The Merchant Of Venice – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

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Teachers, if you’re looking for a way to engage your students while studying Shakespeare’s classic play The Merchant of Venice, this blog post is here to help!

This comprehensive planning overview will get you started by providing ideas on how to make the play come alive in your class.

Whether assigning roles or creating activities that bring the text into modern-day contexts, many creative resources are available to make teaching more accessible and practical.

We hope these innovative strategies will spark ideas within you so that you can create unique and meaningful experiences for your students. Let’s dive right in!

Related: For more, check out our article on Romeo and Juliet here.

Merchant Of Venice

Table of Contents

The Merchant of Venice – Act by Act Break Down

Act 1

The first act sets up the main characters and the conflict between them. Antonio, a Venetian merchant, borrows money from Shylock, a Jewish money lender, to help his friend Bassanio.

Shylock agrees to loan Antonio the money because if he defaults on the loan, he must pay a pound of his flesh.

Additionally, Portia arrives in Venice as an eligible wealthy suitor hoping to find love and avoid an arranged marriage.

Act 2

In this act, Antonio’s ships are reportedly lost at sea. This puts him in danger of defaulting on his loan from Shylock, and he pleads with him for mercy.

Meanwhile, Bassanio sets off for Belmont in pursuit of Portia’s hand in marriage and her prized caskets of gold and silver, which can only be won through answering riddles correctly.

Act 3

Bassanio successfully wins Portia’s hand but is unaware that she has foiled Shylock’s plans to take revenge on Antonio by sacrificing a pound of his flesh; instead, she forces Shylock to give half his fortune away as compensation for attempting murder against him.

Simultaneously, Jessica renounces her father’s religion and elopes with Lorenzo after stealing numerous items from her father’s home.

Act 4

Act four focuses primarily on Portia and Nerissa – both successfully outwit their husbands, who attempt to keep their wedding rings secret.

Followingly, they also manage to obtain contracts forcing all newly-wed husbands to give their wives complete control over any assets they might receive during marriage.

This allows them more control over their lives than before the wedding.

Act 5

Act five returns focus onto Antonio, who remains imprisoned until Venice attempts vengeance against its laws, threatening death for those who express mercy towards Jews like Shylock – leading ultimately to an undeserved happy ending for all involved following Lorenzo’s plan allowing Jessica entry into heaven unhindered by her conversion seeming Christianity.

Section of PlayAct & SceneKey EventsCharacters InvolvedThemes and MotifsEducational Focus Points
IntroductionAct 1Introduction of major characters, Antonio’s sadness, Bassanio’s plan to woo Portia.Antonio, Bassanio, Portia, ShylockWealth, friendship, loveSetting the scene, character introductions, establishing the central conflict.
The BondAct 1, Scene 3Shylock agrees to lend Bassanio money with Antonio as the guarantor, setting the ‘pound of flesh’ condition.Shylock, Antonio, BassanioPrejudice, mercy, justiceUnderstanding Shylock’s motives, analyzing the bond’s terms.
The CasketsAct 2-3Suitors choose from gold, silver, and lead caskets to win Portia’s hand in marriage.Portia, Bassanio, Prince of Morocco, Prince of ArragonFortune, appearance vs. realitySymbolism of the caskets, Portia’s role in the plot.
Jessica’s ElopementAct 2, Scene 6Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, elopes with Lorenzo, taking her father’s wealth with her.Jessica, Lorenzo, ShylockLove, betrayal, family dynamicsCharacter development, consequences of actions.
The TrialAct 4Antonio’s trial for failing to repay Shylock, Portia’s disguised intervention.Antonio, Shylock, Portia (as Balthazar)Law, mercy, gender rolesDramatic tension, legal and moral debates, Portia’s speech on mercy.
The RingsAct 5Portia and Nerissa test their husbands’ fidelity with their rings given as a trial payment.Portia, Nerissa, Bassanio, GratianoLoyalty, marriage, trustComic relief, resolution of subplots, examination of character loyalty.
Resolution and ThemesAct 5The play concludes with the characters reflecting on the events and their outcomes.All main charactersJustice, mercy, love, and forgivenessSummarizing

Key Themes Of The Merchant Of Venice

The conflict between Duty and Desire

The key theme of this play is the conflict between duty and desire. The protagonist struggles with their responsibilities to society, family, and themselves while desiring a life of freedom outside these obligations.

This struggle is evident throughout the play as the protagonist grapples with what they must and want to do.

Power and Greed

Power is another important theme. Throughout the play, it is clear that some characters have more power than others.

Characters’ lust for power drives them to make greedy choices that often have dire consequences.

Justice vs Injustice

In this play, justice often comes up against injustice in a battle of good versus evil. This theme centres around the characters’ sense of morality as they face situations where justice may not be served without their intervention.

The outcome of each case often serves as a lesson in righteousness for the characters involved.

Main Characters


The protagonist is the main character in the play. They are individuals struggling to come to terms with their responsibilities and desires.

The protagonist grapples with what they must and want to do as they wrestle with their sense of morality.


The antagonist is the character that stands in opposition to the protagonist and serves as a foil character. This character often works against the protagonist and creates tension throughout the story.

Supporting Characters

The supporting characters provide helpful advice, support, or friendship to the protagonist along their journey.

These characters help guide the protagonist while giving insight into different aspects of life, such as friendship, loyalty, family, and love.

The Protagonist’s Journey

The protagonist in this play embarks on a journey of self-discovery as they struggle to come to terms with their responsibilities and desires.

Along the way, they face difficult decisions and grapple with their sense of morality as they attempt to do what is right.

They learn valuable lessons while exploring their beliefs, values, and identity about the world around them. The outcome of their journey often serves as a testament to the power of choice, courage and perseverance.

Timeline of Events

  1. The protagonist struggles to come to terms with their responsibilities and desires: They are presented with difficult choices and must grapple with their sense of morality.
  2. The protagonist begins their journey of self-discovery: They explore different aspects of life, such as loyalty, friendship, family and love, while gaining valuable insight into themselves and the world around them.
  3. The protagonist faces various obstacles: They are tested in multiple ways as they make decisions and overcome the challenges before them.
  4. The protagonist ultimately learns valuable lessons about life: Their experiences testify to the power of choice, courage and perseverance.
  5. The protagonist resolves: The outcome of the journey mirrors the struggles faced by the protagonist throughout the story, allowing for closure and reflecting on how far they have come since starting on the path to self-discovery.
Merchant Of Venice

Lessons the Protagonist Learned about Life

The protagonist learns many valuable lessons about life throughout their journey of self-discovery.

They know that it is essential to take responsibility for their decisions and actions and to be aware of the consequences that come with them.

They also discover that loyalty, friendship, family and love provide stakeholders in which they can find strength and support when faced with difficult times.

Furthermore, they understand that while courage, perseverance and choice are essential skills needed to succeed, sometimes these skills cannot lead to victory.

Perhaps most importantly, the protagonist learns that life is a continuous journey of learning and development; what matters is not the outcome but the journey itself.

Lesson Plan

This lesson plan aims to help students explore the topics of courage, perseverance, loyalty and morality through a fictional story as a context.


  • Students can identify and apply life lessons from a fictional story.
  • Students will understand courage, perseverance and loyalty in difficult moral choices.
  • Students will be able to articulate their own experiences with tackling complex challenges.

Materials Needed

  • A copy of the fictional story for each student
  • Paper and writing utensils for each student

Lesson Plan

Introduce the story to the class (5 min):

Discuss plot points and critical themes without revealing major plot twists or outcomes.

Talk about characters’ motivations, goals, and how this relates to other characters in the story and real-world scenarios.

Read segments of the story aloud (20 min):

As you read smaller chunks of the story, pause to discuss with students essential plot points such as moral dilemmas encountered by characters or moments when they face difficult decisions.

Ask questions like “how did this character deal with this issue?” or “what could they have done differently?” After reading each chunk, ask students what lessons they think can be learned.

Group discussion (15 min):

Have students break up into small groups and discuss their interpretations of life lessons that can be learned from the story and share their own experiences with similar situations in real life.

Have them share their thoughts on how these experiences shaped their outlook on life going forward.

Journaling activity (10 min):

Close off the session by having students write down one actionable item they can take away from today’s lesson that they would like to strive towards to understand themselves better or come closer towards achieving some personal goal in life using issues addressed within the story as context for reflection.

Key Questions

What Themes Does the Play Explore, and How Do They Relate to Real World Scenarios?

The play explores the themes of courage, perseverance, loyalty and morality. These are all very relevant themes to consider in real-world scenarios.

How Does the Protagonist’s Worldview Change as a Result of Their Journey?

The protagonist’s worldview changes as they experience life lessons and difficult moral choices.

Throughout their journey, they learn the value of loyalty and that sometimes they must take risks to be successful. As they gain courage and resilience, their motivations and goals shift from self-centeredness to helping others.

How Does Loyalty Feature as a Theme in the Play?

Loyalty is an essential theme in the play. Characters must make tough decisions where their loyalties are tested, and they often can’t save everyone or everything without making a sacrifice.

This is a reflection of how loyalty has its limits when put up against hard times.

How Do Characters Make Difficult Moral Choices, and What Are the Consequences?

Throughout the story, characters face difficult moral choices with severe consequences for themselves and those around them.

They must decide whether to follow their convictions or conform to the expectations of society or other authority figures to protect themselves or those close to them.

In some cases, even if characters choose what may seem like a “righteous” path, there are still consequences that come with it that cannot be reversed.

What is the Significance of Courage and Perseverance in the Story?

Courage and perseverance are essential characteristics for the protagonist to find eventual success.

They must take risks, face their fears, and overcome obstacles no matter how difficult. They can reach their goals and make a lasting impact only through these traits.

How Do the Characters Face Difficult Circumstances, and How Do They Cope With Them?

The characters face various difficulties throughout the play, including physical danger, internal conflicts, and ethical dilemmas. They rely on courage, loyalty, wisdom, and strength of mind and spirit to cope.

These help them to make difficult decisions to protect those around them or achieve their dreams.

Does Success Come With Making Tough Decisions or Taking Risks?

Success does not necessarily come from making tough decisions or taking risks – it comes from having the courage to do what is necessary despite fear or reluctance.

The characters in the play must make tough decisions when faced with difficulty, but this only brings short-term success if they cannot remain courageous and persevere through all challenges.

Was there ever a Time Where Major Plot Points Could Have Been Avoided or Changed for a Happier Outcome for All Involved Parties?

There were certain moments within the story where major plot points could have been avoided had certain characters chosen differently in their moral convictions.

However, those choices were ultimately made out of love and loyalty, resulting in greater rewards after much struggle.

It would only be possible to alter those events with consequences as they would go against the laws some characters abide by and thus bring about an even unhappier outcome than before.

Are There Any Implicit Lessons That Can Be Taken Away From This Story That Didn’t Necessarily Involve a Character Arc or Major Plot Point?

One of the implicit lessons that can be taken away from this story is that loyalty, courage and perseverance are essential to achieving success.

Even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, it’s possible to persevere and reach one’s goals if one remains dedicated and courageous in the face of difficulty.

Are There Any Moments Within This Play Which You Found Particularly Relatable or Noteworthy, and Why?

There were many moments within the play which I found relatable and noteworthy.

One, in particular, was when a character made a difficult choice out of loyalty to those close to them to protect them from harm despite knowing the consequences it would bring. It was an admirable demonstration of selflessness which resonated with me deeply.


Isn’t it empowering to realize the potential of these innovative strategies in teaching Shakespeare’s classic play, The Merchant of Venice? This comprehensive guide has aimed to equip you with the necessary tools and ideas to create a dynamic, engaging learning environment.

Whether it’s assigning roles or contextualizing the text for modern times, these resources promise to make your teaching journey both accessible and practical.

Can you imagine the impact of these unique experiences on your students’ understanding and appreciation of this timeless work?

As we’ve discussed, planning a unit around The Merchant of Venice needn’t be as daunting as deciphering Shakespearean verse.

With a clear plan, a touch of creativity, and a commitment to active student engagement, you can transform your lessons into an immersive exploration of literature.

Isn’t it inspiring to envisage the transformative educational journey that awaits you and your students with this classic play?

So why wait? Embark on this Shakespearean adventure today, and watch as your classroom transforms into a vibrant stage where literature comes alive!

Our Other Shakespeare Planning Overviews

  1. Romeo and Juliet
  2. Hamlet
  3. Macbeth
  4. Midsummer Night’s Dream
  5. Taming of the Shrew
  6. Othello
  7. King Lear
  8. Twelfth Night
  9. The Merchant of Venice
  10. Much Ado About Nothing


Q1: Why should I choose The Merchant of Venice as a class text?

A1: That’s an insightful question! Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is a classic play that explores themes such as justice, mercy, and the complexities of love. Can you see the in-depth discussions and analytical thinking that could be sparked in your classroom?

Q2: How can The Merchant of Venice be linked to other areas in the curriculum?

A2: Great query! This play can be tied to subjects like history, by discussing the social and cultural context of Elizabethan England, and philosophy, through its exploration of moral dilemmas. Can you envision how this could foster a comprehensive understanding of the play and its implications?

Q3: What themes from The Merchant of Venice can we focus on during class discussions?

A3: There are numerous themes to delve into such as prejudice, friendship, and the power of mercy. Can you imagine the engaging classroom debates these themes could inspire?

Q4: How can The Merchant of Venice help develop students’ language skills?

A4: Excellent question! Studying this play can help enhance vocabulary, comprehension, and analytical skills through its complex character dialogues and rich use of metaphor and symbolism. Can you foresee the linguistic progress your students could make?

Q5: What engaging activities can I conduct to consolidate learning after teaching The Merchant of Venice?

A5: Several interactive options are available such as dramatic readings, creating modern adaptations, or even hosting a mock trial based on the play’s court scene. Can you sense the excitement these activities could generate in your classroom?

Q6: How can The Merchant of Venice contribute to students’ overall personal development?

A6: By exploring the dilemmas and decisions faced by the characters, students can learn about empathy, decision-making, and the complexity of human relationships. Can you perceive this classic play’s life lessons and personal growth opportunities?

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.

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