Drama

Among the masterpieces of world literature, this early verse drama by the celebrated Norwegian playwright humorously yet profoundly explores the virtues, vices, and follies common to all humanity — as represented in the person of Peer Gynt, a charming but irresponsible young peasant. Based on Norwegian folklore and Ibsen’s own imaginative inventions, the play relates the roguish life of the world-wandering Peer, who finds wealth and fame — but never happiness — although he is redeemed by love in the end.
As the play opens the young farmer attends a wedding and meets Solveig, the woman who is eventually to be his salvation. However, the rascally Peer then kidnaps the bride and later abandons her in the wilderness. This dismal performance is followed by a string of adventures (many of which do not reflect well on Peer) in many lands. After these soul-chilling exploits, an old and embittered Peer returns to Norway, eventually finding solace in the arms of the faithful Solveig.
Like other early Ibsen plays, such as Brand (1866) and Emperor and Galilean (1874), the work is imbued with poetic mysticism and romanticism, and in Peer we find a rebellious central character in search of an ultimate truth that always seems just out of reach. In this sense Peer can be seen as an alter ego of Ibsen himself, whose lifelong search for artistic and moral certainties resulted in the great later plays (Hedda Gabler, The Wild Duck, An Enemy of the People, etc.) upon which his reputation chiefly rests. This rich, poetic version of Peer Gynt is considered the standard translation.
In The Merchant of Venice, the path to marriage is hazardous. To win Portia, Bassanio must pass a test prescribed by her father’s will, choosing correctly among three caskets or chests. If he fails, he may never marry at all.

Bassanio and Portia also face a magnificent villain, the moneylender Shylock. In creating Shylock, Shakespeare seems to have shared in a widespread prejudice against Jews. Shylock would have been regarded as a villain because he was a Jew. Yet he gives such powerful expression to his alienation due to the hatred around him that, in many productions, he emerges as the hero.

Portia is most remembered for her disguise as a lawyer, Balthazar, especially the speech in which she urges Shylock to show mercy that “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”

The authoritative edition of The Merchant of Venice from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:

-The exact text of the printed book for easy cross-reference
-Hundreds of hypertext links for instant navigation
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently linked to the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An annotated guide to further reading

Essay by Alexander Leggatt

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
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