The Merchant Of Venice Essay Research Paper

The Merchant Of Venice Essay, Research Paper

The play, ^The Merchant of Venice^ by William Shakespeare has two main

settings. One setting is Venice, a city where many businessmen live, a

place full of unhappy and unkind people. It a world of commercial and

law. Venice has been portraited by Shakespeare as the ^real^ world.

The other setting is Belmont, a city which houses a rich, happy and

sophisticated society of beautiful people. Belmont is a fairy-tale

world of music and love. In this play it is evident that, good things

occur in Belmont and not so pleasant events take place in Venice.

In the very first line of the play, Antonio, a rich merchant of Venice

is moved to complain: ^In sooth, I know not why I am so sad^ (I.1),

this shows that money and wealth has not brought happiness to this

man. Shylock, a wealthy businessman who lives in Venice is not happy

because he is an outsider and he is treated badly because of his Jewish

religion. ^I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands,

organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?^ (III.1) All his

money could not buy him the happiness he wanted. Shylock^s daughter

Jessica, in her opening lines, exclaims that ^Our house is hell.^

(II.3) This is a woman who belongs to the privileged leisure class of

Venice but still she is not happy, even with all that money she

possessed. This rich society of Venice is pathetically dependant on

money for support and satisfaction but it still does not bring them to


Belmont consists of a more happier society. The young people there

play tricks on each other, wittiness and humour is part of their daily

life style in Belmont. Portia, a beautiful, rich young woman who lives

in Belmont enjoy playing light-hearted tricks on others for amusement,

and everybody has a good laugh at the end. She plays a trick on her

own husband, Bassanio, by dressing up as a lawyer and taking away the

ring she herself gave him when they got married. She had made him

promise that he would never take it off, loose it or give it away.

Afterwards when Portia asks Bassanio of the ring, he has to confess

that he gave it away to a lawyer as a reward for saving his best friend

from an important court case. Then she pretends to be very hurt and

offended by his lack of love, faith and honour towards her by saying:

^If you had known the virtues of the ring, or half her worthiness that

gave the ring, or your own honour to contain the ring, you would have

not parted with! the ring.^ (V.1) But then laughingly she reveals the

truth as to who the lawyer really was. All the people present at the

scene were amused and they all enjoyed the light-hearted trick played

on Bassaio by his own wife. Evidently people are happier in Belmont.

As shown in the play Venetians are unkind people. ^….. you spit on

me on Wednesday last; you spurn^d me such a day; another time you

call^d me dog^ (I.3) says Shylock the Jewish businessman addressing

Antonio, a Christian Venitian who has been so cruel to him simply

because he^s a Jew.

Also the people in Venice mock and laugh at Shylock when his daughter

eloped with his money to marry a Christian. Salarino and Salanio make

fun of him by saying ^….. 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! …..^

all the boys in Venice follow him, crying, his stones, his daughter and

his ducats^ (II.8) They had no sympathy towards the man who has just

lost his only family and his precious money. Maybe he is greedy, but

it was still his money and one would expect people to feel sorry for

him but they were even more cruel to him by laughing at his losses.

Even though one should feel sorry for Shylock, he himself is a very

cruel and vindictive man. He hates Antonio and all Christians and when

he got the opportunity to take revenge he was more than prepared to do

so. He and Antonio had a bond which stated that if Antonio was not

able to pay off the debt of three thousand ducats he borrowed from

Shylock within three months, he would have to pay the debt by letting

Shylock cut a pound of flesh from his body close to the heart. When

Antonio^s ships were lost and he was not able to pay off the debt

Shylock rejoiced in his lose. ^….. other men have ill luck too:

Antonio, as I heard in Genoa, …..hath an argosy cast away, coming

from Tripolis^ (III.1) said Tubal, a friend of Shylock^s informing him

about Antonio^s misfortune. Shylock rejoices saying ^I thank God, I

thank God….. I thank thee good Tubal: good news, good news! ha, ha!

….. I^m am very glad of it: I^ll plague him; I^ll torture him: I^m

glad of it^ (III.1) This ! shows that he was a horrible man. Later

when he was offered the money, he refuses saying that he would rather

have Antonio^s flesh than money ^When I was with him I have heard him

swear to Tubal and to Chus, his countrymen, that he would rather have

Antonio^s flesh than twenty times the value of the sum that he did owe

him^ (III.2) says Jessica, Shylock^s daughter informing Bassanio and

Portia how much of a cruel man her father really is. These unkind

attitudes of Venitians have originated from Venice being a commercial

city of trade and business. People are untrustworthy and cunning.

People who live here have to be aware of their fellow citizens, thus

they have developed a untrusting, unkind attitude towards others.

People who live in Belmont are kind and helpful. When Portia learns

that Bassanio^s best friend, Antonio would have to fulfil a bond

between him and a Jewish businessman by giving him a pound of flesh

from his body because of not being able to pay off the debt; without

hesitation she gives Bassanio the money to go and save him, ^you shall

have gold to pay the petty debt twenty times over^ (III.2) says Portia

giving him more than that was needed. She also postpones her honeymoon

and urges Bassanio to return at once to his friend. This shows that

she was a kind young woman who sincerely cared for this man^s life, a

person she has never met. Later, Portia dresses up as a lawyer and

saves Antonio from getting a pound of flesh cut off his body as the

bond stated. She and her maid Nerissa went through the trouble of

travelling to Venice from Belmont to save Antonio and they never took

money as a reward for their good work. Portia was thoroughly

unselfish. Although she has never met Antonio, she does not hesitate

to risk all in order to save him. These kind attitudes are practised

in Belmont because it^s a clam and quite place which houses happy and

sincere people.

The laws of Venice are very strict and cruel. At the trial Portia

recalls the law by which an alien who plots against the life of a

Venetian, is liable to forfeit his life and goods ^Tarry Jew: The law

hath yet another hold on you. It is enacted in the laws of Venice, if

it be proved against an alien that by direct or indirect attempts he

seeks the life of any citizen the party ^gainst the which he doth

contrive shall seize one half his goods; the other half comes to the

privy coffer of the state; and the offender^s life lies in the mercy of

the duke only,…..^ The laws of Venice were against a foreigner but

if Shylock was a citizen of Venice it would have not been ordered by

the court that all his lands and money be taken away from him. Also

the Venetian laws accepted the inhumane bond between Shylock and

Antonio which stated that Antonio will get a pound of flesh cut off his

body if he doesn^t pay off the debt on time. The law of Venice allowed

Antonio to declare in the court of justice that as a punishment for

trying to seize a life of a citizen of Venice, Shylock becomes a

Christian, ^….. that, for his favour, he presently become a


The final act opens at Belmont. Music sounds and we know that all is

well with the world again. The act ends happily with all the lovers

reunited, Bassanio with Portia, Gratiano with Nerissa and Jessica with

Lorenzo. There is no place for Shylock in Belmont, he is a man who

hates music and festivals ^the man that hath no music in himself, not

is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons,

stratagems, and spoils; the motions of his spirit are dull as night and

his affections dark as Erebus: let no such man be trusted^ (V.1) He is

an alien to the generous world of music, nightingales and moonlit

lovers. Even Antonio, who is a Venitian seems rather silent and not at

ease in the magical world of Belmont.

In this play, Venice is potrated to be the ^real^ world. It^s where

bad events take place. Shylock looses all his properties in Venice

^you take my life when you do take the means whereby I live^ (IV.1),

Antonio almost gets killed ^he seeks my life^ (III.3), Jessica and

Lorenzo ran away from Venice ^In such a night did Jessica steal from

the wealthy Jew and with an unthrift love did run from Venice as far as

Belmont^ (V.1) In Venice Bassanio has to decide whether keeping his

wife^s ring and his promise not to ever take it off or giving it away

as a reward to the Doctor of Laws for saving his friend^s life is the

most important thing. ^Good sir, this ring was given me by my wife;

and when she put it on, she made me vow that I should neither sell nor

give nor lose it.^ (IV.1) Bassanio may have wooed Portia without pain

in the magic world of Belmont; but marriage and commitment are

different matters and must be tested in the real world of Venice.

Above all, Venice is the city of gloom and pain and it has much to

learn from the love which governs Belmont.

When one recalls what happened in Belmont, it seems, at times,

like a fairy-tale come true. A poor young nobleman comes to

the city of Belmont, in hope of marrying a fair and wealthy

maiden. He has to choose between three caskets set by the

beautiful maiden^s dead father, to win her hand in marriage.

This is the world of the fairy-tale, in which everything

happens in groups of three. Throughout the world in

fairy-tales, lovers are subjected to triple tests and the third

attempt is always lucky. Also, in the raditional fairy-tale,

those who foolishly identify themselves with wealth or riches

are taught a bitter lesson. So, the Prince of Arragon and

Morocco who chose the costly metals of gold and silver leave

the scene as presumptuous fools. The unaffected but handsome

Bassanio, who risks all on the lead casket ^who chooseth me

must give and hazard all he hath^ (II.7,II.9), receives the

fitting reward for his wisdom and humility. Also the young

lovers Lorenzo and Jessica! run away from Venice and come to

Belmont to start a new and happy life together ^In such a night did

Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew and with an unthrift love did run

from Venice as far as Belmont^ (V.1) The play ends happily in

Belmont. So at the end, those who deserve happiness finds it in this

magical fair-tale city of Belmont.

by Nimandra de J. Seneviratne


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