Definition of The Merchant of Venice from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


The Merchant of Venice

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a play by William Shakespeare, thought to have been written in 1596. It is about a merchant, Antonio, who borrows money from a Jew called Shylock to help Bassanio marry Portia. According to their agreement, if Antonio fails to pay the money back, Shylock can claim a pound of Antonio's flesh. When Antonio is unable to pay the money back, Shylock demands that Antonio keeps to the agreement. However, he is defeated in a court case by Portia, disguised as a lawyer, who makes a powerful speech, wins the case and saves Antonio's life. The play is the origin of the expression to demand, want, etc. your pound of flesh, meaning to want or insist on getting what you have a legal right to, even when it is morally offensive to do so.