Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Crowley, Timothy

Degree Name

B.A. (Bachelor of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of English


William Shakespeare’s plays often involve legal systems, and comedic legal justice occurs most conspicuously and controversially in The Merchant of Venice. Studies of legal context for the play have focused on different branches of English law during Shakespeare’s lifetime. My project inquires further: to what degree did Shakespeare know about Venetian law and consider it when inventing this comedy? Act 4, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice is one of the most obvious examples of Shakespeare’s impressive command and understanding of the law. While Shakespeare’s appreciation for the law has been noted by many scholars, the main question has been what Shakespeare knew about English law and how that impacted his plays. I focused on how Venetian law could have influenced The Merchant of Venice. During this scene, Portia masquerades as a judge for the sentencing portion of Antonio’s trial. She uses her command of the law to challenge the plaintiff’s claim. I concentrate my analysis on how a historical perspective on Venetian law, especially as described in Gasparo Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Government of Venice (1599), helps explain affects her actions during the trial and the conclusion of the play.


17 pages




Northern Illinois University

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