The Merchant Of Venice: Key Themes – Love

Act 1 Scene 1 – SOLANIO”Why then you are in love.ANTONIO”Fie, fie! “ Antonio’s “fie fie” is the Elizabethan equivalent of “Get off it, already.” Interestingly, this doesn’t explicitly deny that Antonio is in love, but if he’s feeling any love at all, he sure isn’t interested in talking about it with Solanio and Salerio.
Act 1 Scene 2 – PORTIA”Yes, yes, it was Bassanio—as I think, so was he called.”NERISSA”True, madam. He, of all the men that ever my foolish eyes looked upon, was the best deserving a fair lady.PORTIAI remember him well, and I remember him worthy of thypraise.” Portia’s first mention of Bassanio is measured and calm. She doesn’t seem particularly stricken by love, but then again she might be understating. Also, she doesn’t sound like a girl who was admiring Mr. Bassanio all over Belmont.
Act 2 Scene 3 – JESSICA”I am sorry thou wilt leave my father so.Our house is hell and thou, a merry devil,Didst rob it of some taste of tediousness.But fare thee well. There is a ducat for thee,And, Lancelet, soon at supper shalt thou seeLorenzo, who is thy new master’s guest.Give him this letter, do it secretly.And so farewell. I would not have my fatherSee me in talk with thee.” Jessica seems to be lacking in familial love toward her father. Rather than chastise Lancelot for his betrayal, she calls her house hell, and in the same speech plots to betray her father by secretly meeting Lorenzo, her Christian lover.
Act 2 Scene 4 – LORENZO”I must needs tell thee all. She hath directedHow I shall take her from her father’s house,What gold and jewels she is furnished with,What page’s suit she hath in readiness.” Lorenzo, like every other man in the play, conflates love with money. He’s just praised Jessica for being beautiful, but what’s important to tell his boys is that the girl is ready to go. She brings more than just her love, though; she’s got her father’s money, which seems as important to Lorenzo as the girl herself.
Act 2 Scene 5 – SHYLOCK”What, Jessica!—Thou shalt not gormandizeAs thou hast done with me—what, Jessica!— And sleep and snore, and rend apparel out.— Why, Jessica, I say! “ Shylock showing no love, compassion and respect for his daughter shows the unstable relationship they have which leads Jessica to elope with Christian Lorenzo.
Act 2 Scene 5 – SHYLOCK”Jessica, my girl,Look to my house.” Here Shylock seems to trust his daughter, and “my girl” seems affectionate enough (for Shylock at least). That he trusts her with his house, his wealth, and her dignity is a mark of his love for her. Of course, he’s about to be betrayed big time, so this doesn’t bode well for him loving and trusting again. If she’s the only character in the play he can love, and she betrays him, then there’s really no turning back his hatred.
Act 2 Scene 6 – LORENZO”Beshrew me but I love her heartily,For she is wise, if I can judge of her,And fair she is, if that mine eyes be true,And true she is, as she hath proved herself.And therefore, like herself, wise, fair, and true,Shall she be placèd in my constant soul.” Lorenzo gives us a rare mention of love here that has nothing to do with money or religion.
Act 2 Scene 8 – SOLANIO”I never heard a passion so confused,So strange, outrageous, and so variableAs the dog Jew did utter in the streets.”My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!Justice, the law, my ducats and my daughter.A sealèd bag, two sealed bags of ducats,Of double ducats, stol’n from me by my daughter.And jewels—two stones, two rich and precious stones— Stol’n by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl!She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats.”SALERIO”Why, all the boys in Venice follow him,Crying “his stones, his daughter, and his ducats.” It seems Shylock’s love is divided between his daughter and his money. (Or at least that’s how Solanio is representing him.) Still, he bumbles in his speech in an uncharacteristic way (à la “O my Christian ducats”), so we have reason to believe he is in shock and irrational. He is stunned because Jessica has doubly betrayed him—both as her father and as a wealthy man. Shylock appears at this moment to be broken, confused, and grasping at something. He can either seem comically bumbling and preoccupied with money, or genuinely disturbed by this strange betrayal. Either way, Shylock is confusing his grief over his missing daughter with his ducats, but we don’t think this is any time to be judging him. If anything, it’s a pretty pivotal breaking point for him.
Act 3 Scene 2 – PORTIA”I pray you tarry; pause a day or twoBefore you hazard; for, in choosing wrong,I lose your company; therefore forbear a while.There’s something tells me—but it is not love—I would not lose you; and you know yourselfHate counsels not in such a quality.But lest you should not understand me well—And yet a maiden hath no tongue but thought—I would detain you here some month or twoBefore you venture for me. I could teach youHow to choose right, but then I am forsworn;So will I never be; so may you miss me;But if you do, you’ll make me wish a sin,That I had been forsworn. Beshrew your eyes!They have o’erlook’d me and divided me;One half of me is yours, the other half yours—Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,And so all yours. O! these naughty timesPuts bars between the owners and their rights;And so, though yours, not yours. Prove it so,Let fortune go to hell for it, not I.” This is the first time we’ve seen Portia really tongue-tied. She’s hesitant to admit she’s in love, but she will say that hate never moved anybody the way she’s being moved. For the first time, Portia is more than obediently committed to her father’s wishes—love has driven her to consider her own feelings first. She would hate herself for defying her father, but she’d also hate herself if Bassanio lost the lottery. Bassanio has undone her strength, so now she feels the conflicting tug between love and good sense.Our favorite heroine Rosalind, from As You Like It, figured out that love’s tension is a wave that you’ve got to ride, not fight. Unlike Rosalind, Portia flips out and is feeling divided here. She babbles on about how she belongs to Bassanio, wants to share everything with him, and, implicitly, loves him, but we have no evidence that she’s known him for any longer than a day. Just as debt was Bassanio’s undoing, and Bassanio was Antonio’s undoing, it seems this is the first time Portia has ever been thrown down by love. We suppose we’ll have to forgive her naiveté.
PORTIA [Aside] “How all the other passions fleet to air,As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embrac’d despair,And shudd’ring fear, and green-ey’d jealousy!O love, be moderate, allay thy ecstasy,In measure rain thy joy, scant this excess!I feel too much thy blessing. Make it less,For fear I surfeit.” Portia is again overcome with love, but this time she knows Bassanio will actually be her husband (since he’s chosen the right casket), so she tries to temper her love and be a little more practical. We get the hint here that she’ll sober up soon enough from the giddy state she was in at the beginning of the scene. As Graziano joked several quotes back, the gloss of new love wears off soon enough. Portia, a very reasonable woman, is already cautioning herself, trying to get her reason and moderation to overcome her passion.
Act 3 Scene 2 – PORTIA”You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,Such as I am. Though for myself aloneI would not be ambitious in my wishTo wish myself much better, yet for youI would be trebled twenty times myself,A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich,That only to stand high in your accountI might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,Exceed account. But the full sum of meIs sum of something which, to term in gross,Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d;Happy in this, she is not yet so oldBut she may learn; happier than this,She is not bred so dull but she can learn;” Love makes us want to be better than we are. We don’t like the fact Bassanio didn’t come to woo Portia purely out of love, or that Portia wasn’t able to choose her lover freely. But Portia’s earnest sentiments here sway us to consider that love (at least hers) is real, not counterfeit.