Monday, October 31, 2016

Language Acquisition

Language is a cognition that truly makes us human. Whereas other species do communicate with an innate ability to produce a limited number of meaningful vocalizations (e.g. bonobos), or even with partially learned systems (e.g. bird songs), there is no other species known to date that can express infinite ideas (sentences) with a limited set of symbols (speech sounds and words).
This ability is remarkable in itself. What makes it even more remarkable is that researchers are finding evidence for mastery of this complex skill in increasingly younger children. Infants as young as 12 months are reported to have sensitivity to the grammar needed to understand causative sentences (who did what to whom; e.g. the bunny pushed the frog (Rowland & Noble, 2010).
After more than 60 years of research into child language development, the mechanism that enables children to segment syllables and words out of the strings of sounds they hear, and to acquire grammar to understand and produce language is still quite an enigma.
Early Theories
One of the earliest scientific explanations of language acquisition was provided by Skinner (1957). As one of the pioneers of behaviorism, he accounted for language development by means of environmental influence.
Skinner argued that children learn language based on behaviorist reinforcement principles by associating words with meanings. Correct utterances are positively reinforced when the child realizes the communicative value of words and phrases.
For example, when the child says ‘milk’ and the mother will smile and give her some as a result, the child will find this outcome rewarding, enhancing the child's language development (Ambridge & Lieven, 2011).
Universal Grammar
However, Skinner's account was soon heavily criticized by Noam Chomsky, the world's most famous linguist to date. In the spirit of cognitive revolution in the 1950's, Chomsky argued that children will never acquire the tools needed for processing an infinite number of sentences if the language acquisition mechanism was dependent on language input alone.
Consequently, he proposed the theory of Universal Grammar: an idea of innate, biological grammatical categories, such as a noun category and a verb category that facilitate the entire language development in children and overall language processing in adults.
Universal Grammar is considered to contain all the grammatical information needed to combine these categories, e.g. noun and verb, into phrases. The child’s task is just to learn the words of her language (Ambridge & Lieven). For example, according to the Universal Grammar account, children instinctively know how to combine a noun (e.g. a boy) and a verb (to eat) into a meaningful, correct phrase (A boy eats).
This Chomskian (1965) approach to language acquisition has inspired hundreds of scholars to investigate the nature of these assumed grammatical categories and the research is still ongoing.
Contemporary Research
A decade or two later some psycho linguists began to question the existence of Universal Grammar. They argued that categories like noun and verb are biologically, evolutionarily and psychologically implausible and that the field called for an account that can explain for the acquisition process without innate categories.
Researchers started to suggest that instead of having a language-specific mechanism for language processing, children might utilize general cognitive and learning principles.
Whereas researchers approaching the language acquisition problem from the perspective of Universal Grammar argue for early full productivity, i.e. early adult-like knowledge of language, the opposing constructivist investigators argue for a more gradual developmental process. It is suggested that children are sensitive to patterns in language which enables the acquisition process.
An example of this gradual pattern learning is morphology acquisition. Morphemes are the smallest grammatical markers, or units, in language that alter words. In English, regular plurals are marked with an –s morpheme (e.g. dog+s). Similarly, English third singular verb forms (she eat+s, a boy kick+s) are marked with the –s morpheme. Children are considered to acquire their first instances of third singular forms as entire phrasal chunks (Daddy kicks, a girl eats, a dog barks) without the ability of teasing the finest grammatical components apart.
When the child hears a sufficient number of instances of a linguistic construction (i.e. the third singular verb form), she will detect patterns across the utterances she has heard. In this case, the repeated pattern is the –s marker in this particular verb form.
As a result of many repetitions and examples of the –s marker in different verbs, the child will acquire sophisticated knowledge that, in English, verbs must be marked with an –s morpheme in the third singular form (Ambridge & Lieven, 2011; Pine, Conti-Ramsden, Joseph, Lieven & Serratrice, 2008; Theakson & Lieven, 2005). Approaching language acquisition from the perspective of general cognitive processing is an economical account of how children can learn their first language without an excessive biolinguistic mechanism.
However, finding a solid answer to the problem of language acquisition is far from being over. Our current understanding of the developmental process is still immature. Investigators of Universal Grammar are still trying to convince that language is a task too demanding to acquire without specific innate equipment, whereas the constructivist researchers are fiercely arguing for the importance of linguistic input.
The biggest questions, however, are yet unanswered. What is the exact process that transforms the child’s utterances into grammatically correct, adult-like speech? How much does the child need to be exposed to language to achieve the adult-like state?
What account can explain variation between languages and the language acquisition process in children acquiring very different languages to English? The mystery of language acquisition is granted to keep psychologists and linguists alike astonished a decade after decade.

GCE Adv. Level-2017/2018-English Literature- Analyze the character of Othello.

          Othello, who is the protagonist of the drama, Othello written by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), is a combination of greatness and weakness, in his own words "an honorable murderer". He is a general in the Venetian defense forces and although a foreigner from Africa, he has won this post by excellence in the field of war. He has courage, intelligence and the skill of command and the respect of his troops. When the colony of Cyprus is threatened by the enemy, the Duke and Senate turn to "valiant" Othello to lead the defense.
After many years on campaign, Othello has come to live in Venice, among the sophisticated people of the city. Senator Brabantio has invited him to his home and this is a revelation to the soldier. He is dazzled by the comfortable life, the learned conversation, the civilization. He appoints a student of military knowledge, Cassio, to be his lieutenant. Suddenly, he sees possibilities for himself, to which he had never before aspired.
Othello is an outsider, who is intelligent and confident in military matters, but socially insecure. He leads an intense life, swinging between triumph and dread. He is different from those around him, due to his origins and his life history, but he shares their religion, values, and patriotism to Venice. More importantly, he is visibly different due to the color of his skin, so he lives constantly among, but separated from, other people. Whenever they look at his black face, however brilliant a general he is, he knows the others are thinking "Yes, but he is not really one of us." Shakespeare presents this fact in the dialogue and also in the staging of the play: Othello's is a black face among a sea of white faces, and he is constantly referred to as "The Moor," a representative African, while others go by their personal names and are seen as independent individuals. When other characters call him "black," they refer to his face, but also to the concept of color symbolism in Elizabethan morality: White is honor, black is wickedness; white is innocence, black is guilt.
Othello tells his life story to Desdemona and she sees him through his words. The life of early separation from home and family, followed by danger and adventure, is perhaps the life story of thousands of men down the ages, who become soldiers of fortune and who end up as corpses in ditches at an early age, unwept, unpaid, and unrecorded. Othello's achievement is not so much that he survived this unpromising life, but that he survived it in such a spectacularly successful manner, ending up one of the most powerful men in the Venetian defense forces.
On the field of battle Othello is skilled and triumphant; in the drawing room he is reluctant until Desdemona takes the lead and encourages him to tell his life story. It is Desdemona, as well as Othello, who turns the secret marriage into a social success with her skillfully worded defense.
Othello feels that his marriage is at the pinnacle of his life. He is triumphant in war and love, the hero at his greatest moment. Such triumph, in a tragedy, cannot last. Othello is aware of the precarious nature of success and happiness.
 "But I do love thee…”
 These are the words of a man, who knows chaos and believes himself to have been rescued from it by love. Love for Othello puts order, peace, and happiness into his mental world, which would otherwise lapse back into chaos. He has grown up in exile, slavery, danger, and despair, now, as a professional soldier, he lives amongst chaos on the battlefield, but he need no longer have it in his inner being, because he has love. Chaos is the old concept of Hell, where everything is dreadful anguish and Desdemona is the angel, who has rescued Othello with her love.
When faced with the prospect of managing love and marriage, Othello's inexperience undermines his confidence. Iago finds it easy to drive Othello to jealousy and think that Desdemona loves another man because he already feels that her love for him is too good to be true.  But, Othello trusts Iago:
“Iago is most honest.”
He never realizes that Iago is trying to destroy his marriage institution. This is the biggest blunder committed by Othello.
Othello sees Cassio as the man most Venetian women in Desdemona's position would like to marry and, therefore, as the man she would turn to if she ceased to love her husband. In a way, he is waiting for the dream to come to an end for Desdemona to decide that she has made a mistake in marrying him.
Othello's insecurities are so close to the surface that a few words of hint and innuendo from Iago can tear the confident exterior and expose his fears, desires, and tendency to violence. Othello cannot stand uncertainty; it drives him to destroy his sanity. However, once he makes a decision, he is again the military man, decisive in action. Iago has only to push Othello to the belief that he has been betrayed and Othello does the rest, judging, condemning, and executing Desdemona.
Fate is cruel to Othello, like the cruel fate of ancient Greek tragedies. Like the Greek heroes, Othello can confront this fate only with the best of his humanity. In his final speeches, Othello brings again a flash of his former greatness: his military glory, his loyalty to Venice, the intensity of his love, and his terrible realization that, by killing Desdemona, he has destroyed the best in himself. No man has full control over his life, but a man can judge himself and perform the execution and die with his love.
“Kill me tomorrow, let me live tonight.”
However, Othello does not listen to the request made by Desdemona. He is so aggressive and violent. These words indicate that Desdemona deeply loves Othello.

Universal Grammar Theory

Babies don't comprehend the words that are being said to them, but they do possess an innate ability to understand the sound of the human voice and to discriminate between parts of language. Experiments done on babies as young as a few days old have shown they recognize phonemes, which are the smallest units of speech that differentiate one word from another.
The idea that explains this is known as Universal Grammar Theory and states that all children are born with an innate ability to acquire, develop, and understand language. If we look at grammar as the laws of language, we could say that all humans are born with an understanding of these laws. While different languages may have different kinds of grammar, humans have a natural predilection to learn and use them.
The realization that very young children innately understand aspects of language has shattered the long-held belief that the mind starts as a blank slate. Behavioral psychologists had assumed that grammar and language were learned solely by listening to it being spoken. Now, the common belief is that language has an inherent genetic component. The human brain is hardwired to develop grammatical language, even without being exposed to it as a baby.
The man credited with this revolution is MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky. Chomsky developed the theory in the 1950s and 60s before there was scientific equipment, such as the MRI, to show brain activity. Chomsky believed grammar must be a universal constant in humans because of something he dubbed the poverty of stimulus. This aspect of universal grammar argues that it is not possible that children are exposed to enough of their native language to learn it in a purely behavioral context. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean exposure to one's native language isn't necessary, just that it can't account for the entirety of learning a language.
Chomsky argued that the human brain contains a limited set of constraints for organizing language. This implies in turn that all languages have a common structural basis: the set of rules known as "universal grammar".
Universal grammar is the theoretical or hypothetical system of categories, operations, and principles shared by all human languages and considered to be innate. Since the 1980s, the term has often been capitalized. Also known as Universal Grammar Theory.
The concept of a universal grammar (UG) has been traced to the observation of Roger Bacon, a 13th-century Franciscan friar and philosopher that all languages are built upon common grammar. The expression was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s by Noam Chomsky and other linguists.

The Universal Grammar Hypothesis – the idea that human languages, as superficially diverse as they are, share some fundamental similarities, and that these are attributable to innate principles unique to language: there is only one human language (Chomsky 1995: 131)
Universal grammar is usually defined as the:
 “System of categories, mechanisms and constraints shared by all human languages and considered to be innate.”
(All) human languages share certain properties.
EASE AND SPEED OF CHILD LANGUAGE ACQUISITION: Children learn language quickly and effortlessly, on minimal exposure.  UNIFORMITY: All children acquiring language go through the same stages in the same order.
Arguments (1)-(4) are generally regarded as the most powerful ones;
Ease and speed of child language acquisition. It has been often suggested that children acquire grammatical systems of enormous complexity rapidly and effortlessly on the basis of very little evidence, and by “mere exposure”, that is to say, without explicit teaching (Chomsky 1962: 529, 1976: 286, 1999, Guasti 2002: 3). In fact, they get vast amounts of language experience. If we assume that language acquisition begins at age 1 and ends at age 5 and that children are exposed to language for 8 hours a day, they get 11680 hours of exposure (4x365x8 = 11680). At 3600 input words per hour (the average number of words heard by the children in the Manchester corpus), 2 this amounts to over 42 million words over four years.

Uniformity Some researchers (e.g. Stromswold 2000, Guasti 2002) have suggested that children acquire language in a very similar manner, going through the same stages at approximately the same ages, in spite of the fact that they are exposed to different input.


What is syntax?
Syntax means arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. The word syntax comes from Ancient Greek:  "coordination", which consists of (syn-together) and (taxis-arranging or ordering). Syntax refers to the ways in which we order specific words to create logical and meaningful sentences. While the parts of speech are all the different types of words that we can use, syntax is the set of rules, patterns or processes by which we can put them together.
Syntax related to Grammar
The basis of all syntax really begins with the subject and the predicate, both of which are required to form a complete and logical statement. The subject is the person or thing that performs or controls an action in a sentence, while the predicate describes that action.
Put in the simplest terms, the subject is at least a noun (or a pronoun representing a noun), while the predicate is at least a verb. However, the subject can also include any words that add meaning to the noun or pronoun, such as determiners or other modifiers (adjectives, adverbs, or phrases acting like them).
Take, for example, the following sentence:
“My father drives a car to work each day.”
The subject here is not just father (the noun), but also the determiner my. This specifies which father is controlling the action of the verb drives.
Likewise, the predicate includes any words that add meaning to the verb, such as modifiersobjects, or complements. Let’s look at that sentence again:
“My father drives a car to work each day.”
Here, the predicate is the entire phrase drives a car to work each day. In addition to the verb drives, it also contains the phrases a car (the direct object of the verb), to work (a prepositional phrase that modifies the verb), and each day (an adverbial phrase that also modifies the verb).
Modifiers are words, phrases, or even clauses that add descriptive meaning to another word; they are categorized as being either adjectives or adverbs.
Modifiers can appear anywhere in a sentence, and they can be a part of either the subject or the predicate. For example:
“The red car went too fast.”
In this sentence, we have three modifiers. The adjective red is modifying the noun car and is part of the subject. The adverb too is an intensifier modifying the adverb fast; together, they modify the verb went as an adverbial phrase.
The modifier red in this sentence is known as an adjunct, because it does not provide essential information to the sentence; if we were to remove it, the meaning would not change in any significant way.
The adverbial phrase too fast, on the other hand, is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Without the phrase, it would read “The red car went.” This is still a complete sentence, but the intended meaning is completely changed. Modifiers that are necessary to the meaning of the sentence are known as complements, and they are always part of the predicate.
Phrases are groups of two or more words that do not contain both a subject and a predicate. They are formed when a determiner, modifier, or complement is used to describe or complete the meaning of another word. It is also common for a phrase to be made up of smaller phrases. For example:
“The bright red car is mine.”
The subject the bright red car is all a single phrase. It is considered a noun phrase with the noun car at its root (sometimes referred to as the “head” noun). The phrase is also made up of the determiner the and the adjective phrase bright red (the adjective red plus its own modifier, the adverb bright).
Likewise, the predicate of the sentence, is mine, is a verb phrase made up of the verb is and the possessive pronoun mine.
Because phrases can be part of both the subject and the predicate, they are often a constituent part of clauses.
All of the information contained in the subject and the predicate function together to form a clause. As such, all clauses are, by definition, a group of two or more words containing both a subject and a predicate. Depending on its structure, a clause can be either dependent or independent.
dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause) is unable to stand on its own. It is marked by certain kinds words (commonly called dependent words) that connect it to an independent clause, which it relies on to have a complete, logical meaning.
Independent clauses, on the other hand, are able to function as sentences on their own. They do not depend on the information from other clauses to be considered complete.
Take these two examples:
“When they were younger”
“Mark and Betty often traveled together”
Both examples have a subject—they in the first example and Mark and Betty (a compound subject) in the second—and a predicate—were younger and often traveled together.
However, the first example is a dependent clause because of the word when. This subordinating conjunction tells the reader that more information is required for a complete thought.
The second example, on the other hand, is an independent clause—it has everything in it that the reader needs to know. We must always have at least one independent clause when we are forming a sentence.

A sentence is considered the most complete unit of syntax in English. It is always made up of at least one independent clause, and, because of this, it always contains a subject and a predicate.
A sentence that only contains a single independent clause is known as a simple sentence, such as our example from earlier:
“Mark and Betty often traveled together.”
We can also attach a dependent clause to the beginning or end of an independent clause to add more information or elaborate upon the meaning of the sentence. This forms what’s known as a complex sentence, as in:
“Mark and Betty often traveled together when they were younger.”
“When they were younger, Mark and Betty often traveled together.”
It’s also common to join two or more independent clauses together, either by using a coordinating conjunction and a comma; a conjunctive adverb, a comma (usually), and a semicolon; or just a semicolon. These are known as compound sentences. For example:
  • “Mark and Betty often traveled together, and they have been to many different countries.”
  • “Mark and Betty often traveled together; as a result, they have been to many different countries.”
  • “Mark and Betty often traveled together; they have been to many different countries.”
If we link a complex sentence to a simple sentence or another complex sentence, we form what’s called a compound-complex sentence:
“Mark and Betty often traveled together when they were younger, and they have been to many different countries.”
In addition to the four categories of structure (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex), there are several categories of sentences based on their purpose. We’ll look at those more closely in the chapter on Sentences.

Merchant of Venice: Tragedy or Comedy?

             William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the world’s greatest playwright, has revolutionized the world of English literature with his plays. Some of these plays are clear-cut comedies and tragedies, while others are more ambiguous. The Merchant of Venice is a play that falls under the latter type, and it has been hotly contested whether this literary work should be classified a comedy or a tragedy. However, since the majority of the characters received a happy ending, the abundance of comic relief scenes and characters, and lightheartedness of the plot relative to other Shakespearean works leads me to conclude that The Merchant of Venice is indeed a comedy.
            One of the characteristics of a comedy is that it usually contains a happy resolution of conflict, and this was definitely reflected in the conclusion of The Merchant of Venice. “Happy endings” usually pertain to the protagonists or the main characters surviving or outlasting misfortune. Antonio being spared and cleared of any debt he owed Shylock by the Venetian courts is a prime example of the protagonist receiving satisfactory closure. In the drama building up to the court scene, Antonio’s best friend, Bassanio, had cut a deal with the devil as he borrowed money from the shrewd Shylock, with the stipulation that repayment would either be in ducats or a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When Antonio’s business enterprise came crashing down abruptly, he had no means by which to repay Shylock, thus setting up the major conflict of The Merchant of Venice. Antonio’s ending is undoubtedly a happy one for his character, since his life was spared and he was cleared of any charges. Another example of a character with a favorable conclusion is Portia. Recently, her father had been pushing her toward marriage, and because of her many biases, she found it near impossible to find a suitable suitor. At the end of the play, she does, in fact, end up with the only man that’s ever caught her eye, Bassanio. These happy endings for primary characters are typical of Shakespearean comedies.
            The Merchant of Venice is abounding with other typical Shakespearean comedy techniques like comic relief; humor that manifests itself in both situations and characters. The overall hilarity of the play is an ample reason to classify it as a comedy rather than a tragedy. Shakespeare inserts comic relief scenes at opportune times in this play to relieve tension, and Jessica and Launcelot’s banter in the drama is an excellent example of this. In the preceding scenes, Shylock has just hauled Antonio off to jail while Portia and Nerissa attempted to devise a scheme to rescue their future husbands’ friend – two very action-packed and intense developments in the story. However, immediately following these two scenes, Launcelot and Jessica are seen having a playful discussion about the correlation of Jewish refusal to consume pork and the rising prices of bacon, a conversation so wacky and out of place that it manages to diffuse much of the thickening tension. Comic relief is a literary device that extends to characters as well. The interactions between Launcelot and his father, Old Gobbo, are one of the more humorous moments of the play, where Old Gobbo fails to recognize Launcelot as his son because of his ailing senses. Shakespeare utilized plenty of jokes that would have appealed to the audiences of his time here to rouse laughter. At its very root, a comedy is a drama with a humorous or satirical tone, and The Merchant of Venice’s comic relief scenes and characters provide the audience with this humorous air.
            When compared to many of Shakespeare’s other dramatic works, The Merchant of Venice’s storyline is much more lighthearted and tame.  The Merchant of Venice is heralded as a fine example of a comedy by some, while asserted to be a tragedy by others. This play can be clearly categorized as a comedy, because the majority of the characters received favorable conclusions, comic relief is in abundance, and the lighthearted, quirky nature of the plot. 

The Merchant of Venice-Analysis of Major Characters

Although critics tend to agree that Shylock is The Merchant of Venice’s most noteworthy figure, no consensus has been reached on whether to read him as a bloodthirsty bogeyman, a clownish Jewish stereotype, or a tragic figure whose sense of decency has been fractured by the persecution he endures. Certainly, Shylock is the play’s antagonist, and he is menacing enough to seriously imperil the happiness of Venice’s businessmen and young lovers alike. Shylock is also, however, a creation of circumstance; even in his single-minded pursuit of a pound of flesh, his frequent mentions of the cruelty he has endured at Christian hands make it hard for us to label him a natural born monster. In one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues, for example, Shylock argues that Jews are humans and calls his quest for vengeance the product of lessons taught to him by the cruelty of Venetian citizens. On the other hand, Shylock’s coldly calculated attempt to revenge the wrongs done to him by murdering his persecutor, Antonio, prevents us from viewing him in a primarily positive light. Shakespeare gives us unmistakably human moments, but he often steers us against Shylock as well, painting him as a miserly, cruel, and prosaic figure.
Quick-witted, wealthy, and beautiful, Portia embodies the virtues that are typical of Shakespeare’s heroines—it is no surprise that she emerges as the antidote to Shylock’s malice. At the beginning of the play, however, we do not see Portia’s potential for initiative and resourcefulness, as she is a near prisoner, feeling herself absolutely bound to follow her father’s dying wishes. This opening appearance, however, proves to be a revealing introduction to Portia, who emerges as that rarest of combinations—a free spirit who abides rigidly by rules. Rather than ignoring the stipulations of her father’s will, she watches a stream of suitors pass her by, happy to see these particular suitors go, but sad that she has no choice in the matter. When Bassanio arrives, however, Portia proves herself to be highly resourceful, begging the man she loves to stay a while before picking a chest, and finding loopholes in the will’s provision that we never thought possible. Also, in her defeat of Shylock Portia prevails by applying a more rigid standard than Shylock himself, agreeing that his contract very much entitles him to his pound of flesh, but adding that it does not allow for any loss of blood. Anybody can break the rules, but Portia’s effectiveness comes from her ability to make the law work for her.
Portia rejects the stuffiness that rigid adherence to the law might otherwise suggest. In her courtroom appearance, she vigorously applies the law, but still flouts convention by appearing disguised as a man. After depriving Bassanio of his ring, she stops the prank before it goes too far, but still takes it far enough to berate Bassanio and Gratiano for their callousness, and she even insinuates that she has been unfaithful.
Although the play’s title refers to him, Antonio is a rather lackluster character. He emerges in Act I, scene i as a hopeless depressive, someone who cannot name the source of his melancholy and who, throughout the course of the play, devolves into a self-pitying lump, unable to muster the energy required to defend himself against execution. Antonio never names the cause of his melancholy, but the evidence seems to point to his being in love, despite his denial of this idea in Act I, scene i. The most likely object of his affection is Bassanio, who takes full advantage of the merchant’s boundless feelings for him. Antonio has risked the entirety of his fortune on overseas trading ventures, yet he agrees to guarantee the potentially lethal loan Bassanio secures from Shylock. In the context of his unrequited and presumably unconsummated relationship with Bassanio, Antonio’s willingness to offer up a pound of his own flesh seems particularly important, signifying a union that grotesquely alludes to the rites of marriage, where two partners become “one flesh.”
Further evidence of the nature of Antonio’s feelings for Bassanio appears later in the play, when Antonio’s proclamations resonate with the hyperbole and self-satisfaction of a doomed lover’s declaration: “Pray God Bassanio come / To see me pay his debt, and then I care not” (III.iii.3536). Antonio ends the play as happily as he can, restored to wealth even if not delivered into love. Without a mate, he is indeed the “tainted wether”—or castrated ram—of the flock, and he will likely return to his favorite pastime of moping about the streets of Venice (IV.i.113). After all, he has effectively disabled himself from pursuing his other hobby—abusing Shylock—by insisting that the Jew convert to Christianity. Although a sixteenth-century audience might have seen this demand as merciful, as Shylock is saving himself from eternal damnation by converting, we are less likely to be convinced. Not only does Antonio’s reputation as an anti-Semite precede him, but the only instance in the play when he breaks out of his doldrums is his “storm” against Shylock (I.iii.132). In this context, Antonio proves that the dominant threads of his character are melancholy and cruelty.

The Merchant of Venice-Character List

Antonio A wealthy Venetian merchant who occasionally lends money, but never charges interest. Since his main source of income is from his merchant ships, he is the "merchant" of the play's title.
Bassanio He is a typical Elizabethan lover and nobleman who is careless with his money; hence, he has to borrow from Antonio so that he can woo Portia in style.
Portia As one of Shakespeare's most intelligent and witty heroines, she is famous for her beauty and for her wealth, and she is deeply anguished that she must marry only the man who chooses the single casket of three which contains her portrait.
Shylock Shylock is an intelligent businessman who believes that, since he is a moneylender, charging interest is his right; to him, it makes good business sense.
The Duke of Venice He presides as judge over the court proceedings in Shylock's claim on Antonio.
The Prince of Morocco One of Portia's suitors; he loses the opportunity to marry her when he chooses the golden casket.
The Prince of Arragon He chooses the silver casket; he is another disappointed suitor for Portia's hand in marriage.
Gratiano He is the light-hearted, talkative friend of Bassanio, who accompanies him to Belmont; there, he falls in love with Portia's confidante, Nerissa.
Lorenzo He is a friend of Antonio and Bassanio; he woos and wins the love of Shylock's daughter, Jessica.
Jessica She is the young daughter of Shylock; she falls in love with Lorenzo and, disguised as a boy, she elopes with him.
Nerissa Portia's merry and sympathetic lady-in-waiting.
Salarino He is a friend who believes that Antonio is sad because he is worried about his ships at sea.
Salanio He is another friend of Antonio; he thinks Antonio's melancholy may be caused because Antonio is in love.
Salerio A messenger from Venice.
Launcelot Gobbo He is a "clown," a jester, the young servant of Shylock; he is about to run away because he thinks Shylock is the devil; eventually, he leaves Shylock's service and becomes Bassanio's jester.
Old Gobbo The father of Launcelot, he has come to Venice to seek news of his son.
Tubal He is a friend of Shylock's; he tells him that one of Antonio's ships has been wrecked.
Leonardo Bassanio's servant.
Balthasar The servant whom Portia sends to her cousin, Dr. Bellario.
Dr. Bellario A lawyer of Padua.
Stephano One of Portia's servants.