Internet Shakespeare Editions


The settings: Venice and Belmont

Venice. Reproduced in Social England, ed. H.D.Traill. University of Victoria Library.

Shakespeare makes use of two distinct settings for The Merchant of Venice. Venice, as in Shakespeare's time, is the city of commerce where wealth flows in and out with each visiting ship. Venice is also a cosmopolitan city at the frontier of Christendom, beyond which lies Asia, Africa, and the Ottoman Empire. Society in Venice is a predominantly male world, where the single female, Jessica, is locked up in her house, and can only escape in disguise as a male.

Belmont, on the other hand, is the home of Portia and her mysterious caskets. It is a place of romance and festivity to which the victorious Christians retire at the end of the play. Like the forests in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream, Belmont is an idealized "green world" that is removed from the ruthlessness of the real world. Unlike Venice, it is controlled by women (though Portia's dead father lingers).