Class 12th Free Reading Comprehension
Cold blew the freezing northern blast,
And winter sternly frowned;
The flaky snow fell thick and fast,
And clad the fields around.
Forced by the storm’s relentless power,
Emboldened by despair,
A shivering redbreast sought my door,
Some friendly warmth to share.
“Welcome, sweet bird!” I fondly cried,
“No danger need you fear,
Secure with me you may abide,
Till warmer suns appear.”
“And when mild spring comes smiling on,
And bids the fields look gay,
You, with your sweet, your grateful song,
My kindness shall repay.”
Mistaken thought! – But how shall I
The mournful truth display?
An envious cat, with jealous eye,
Had marked him as her prey.
Remorseless wretch! – her cruel jaws
Soon sealed her victim’s doom,
While I in silence mourn his loss,
And weep over robin’s tomb.
So, oft in life’s uneven way,
Some stroke may intervene;
Sweep all our fancied joys away,
And change the flattering scene.
2-The Merchant of Venice
Antonio was a rich and prosperous merchant of Venice. His ships were on nearly every sea, and he traded with Portugal, with Mexico, with England and with India. Although proud of his riches, he was very generous with them, and delighted to use them in relieving the wants of his friends, among whom his relation, Bassanio, held the first place.
Now Bassanio, like many other gay and gallant gentlemen, was reckless and extravagant, and finding that he had not only come to the end of his fortune, but was also unable to pay his creditors, he went to Antonio for further help.
“To you, Antonio,” he said, “I owe the most in money and in love: and I have thought of a plan to pay everything I owe if you will but help me.”
“Say what I can do, and it shall be done,” answered his friend.
Then, said Bassanio, “In Belmont is a lady richly left, and from all quarters of the globe renowned suitors come to woo her, not only because she is rich, but because she is beautiful and good as well. She looked on me with such favor when last we met, that I feel sure that I should win her away from all rivals for her love had I but the means to go to Belmont, where she lives.”
“All my fortunes,” said Antonio, “are at sea, and so I have no ready money; but luckily my credit is good in Venice, and I will borrow for you what you need.”
There was living in Venice at this time a rich money-lender, named Shylock. Antonio despised and disliked this man very much, and treated him with the greatest harshness and scorn. He would thrust him, like a cur, over his threshold, and would even spit on him. Shylock submitted to all these indignities with a patient shrug; but deep in his heart he cherished a desire for revenge on the rich, smug merchant. For Antonio both hurt his pride and injured his business. “But for him,” thought Shylock, “I should be richer by half a million ducats. On the marketplace, and wherever he can, he denounces the rate of interest I charge, and – worse than that-he lends out money freely.”
So when Bassanio came to him to ask for a loan of three thousand ducats to Antonio for three months, Shylock hid his hatred, and turning to Antonio, said – “Harshly as you have treated me, I would be friends with you and have your love. So I will lend you the money and charge you no interest. But, just for fun, you shall sign a bond in which it shall be agreed that if you do not repay me in three months’ time, then I shall have the right to a pound of your flesh, to be cut from what part of your body I choose.”
“No,” cried Bassanio to his friend, “you shall run no such risk for me.”
“Why, fear not,” said Antonio, “my ships will be home a month before the time. I will sign the bond.”
Thus Bassanio was furnished with the means to go to Belmont, there to woo the lovely Portia. The very night he started, the money-lender’s pretty daughter, Jessica, ran away from her father’s house with her lover, and she took with her from her father’s hoards some bags of ducats and precious stones. Shylock’s grief and anger were terrible to see. His love for her changed to hate. “I would she were dead at my feet and the jewels in her ear,” he cried. His only comfort now was in hearing of the serious losses which had befallen Antonio, some of whose ships were wrecked. “Let him look to his bond,” said Shylock, “let him look to his bond.”
Meanwhile Bassanio had reached Belmont, and had visited the fair Portia. He found, as he had told Antonio, that the rumor of her wealth and beauty had drawn to her suitors from far and near. But to all of them Portia had but one reply. She would only accept that suitor who would pledge himself to abide by the terms of her father’s will. These were conditions that frightened away many an ardent wooer. For he who would win Portia’s heart and hand had to guess which of three caskets held her portrait. If he guessed right, then Portia would be his bride; if wrong, then he was bound by oath never to reveal which casket he chose, never to marry, and to go away at once.
The caskets were of gold, silver and lead. The gold one bore this inscription: “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire;” the silver one had this: “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves;” while on the lead one were these words: “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” The Prince of Morocco, as brave as he was black, was among the first to submit to this test. He chose the gold casket, for he said neither base lead nor silver could contain her picture. So he chose the gold casket, and found inside the likeness of what many men desire – death.
After him came the haughty Prince of Arragon, and saying, “Let me have what I deserve-surely I deserve the lady,” he chose the silver one, and found inside a fool’s head. “Did I deserve no more than a fool’s head?” he cried. Then at last came Bassanio, and Portia would have delayed him from making his choice from the very fear of his choosing wrong. For she loved him dearly, even as he loved her. “But,” said Bassanio, “let me choose at once, for, as I am, I live upon the rack.” Then Portia bade her servants to bring music and play while her gallant lover made his choice. And Bassanio took the oath and walked up to the caskets – the musicians playing softly the while. “Mere outward show,” he said, “is to be despised. The world is still deceived with ornament and so no gaudy gold or shining silver for me. I choose the lead casket; joy be the consequence!” And opening it, he found fair Portia’s portrait inside, and he turned to her and asked if it were true that she was his.
“Yes,” said Portia, “I am yours, and this house is yours, and with them I give you this ring, from which you must never part.”
And Bassanio, saying that he could hardly speak for joy, found words to swear that he would never part with the ring while he lived.
Then suddenly all his happiness was dashed with sorrow, for messengers came from Venice to tell him that Antonio was ruined, and that Shylock demanded from the Duke the fulfillment of the bond, under which he was entitled to a pound of the merchant’s flesh. Portia was as grieved as Bassanio to hear of the danger which threatened his friend.
“First,” she said, “take me to church and make me your wife, and then go to Venice at once to help your friend. You shall take with you money enough to pay his debt twenty times over.” But when her newly-made husband had gone, Portia went after him, and arrived in Venice disguised as a lawyer, and with an introduction from a celebrated lawyer Bellario, whom the Duke of Venice had called in to decide the legal questions raised by Shylock’s claim to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When the Court met, Bassanio offered Shylock twice the money borrowed, if he would withdraw his claim. But the money-lenders only answer was – “If every ducat in six thousand ducats, Were in six parts, and every part a ducat, I would not draw them – I would have my bond.”
It was then that Portia arrived in her disguise, and not even her own husband knew her. The Duke gave her welcome on account of the great Bellario’s introduction, and left the settlement of the case to her. Then in noble words she bade Shylock have mercy. But he was deaf to her entreaties. “I will have the pound of flesh,” was his reply.
“What have you to say?” asked Portia of the merchant. “But little,” he answered; “I am armed and well prepared.”
“The Court awards you a pound of Antonio’s flesh,” said Portia to the money-lender.
“Most righteous judge!” cried Shylock. “A sentence: come, prepare.”
“Wait a little. This bond gives you no right to Antonio’s blood, only to his flesh. If, then, you spill a drop of his blood, all your property will be forfeited to the State. Such is the Law.”
And Shylock, in his fear, said, “Then I will take Bassanio’s offer.”
“No,” said Portia sternly, “you shall have nothing but your bond. Take your pound of flesh, but remember that if you take more or less, even by the weight of a hair, you will lose your property and your life.”
Shylock now grew very much frightened. “Give me my three thousand ducats that I lent him, and let him go.” Bassanio would have paid it to him, but said Portia, “No! He shall have nothing but his bond.”
“You, a foreigner,” she added, “have sought to take the life of a Venetian citizen, and thus by the Venetian law, your life and goods are forfeited. Down, therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke.”
Thus were the tables turned, and no mercy would have been shown to Shylock had it not been for Antonio. As it was, the money-lender forfeited half his fortune to the State, and he had to settle the other half on his daughter’s husband, and with this he had to be content.
Bassanio, in his gratitude to the clever lawyer, was induced to part with the ring his wife had given him, and with which he had promised never to part, and when on his return to Belmont he confessed as much to Portia, she seemed very angry, and vowed she would not be friends with him until she had her ring again. But at last she told him that it was she who, in the disguise of the lawyer, had saved his friend’s life, and got the ring from him. So Bassanio was forgiven, and made happier than ever, to know how rich a prize he had drawn in the lottery of the caskets.
William Shakespeare (adapted by Edith Nesbit)
Interesting Facts about William Shakespeare
- William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon in England. He wrote 37 plays, 154 sonnets (poems that have 14 lines, each containing 10 syllables, and a fixed rhyme pattern) and two long narrative poems. His plays and poems have been translated into almost all major living languages!
- Though Shakespeare is regarded as one of the greatest playwrights in the English language, and also often referred to as the national poet of England, his reputation during his lifetime was nothing like it is today. He was a respected playwright during his time, but his fame did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century.
- Besides being an eminent playwright and poet, Shakespeare was also an actor. He continued to act in plays even after his success as a playwright.
- Shakespeare wrote most of his plays to be performed on the stage. None of the original manuscripts of his plays exists owing to the constant reworking that the plays underwent during performances.
- It is rumored that Shakespeare was once beaten and imprisoned for hunting illegally. His biographer, Nicholas Rowe, recounted how Shakespeare fled to London from Stratford-upon-Avon to escape prosecution for deer poaching in the estate of the local landowner Thomas Lucy.
- Studies also claim that Shakespeare was a grain merchant and a property owner in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon besides being a playwright. Many historians believe that he was being pursued by the authorities for tax evasion and in 1598 he was prosecuted hoarding grain during a shortage.
- During Shakespeare’s time, the English language was less standardized than it is now. Shakespeare’s use of the English language helped shape modern English. His works have popularized several terms and phrases that have become a part of our regular everyday conversations. Such terms like fashionable, eyeball and phrases like wild goose chase, in a pickle have been coined by him.
- The Merchant of Venice is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598. It is one of the finest romantic comedies written by Shakespeare. Inspired from the Italian comedies, The Merchant of Venice is thought to have been sourced from Giovanni Fiorentino’s fourteenth century tale Il Pecorone.
- Women were not allowed to act in plays during Shakespeare’s time. Hence in all of his plays young men or boys performed the women’s roles.
- Shakespeare’s will mentions that on his death he had left his wife, Anne Hathaway, his “second best bed”. He had married Anne, who was 8 years older than him, when he was just 18 years old.
- No record of Shakespeare’s life has been found between the years 1585 and 1592. Scholars have come to identify these years as the “lost years” of Shakespeare’s life. Historians have speculated that during these years he may have worked as a schoolteacher, traveled across Europe or joined an acting troupe.
Questions on the Story
- (a) Who was the merchant of Venice?
(b) What kind of person was he?
- (a) Who was Bassanio?
(b) Why did he seek Antonio’s help?
- Why was Antonio unable to help Bassanio?
- What did Antonio do to help Bassanio?
- (a) Who was Shylock?
(b) Why did he despise Antonio and desire for revenge on him?
- How much money did Shylock lend Antonio?
- What were the terms of the bond that Shylock Antonio sign?
- Why did Bassanio go to Belmont?
- What misfortune fell upon Shylock that made him sad and angry?
- What scared Portia’s suitors away?
- What were the terms of Portia’s father’s will?
- What inscription did each casket bear?
- Why did the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon fail in their tasks?
- How did Bassanio win Portia’s hand in marriage?
- What did Portia give and tell Bassanio in return?
- Why was their happiness suddenly ruined?
- How did Portia arrive in Venice?
- Who was Bellario?
- Why was Portia allowed to settle the case?
- What did Shylock demand at the court?
- How did Portia save Antonio’s life?
- Why was Shylock eager to withdraw his demand and accept Bassanio’s offer?
- (a) Why did the Venetian law convict Shylock?
(b) What was his penalty?
- Why did Bassanio part with the ring that Portia had given him?
- How did Portia react to Bassanio’s confession?
- What happened after Bassanio learned about the truth of Portia’s disguise?
Questions on the Interesting Facts
- When and where was William Shakespeare born?
- How many plays and poems did he write in all?
- What is a sonnet?
- Besides being a playwright, how else was Shakespeare connected to the dramatic stage?
- What could be the reason why the original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays do not exist?
- Who was the first biographer of Shakespeare?
- Why was Shakespeare once beaten and imprisoned?
- What were the troubles that Shakespeare got into by being a grain merchant and property owner?
- How did Shakespeare influence modern English language?
- Between which years was The Merchant of Venice written?
- It was inspired by which Italian comedy? Who was it written by?
- Why did young men or boys perform the roles of women during Shakespeare’s time?
- What had Shakespeare left for his wife in his will?
- What are the “lost years” of Shakespeare’s life?
- What have historians speculated of these “lost years”?
- Trade and commerce play an important role in our daily lives. Collect and summarize ten items of news related to trade and commerce from the current week’s newspapers and present them in class.
- Historical figures and other literary works had highly influenced Shakespeare. Like The Merchant of Venice, several of his other plays have interesting sources. Find out the sources of Shakespeare’s other famous plays Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure.
- Shakespeare’s plays are generally categorized into tragedies and comedies. List at least three of his works from each category.
- Shakespeare’s works greatly helped shape the English language. Find some of the phrases and terms that were coined by Shakespeare and have come to be an integral part of the English language.
- The Globe Theatre was built by Shakespeare and his playing company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It has become a site of historical significance. Find out about the Globe Theatre and its influence.