Shakespeare – Module 5:The Merchant of Venice The Merchant of Venice – 3 of 20 Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


Learning Objective: in this post we will explore the main themes, symbols and motifs of The Merchant of Venice

Task 1: watch the video below then answer the questions that follow. This will recap the plot and the characters before looking at some of the main ideas or themes in the play

Quick summary: The Merchant of Venice written between 1596 and 1598 is Shakespeare’s comedy centred around love, money, prejudice and social injustice.

Task 1: complete the very quick quiz below

What 3 symbols are mentioned in the video?

gold, flesh, and rings

What 4 motifs are mentioned in the video?

ships, disguise, allusion, wordplay

So what are the differences between a theme, a symbol and a motif? Look at the images below and read the text to find out.


are the main ideas that appear repeatedly throughout the text. They are often ideas (concepts) that everyone will understand. The theme is NOT the subject of the work, it is an insight about life or human nature.

There are 3 main themes in The Merchant of Venice. Sometimes they can be looked at separately, for example, money and love could be separate themes or connected.

Prejudice and social injustice
Revenge, justice and forgiveness
Money and love

Task 2: match the images in the ppt to the themes


Recurring elements and patterns of imagery in The Merchant of Venice which support the play’s themes

A repeated situation, incident, idea, image or character type.

A single image repeated

Similar images repeated to reinforce the theme

Key motifs in The Merchant of Venice are:

Gold/ducats, jewels and caskets

The law




Symbols represent a visual item that serves a literal purpose but also represents or suggests an abstract idea.

Task 4: watch the video about symbols in The Merchant of Venice

Task 5: answer the questions in the quick quiz

What are the 3 symbols used in The Mercahnt of Venice?

gold, flesh, and rings

Gold represents: a) money, b) money and status, c) money, status and power


Which characters realise that all that glitters is not gold?

Shylock and Portia and Jessica

Flesh is a symbol of: a) being a carnivore b) life c) animals

b) life

Which character offers a pound of his own flesh as payment for a loan: a) Antonio, b) Shylock, c) Bassanio

a) Antonio

What do rings represent in the play?

Love and commitment

Losing a ring represents: a) the loss of something shiny b) the loss of love c) the loss and destruction of love

c) the loss and destruction of love

So there we have it, Themes, Motifs and Symbols. Through the use of these we can understand what the play is really about. The following document provides examples of where we see these being used in the play.

Task 6: Read the document that gives examples of events matched to theme, motif and symbol

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Well done. You have now completed a study of the themes and motifs and symbols in the play