Stories that inspired The Merchant of Venice

Stories that inspired The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ was written in the late 16th Century. Originally billed as a comedy when it was first performed, it has since become better known for its dramatic themes.

It’s as fascinating today as it was in its early days. Today, it is recognised as literary art, but it’s also seen as one of his most controversial pieces. It deals with money, greed, revenge, homosexuality and being a religious outsider in a Christian republic.

What is interesting is that Shakespeare was influenced by other stories that circulated at the time. We’ve taken a look at what it’s believed they were:

Il Pecorone

This is a collection of stories written by an Italian writer – Fiorentino. It’s believed that Shakespeare read this publication, in Italian, and it was a text that influenced his Merchant of Venice. Il Pecorone means the ‘simpleton’ and the publication recounts the trials of Ansaldo – a wealthy merchant who gives his godson a ship laden with goods to trade with abroad. Attempting to win the hand of a lady, the godson twice loses all his possessions. Ansaldo repeatedly provides for him by borrowing money from a Jewish man, who refuses to be bought off when the debt is due. A court case ensues with the Godson’s new wife disguised as a lawyer. Ansaldo prevails and the bond is ripped up. Many believe that Shakespeare was telling his own version of this story when he wrote the Merchant of Venice.

William Shakespeare – author of the Merchant of Venice, which was first, published in the late 16th Century.

Gesta Romanorum

This is a medieval collection of stories that was translated around the time the Merchant of Venice was being written. It’s believed this influenced Shakespeare’s ideas on how the hand of the lady would be won because in this story, the main character has to choose between three caskets.

The Jew of Malta

This play by Christopher Marlowe dates from the late 1580s and was very successful at the time. Some do think that elements of this story stayed in Shakespeare’s mind as both Marlowe’s piece and the Merchant of Venice focus on attractive female characters and riches. However, Shakespeare’s biographers also think that the Merchant of Venice was attempts at a more sympathetic take on the story and characters, and some think Shakespeare was highlighting the need for tolerance through his play.

Shakespeare based his play in Venice because of its position as an illustrious and wealthy Republic.


The Merchant of Venice is as fascinating today as it was in the 16th Century. An interesting portrayal of controversial themes set against the backdrop of the cosmopolitan yet gritty city of Venice.

Visit the city the Merchant of Venice was set in.

Shakespeare set the Merchant of Venice here in Venice because the city was a hotspot for trade at the time, and because it was a city full of sophisticated glamour. Of course, there are many traces of this still in the city today. It’s easy to transport yourself back to that time. Come see it for yourself! We’d be delighted to show you around. At Venice Events, we are Italian sightseeing experts – offering tours of Venice as well as other cities and attractions across the country.

Touring Venice with us at Venice Events is a fantastic way to get to know the city – no matter how much time you have here. As one of our guests recently commented on TripAdvisor, Venice Events is able to show you the main, as well as the less well known, sights, giving you the best rounded experience of this city:

The walk covered all the main attractions but also a lot of less well know hidden attractions and really gave me a good feel of Venice. I have no idea how far we walked but it was great value and I did not get the feeling they were on a timetable - it felt as though he was keen to share his love of Venice and it was really appreciated. Can't recommend Venice Events enough as a terrific tour company.”

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The team at Venice Events.