English – Merchant of Venice Themes

Love Versus Hate There is an element of love in The Merchant of Venice. Bassanio’s courtship of Portia is romantic and passionate. Bassanio praises Portia as a ‘demi-god’ with ‘sugar breath’. Gratiano and Nerissa marry soon after Portia and Bassanio. Lorenzo and and Jessica are two lovers who elope romantically. Antonio and Bassanio seem to share a deep homoerotic closeness. Salanio says Antonio ‘I think he only loves the world for him (Bassanio)’On the other hand elements of bitterness and hatred are constantly evident. Portia is racist when she says ‘Let all of his complexion choose me so.’ making reference to a black suitor who had failed in his quest to pursue her. Lancelot and Gratiano openly revile Shylock, comparing him to ‘the devil’. Shylocks hates Christians ‘I hate him for he is a Christian.’ Jessica hates the strictures of home and smears his name as well as plundering Shylock of his possessions
Appearance versus reality makes evident the danger of judging things on face value. Antonio calls Shylock ‘a villain with a smiling cheek.’ suggests that there are dark intentions that lie beneath Shylock’s false beneficence. Behind Portia’s ‘fair’ exterior lies a mind tainted my racisim. The caskets of gold and silver’s grand exterior mask secrets which contradict their exteriors. Jessica disguises her sex in order to escape Shylock. Portia and Nerissa too disguise their sex to challenge the men in the court room.
Venice Versus Belmont In Shakespearian times, Venice was a very cosmopolitan city, however it outcasted the Jewish population to ghettos.Belmont appears to be a country side that is a place of place of beauty and elegance presided over by an intelligent and gracious mistress. It riddled with patriarchal control and xenophobia
Justice versus mercy Explored in the trial scene where Antonio’s trial becomes Shylock’s trial. Although he is constantly asked to show mercy, Shylock refuses. Portia’s moving declaration that begins, ‘The quality of mercy is not strained.’ where she goes on to talk about mercy and how ‘it is twice blest: it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.’ summarises an argument that justice is most appropriately done when mercy is required.
Comedy Versus Tragedy The play ends on a happy note in that, the ring issue had been resolved and the celebration of marriage but also on a sad note because Shylock leaves the court room, physically ill because he must become what he hates most, a Christian
Trade versus usury Shylock practises usury: the lending of money and charging interest on it’s repayment. Usury was the only way Jews were allowed to earn a living. Shylock is critical of Christians who ‘lend out money without gratis (without charging interest.) But Christianity forbade the charging of interest. Antonio is judgemental about Shylock’s practice: ‘I neither lend nor borrow borrow by taking nor giving of interest.’
Fathers versus daughters Jessica and Portia struggle to come to terms with the demands made by their fathers. Portia’s father controls her life through his will. ‘So is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father.’ insisting that the choice of her husband is dictated by his choice in caskets.Jessica describes her home life as ‘Our house is hell.’ and speaks to be ‘ashamed’ of being Shylock’s daughter. She plans to elope with a Christian, Lorenzo and steals his possessions