The story of Portia, Bassanio, Antonio, and Shylock is derived from Giovanni Fiorentino's The Simpleton. The intrigue surrounding the three casket test may have come from Gesta Romanorum, an anonymous collection of stories. An inspiration for the play is also likely to have been Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (1789), which tells the tale of an excessively evil Jew, Barabus. Shakespeare's play on the vision of the stereotypical was the character of Shylock, whose multi-faceted personality ensures that he has been played in a variety of ways. Interpretations of Shylock originally played him as a villain, and it is only since the late nineteenth century that he has been transformed by directors into a tragic figure.

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