This GCSE English Literature quiz focusses on understanding the text in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice was written over four hundred years ago. Although it is written in what is known as ‘Early Modern’ English, the language can seem very different from any dialect of English spoken today. So the text will not be the easiest to understand. Reading slowly, reading sections more than once and even reading aloud will help with comprehension.
As with any other text, pay close attention to all of the methods and techniques authors use to convey meaning. Think carefully about character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue. Comprehension works on several levels simultaneously.
Consider how context and setting relate to the events in the play. Ask yourself how events relate to each other, especially paying attention to shifts of scene, which occur frequently in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. What effect is achieved when a scene change forces us to leave characters in the middle of an event only to return to them later, leaving other characters mid-action? Try creating a timeline of events in order to help yourself picture the structure of the play. Although events occur chronologically in this play, you might like to consider the many occasions when characters relay news of other events occurring off stage. It can be useful to create summaries of each act and scene to help you remember and better understand the text.
Think about characters’ words and actions and what these reveal about their motivations. Are there any clues in the text to explain their behaviour? Should readers understand characters’ words to be truthfully presented, or should we examine their subtext more closely? Do the words and actions of each character correspond to one another? Try to answer why or why not, justifying your views by referring in detail to the text.
It is always useful to analyse beginnings and endings. Why does the play begin where it does? How do you come to find out about previous events? What do we know of various characters and how do we learn it? Are future events foreshadowed? How? Analyse individual acts and scenes in the same way: think about the significance of their beginnings and endings. Undertaking detailed analysis of this sort will really improve your knowledge and understanding of the text!
Read the questions below on The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.