The Merchant of Venice

the merchant of veniceWe have decided to add a new section to xpressenglish.com that provides Simple English stories from famous Shakespeare plays, designed especially for children. Our first story is the “The Merchant of Venice”. As well as being one of my Shakespeare favorites, it is also one of his most popular plays for performance and study at high-school and university.

Pre-Intermediate Vocabulary Help

The words in our Simplified English story which are not in our Pre-Intermediate level 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

There are two words that are in our Intermediate word list but have a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used. In fact, both words are used with two different meanings in the story: one being the commonly used one and the other being a more unusual one. The words are court and fair:

  • The most common meaning of is a place where law cases are decided by a judge. However when used as a , as in the story when Bassanio says he needs to borrow some money “to court Portia”, it means to try to win someone’s love.
  • The most common meaning of is to be just: not favoring one side or the other in making a judgement. However, when the Prince of Morocco talks about “fair Portia’s picture”, he means that she is attractive or pleasing to look at.

General Comments on the Story

beautiful stories from shakespeareOur source for this story was not the original play. To prepare a Simplified English from this would take us much longer than a normal story. Instead, we started from a story in a book called “Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare” by Edith Nesbit. This was written over 100 years ago to introduce young children to Shakespeare’s work. Although said to be written for children under 10 years of age, some of the vocabulary is quite advanced. The book was first published in 1907 – before TV or even radio! In those days, reading for enjoyment (and parents taking the time to read to their children) was much more common than now.

If you do read the book, you may notice that some parts of Nesbit’s stories are a little different to ours. This is because she changed the original plot in some cases to make the stories suitable for young children. We will correct any changes like this which we think are important to the original story. You can get versions of the complete book from Project Gutenberg here. If you would like to read and listen, there is an available on LibriVox here.

Very advanced learners might be interested in another book called “s from Shakespeare”. Written over two hundred years ago by brother and sister team Charles and Mary Lamb, this book was aimed at older children. The Project Gutenberg e-book link is here, and the Librivox audiobook is available here.

If you are interested in the original play, at the time of writing this there are two websites (enotes and sparknotes) which have it set out alongside a modern English version. The modern English version on the sparknotes website is the easier of the two, but the price you pay is having to look through 15-20 web pages full of advertisements to read each Act. Also, there is no print or download facility. The aim is obviously to get you to buy their eBook. The modern English version on the enotes website has slightly more difficult language, but a much smaller number of pages. Also, these can be printed directly from the web page or downloaded as a pdf file. Up to you!


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romantic(adj: romantic) 1. Of, relating to, or involving love between two people. (เกี่ยวกับเรื่องรักใคร่) 2. Not realistic or practical; imaginary. (เพ้อฝัน)
(n: romance pl romances) 1. The relationship, actions etc of people who are in love. (เรื่องรักใคร่) 2. A feeling of mystery or excitement. (ความโลดโผน) 5000

comedy(n: comedy pl comedies) A play, movie, television program, etc., that is meant to make people laugh. (หนังตลก) 3000

clue(n: clue pl clues) Something that helps a person find something, understand something, or solve a mystery or puzzle. (เบาะแส) 2000

(v: deserve, deserves, deserved, deserving) To have earned something as a right by one's actions or achievements. (สมควรได้รับ) 3000

ducats(n: ducat pl ducats) Any of various gold coins formerly used in certain European countries.

(n: Duke pl Dukes) An old royal title given to a European nobleman of the highest rank who is the ruler of part of a country. (ขุนนางชั้นสูงของอังกฤษ). 3000
In Thailand, the same as the old Siamese title of Chao Phraya. (เจ้าพระยา)

flesh(n: flesh, noncount) The soft parts (meat, fat etc.) of the body of an animal or person. (เนื้อสัตว์)
(adj: fleshy) 1. Large or fat (having a lot of flesh). A fleshy nose. 2. Soft and thick. A fleshy fruit. (เจ้าเนื้อ) 4000

(adv: forever) For all time; for an endless time. (ตลอดไป) 3000

(adj: generous) Freely giving or sharing money, time and other valuable things. (เอื้อเฟื้อ) 3000

glitter(v: glitter, glitters, glittered, glittering) To shine with bright points of light; to sparkle. (ส่องแสงสุกใส) 4000

grateful(adj: grateful) Feeling that you want to thank someone because they have given you something or done something for you. (ที่ รู้สึกขอบคุณ) 2000

jewel(n: jewel pl jewels) A precious stone (such as a diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire) that has been cut and polished. (อัญมณี)
(n: jewels, plural) An ornament or pieces of jewelry containing a precious stone or stones. She loved dressing up in her jewels.
(adj: jeweled or jewelled) Covered in jewels. (ที่ประดับด้วยเพชรพลอย) 3000

merchant(n: merchant pl merchants) A trader, especially one who buys goods from producers in large amounts and sells them to other sellers in smaller amounts. (พ่อค้า) 3000

mercy(n: mercy pl mercies) 1. Kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation. 2. Kind or forgiving treatment towards a person who is in one's power and should be treated severely. (ความเมตตา) 5000

(v: owe, owes, owed, owing) To need to pay or repay money to a person, bank, business, etc., such as when you have borrowed money but not yet paid it all back. (เป็นหนี้) 2000

pain(n: pain pl pains) The physical feeling caused by sickness, injury, or mental or emotional hurt. He felt a sharp pain in his back. They didn't want to cause him pain by talking about his wife's death. (ความเจ็บปวด)
(adj: painful; painless) Causing pain. A painful injury. (ซึ่งก่อให้เกิดความเจ็บปวด) Without pain. Painless childbirth. (ซึ่งไม่เจ็บปวด) 2000

pride(n: pride, noncount) A feeling of pleasure and satisfaction at one's achievements, possessions, family etc. She looked on with pride as her daughter graduated. (ความภาคภูมิใจ) 3000
(adj: proud, prouder, proudest) Feeling very happy and pleased because of something you have done, something you own, someone you know, etc. She felt very proud as her daughter graduated. (ภูมิใจในตนเอง) 2000

proud(adj: proud, prouder, proudest) 1. Feeling very pleased because of something you have done or own, someone you know, etc. She felt proud as she watched her daughter graduate. (ภูมิใจในตนเอง) 2. Having a (too) high opinion of oneself; arrogant. She was too proud to talk to us. (หยิ่ง) 2000
(n: pride, noncount) A feeling of pleasure and satisfaction at one's achievements, possessions, family etc. She watched with pride as her daughter graduated. (ความภาคภูมิใจ) 3000

(n: proverb pl proverbs) An old but well-known saying that either gives advice about how people should live, or expresses an idea that is generally thought to be true. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A rolling stone gathers no moss. (สุภาษิต) 6000

skull(n: skull pl skulls) The bones that form the head and face of a person or animal and protect the brain. (กะโหลก) 5000

weight(n: weight, weights) 1. A measurement that indicates how heavy a person or thing is. Please indicate your height and weight on the form. 2. A heavy object that is lifted during exercising. A 10-pound weight. (หน่วยวัดน้ำหนัก) 3. Something that causes worry or sadness. When I heard he was safe, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my mind. (น้ำหนัก) 1000

wise(adj: wise, wiser, wisest) Having gained a lot of knowledge from books or experience or both and able to use it well. (ฉลาด)
(n: wisdom; noncount) 1. The knowledge gained from books or experience. 2. The quality or state of being wise. (ปัญญา; สติปัญญา) 2000

(n: court pl courts) 1. A place where legal cases are heard. (ศาล) 2. A large flat surface that is shaped like a square or rectangle and that is used for playing games like tennis and basketball. (สนามสำหรับเล่นกีฬา) 3. The place where a king or queen lives and works and the people who live and work with him or her. (พระราชวัง; องคมนตรีและข้าราชบริพาร)
(v: court, courts, courted, courting) To try to win the love of someone; to woo. (จีบ) 1000

(n: verb pl verbs) A grammar term for a word that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being. (คำกริยา)

(adj: fair, fairer, fairest) 1. Treating people in a way that does not favor some over others. (ยุติธรรม). 2. Having a light color. (ที่มีสีอ่อน). 3. Attractive or pleasing to look at. (สวยงาม) 1000

(n: narrative pl narratives) The details of a story as it happened in the past. (เรื่องเล่า) 7000

e-book(n: e-book pl e-books) A book whose contents are in an electronic format so that it can be downloaded and read.

audiobook(n: audiobook pl audiobooks) A book that is read out loud and recorded on a CD or as a computer file so that it can be listened to. (หนังสือเสียง)

tale(n: tale pl tales) 1. A story about real or imaginary events; an exciting or dramatic story that may not be completely true. (นิทาน) 2. An untrue story that is told to deceive someone; a lie. He told me he had a lot of money, but that was just a tale. (เรื่องโกหก) 3000