tied to the question.

I would like to introduce introduction to set the scene of the era the play was written in including the renaissance and the Elizabethan Era. The intro should end with a very clear thesis statement. Some scenes from the book that I’d like you to focus on would be the trial scene where Portia is cross dressing as a male clerk and the significance of that scene in regards to the question. I am no expert so if you think taking a different route or even different scenes will strengthen the thesis and the over-arching question, please take it.

I appreciate your help and I really hope that I can get an A! Let me know if you still need clarification, thank you.

Writing on the play, The Merchant of Venice,, analyze an interpretive issue and show how it develops/responds to issues of concern to Renaissance culture.  Draw evidence for your paper from a minimum of 3 sources: 1) relevant passages in the play. 2) Historical Context (from an article in a scholarly journal or book chapter. 3) At least one critical analysis of the play from an article in a scholarly journal or book chapter (there are many, many options available electronically).


Play: Work with any play we’ve read. The best thing you can do is find something you’re interested in and want to learn more about.  You’ll be spending time with this topic, and liking it will make it more enjoyable.  I know that you love to learn; that’s what writing an essay should do—teach you new things.


Interpretive Issue: An interpretive issue should be a question about the play that’s specific enough to be explored in 7-8 pgs. You shouldn’t be able to answer it with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no. Smaller/Narrower is almost always better in a literature paper. ’ If your focus is too broad, you’ll have to list evidence quickly and won’t have the space to analyze it in detail.


In Conversation: Using an article with literary analysis will put you in conversation with other critics who care about the same issue. None of us write or think in a vacuum. Working with another literary critic shows your interest in the field of analysis and will help deepen your thinking.


In Historical Context: Put the question in historical context. What particular social ideology – class hierarchy, gender, marriage, parenthood, political leadership, ethnicity, race, sexuality, imagination, the body, etc.—will help deepen your analysis? How does the play highlight, echo, magnify, and challenge the culture’s ideas about a particular concept?


This paper’s question is: What are the power dynamics between Portia and Bassanio—in what ways do those dynamics challenge renaissance ideas about marriage?


Resources for your required sources:

  1. Play: use all of the skills we’ve practiced this semester in analyzing your quotations. Look up key or unusual words in the OED on-line, check the textual notes in Greenblatt/other editions to see if your lines include any textual cruxes. Feel free to check out the Arden, Oxford, Cambridge individual editions of your play which also provide complete notes on lines and provide bibliography.



  1. Historical Analysis: Reading a historian’s perspective on the issue will add nuance to your historical context and keep us from oversimplifying what a complex culture thought about complex issues, providing a spectrum of views. Start with the Database Historical Abstracts.


  1. Using Criticism: This essay requires the use of literary criticism; finding the most useful article will probably mean not only a thorough MLA search, but also reading multiple articles. Leave yourself time to do this.  Don’t let the critic take over your essay; the play and your ideas are the primary resources for this paper.  The best way to find a useful source is to approach research with a question you want to answer and look for sources that might help you answer it.


Mechanics:  Essay should be 7-8 pages long, typed, double spaced.  Use MLA Style to cite the play and other sources.  Essay should have a meaningful title which introduces your argument and the play you’re working with.


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