Centre for Continuing Education

HSC English Standard & Advanced Preparation Course - Common Module: 'The Merchant of Venice'

HSC English. The smart way to prepare for your HSC.

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We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

This new one-day HSC English preparation course focuses on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice for the English Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences. Students will refine their skills in articulating a clear and detailed analysis of the play’s key scenes through writing and whole group discussion. Links will be made to our own world as the course covers the dramatic representation of prejudice, mercy, justice, love, and revenge as intensely emotional aspects of human experience.

While these experiences are embedded in a specific cultural context, they are played out through the familiar lens of family relationships in dynamic tension with romantic love.

Close attention to speeches, imagery, motifs, and extended metaphors will generate robust classroom discussion of changing cultural and historical perspectives on the power and conscience of an individual in a ‘just’ society.

The nexus between power, justice and mercy dramatised in the world of the play remains open to critique in our own troubled times. Evidence-based discussion will ignite new ideas and empower students to reflect personally on the complexity of human experience in Shakespeare’s play and as it appears to us on the current world stage.

Students will be encouraged to explore the play’s emphasis on the ‘bond’ and choice in terms of the paradoxes and inconsistencies of human experience as represented by Shakespeare. Shylock’s curiously ‘merry’ but rather horrific bond – requiring a pound of flesh from the merchant, Antonio, if he defaults upon a loan for his friend – is a central dramatic element driving these questions.

Students will consider human qualities and emotions connected to the significance of the social bonds that express our humanity as well as the converse lack of humanity evident in the breach of these bonds. Students will focus on the changing nature of such social bonds between men in an emerging mercantile world; fathers and daughters still tied to the older order of fairy tale loyalty (as exemplified by Portia’s caskets); as well as, crucially, between Christian and Jew in an imagined cosmopolitan Venice that is yet the source of the notion of the ghetto (geto), a notion that has had such a disastrous afterlife in the 20th Century.

Students will focus on the representation of Shylock as the Jewish moneylender and of the younger merchant Antonio, who spits upon him, yet agrees to a default bond for the 3,000 ducat loan that exposes him to dire risk. Antonio may lose his heart – literally – to an enemy he, along with the other Christians, has taught to hate and so to seek revenge, how and where he may.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • analyse and discuss the distinctive merits – or, indeed, flaws – of The Merchant of Venice in terms of ethical perspectives on ‘human experiences’ through consideration of dramatic form, motifs and the use of extended metaphor
  • recognise that key speeches and scenes in The Merchant of Venice function as a vehicle for highlighting tensions around cultural difference and the construction of the ‘Other’, in the world of the text and in the wider world
  • make informed judgements about the ways in which the cultural context, structure and dramatic style of The Merchant of Venice shape meaning for different audiences
  • read and discuss the sample examination question with consideration of related texts.


  • Evaluation of the prescribed text, as outlined, with consideration of related texts for a richer understanding of individual and collective human experiences. Blake’s poem, ‘A Poison Tree’ will be introduced as a model companion text and the course reader will provide further suggestions.
  • Analysis of the effects of language, form and structure and how the interplay of dramatic style and context shapes meaning over time.
  • Review of how the play represents personal and private worlds and evaluation of the ways those representations are valued by different audiences, both Elizabethan and contemporary.
  • Development of an informed judgement of the characterisation of Shylock in relation to the espoused and practiced values of Shakespeare’s England as filtered through the lens of his imagined Venice.

Intended audience

HSC English Standard and Advanced students studying William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice for the Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences.

Delivery style

The tutor will analyse the play and comment on sample responses in a blended learning environment that integrates online activities and resources with supplementary materials in a concise course booklet. Guided group discussion of the play as a representation of individual and collective human experiences will be supported by comment from the tutor to encourage personal and informed readings of the text in the context of the HSC Common Module. Analysis of a related text will be modelled to broaden understanding of the representation of human experiences.

Note: Online activities will be differentiated for English Standard and Advanced students.


You will be provided with a course booklet (electronic copy). Please bring along your own copy of the text.

Bring your own device

You are required to bring your own device (Windows or Mac) and a power chord. Please ensure your device is fully charged as access to power is limited.

Please note that University does not carry any responsibility for your lost, stolen, or damaged devices whilst on the University premises.


NESA English Advanced Stage 6 Syllabus (2017)
EA 12-1, EA 12-3, EA 12-7, EA 12-8

Getting Through Your HSC: A Practical Guide

While you progress through this journey and also the conclusion of your schooling life, we know you’ll have a lot on your mind – exams, future study, careers – but remember, while keeping focused on these bigger goals and aspirations, it’s also important not to forget your own health and well-being.

For tips on staying motivated and keeping focused, dealing with anxiety, keeping healthy, relaxation, pre-study exercise and more, read our article Getting Through Your HSC: A Practical Guide.


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What others say.

  • I think this was really useful to get a fresh perspective on the text whilst still covering content that was familiar but able to be expanded upon, as well as doing some excercises that were different to what I typically do
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