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The Merchant of Venice Bell Shakespeare
Photograph: Prudence Upton

A Shakespeare dictionary for the 21st century

To make sure you're not left in the dark during Bell Shakespeare's new production of The Merchant of Venice, we've put together a handy phrasebook for you

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If your memories of Shakespeare are dominated by tedious English lessons full of ‘thous’, ‘thines’ and ‘wherefores’, going to see a play by the Bard without any course credit attached might feel like the opposite of a good night out.

But we have exciting, potentially life-changing news for you: Shakespeare is full of sex and violence and dirty jokes! While Mr. Tooserious talked about Shakespeare’s “universality” and “importance,” he probably wasn’t explaining to you that these plays have more hijinks and bloodsports than your average footy grand final, reality show reunion special, or drag competition at the local.

Bell Shakespeare has a new season of The Merchant of Venice about to kick off at the Sydney Opera House, and it’s got everything your favourite movies and TV shows have: Wolf of Wall Street’s relentless money gambits, the forever-bro friendships of The Fast and Furious, the courtroom dramas of the best Law and Orders, and questions about who we really are as families and individuals like literally every single indie drama.

Bassanio needs money to see Portia, who he’s convinced he could marry. Slight problem: he’s broke, and the mate who usually bails him out, Antonio, can’t help him out this time. Together, they go to see a moneylender named Shylock, who has a massive grudge against Antonio, mostly because Antonio’s pretty anti-Semitic and Shylock is Jewish. They can have the money – but if they default on the loan, then Shylock will extract a “pound of flesh” from Antonio. Yep. A pound (that’s just over 453 grams) of flesh right from his body.

Dark, right? Shenanigans – both fun and super intense – ensue.

To make sure you’re not left in the dark with all those ‘thines’ and ‘alacks’ you definitely didn’t pay attention to at school, we’ve put together a phrasebook for you – with very 21st-century meanings for the ol’ Bard’s turns of phrase.

Now seeing Merchant of Venice will be a piece of flesh. Cake! We mean cake.

SHAKESPEARE: "I burn, I pine, I perish!” (Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew, falling hard for Bianca at first sight).
TODAY: “I’m going to spend all night scrolling through her Instagram.”

SHAKESPEARE: “Love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit.” (Jessica is working through a crush in The Merchant of Venice).
TODAY:Got me looking so crazy right now, your love’s got me looking so crazy right now”.

SHAKESPEARE: “I do desire that we be better strangers.” (Jacques from As You Like It has had it up to HERE with Orlando).
TODAY: “We are definitely not sharing an Uber home.”

SHAKESPEARE: “All that glisters is not gold.” (From a note of warning left for a prince in The Merchant of Venice).
TODAY: “Sure, he’s cute and he owns an apartment on the north shore, but he’s probably a dick.”

SHAKESPEARE: “Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows” (This gem from Troilus and Cressida belongs to Thersites, but this play is chock full of zingers)
TODAY: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

SHAKESPEARE: "Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides: who cover faults, at last shame them derides." (Cordelia is the voice of reason in King Lear)
TODAY: “Karma’s a bitch.”

SHAKESPEARE “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” (The Merchant of Venice’s Portia, finding something good in the dark)
TODAY: This.

SHAKESPEARE: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” (Henry IV is all about becoming a king).
TODAY: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

SHAKESPEARE: Antonio, I am married to a wife which is as dear to me as life itself, but life itself, my wife, and all the world, are not with me esteemed above thy life.” (The Merchant of Venice. Antonio and Bassanio are close).
TODAY: “Bros before hoes.”

SHAKESPEARE: “Thou shalt have justice more than thou desir'st.” (Portia is about to drop some truths and some snake emojis in The Merchant of Venice).
TODAY: “Sit down. I brought the receipts.”

Now that you’ve brushed up on your Shakespeare, why not grab tickets to The Merchant of Venice? The season runs from October 24-November 26, and tickets start at $35 for under-30s.

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