In this article, I argue that Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is fundamentally a 16th-century dramatization of religious reading strategies in conflict–allegorism and literalism. In Act 1, Shylock attempts to justify his profession by reading Genesis allegorically. Antonio objects to Shylock’s unwarranted use of the scriptures. Later, Bassanio wins Portia’s hand by refusing to read closely the caskets because he’s racked with love. The readings converge and culminate in Act 4 when Portia discards her appeal to mercy and reads the bond in absurd terms. Through an act of reading, she delivers Antonio’s life and becomes the play’s heroine.