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“The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare

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“The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare is a captivating play about revenge, justice, deception and friendship. Held within the brutal time of the 16th century, the play is about a pronounced character known as Shylock, who is a reasonably wealthy Jew, lending one of his enemies, Antonio, three thousand ducats. The play gives you a glance of how bad and unbearable life was for non-Christians, especially Jews. Shakespeare does an impeccable job of conveying the hatred of Jews by using techniques such as characterisation and setting to allow the reader to understand the situation and his emotions of Shylock towards the Christians in beautiful city of Venice. We also witness how money and wealth was overruled by love, relationships and family.

In that time, everything was about trade and gaining in life. If you have lost a ship or such then you have been brought to another/ lower level. It’s also quite racial that the colour of your skin or the religion your in could change and decide which trades and deals you make “between thy flesh and he is than between jet and ivory.”

Antonio is a rich merchant all his resources are in his ships, trading too distant countries, but because he wants to help out his friend, Bassanio, he has no choice but to ask Shylock for a loan, not to know it could lead to his death. Clearly this play puts many friendships and relationships to test and some go further than intended too.

We have the understanding that Bassanio needs money from his good friend Antonio, but we also question that he may only be using him or keeping him as a “close friend”, just for the money. To you, Antonio, I owe the most, in money and in love;

And from your love I have warranty
To unburden all my plots and purposes
How to get clear of all the debts I owe.
Here Bassanio reveals that he is in serious debt and isn’t managing with his expenses seriously and is living more luxuriously than he can afford. It’s noticeable that Bassanio enjoys the fact that Antonio has money and that he always feels obliged to help him out when wanted, “the most, in money and in love” tells us that he clearly doesn’t really mind taking advantage of his “close friend” and “borrow” as much money as he wants, even though we as the reader, know that there is probably a small chance that he will pay back Antonio every penny owed. Antonio believes that the more you risk the more you gain but with Bassanio he could easily lose everything and surprisingly  he is willing to do it. It is also argued that Antonio could have had “different” feelings for Bassanio.

However, Bassanio’s scheme is to woo Portia, who is “a lady richly left, and she is fair, and, fairer than that word,” and the plan is to marry her, even with the casket barrier to pass. Nevertheless, no matter how juvenile the scheme is, it’ll still give Bassanio what he wants which is the money to pay of all his debts. He needs this money from Antonio, as back in that time, it was very pricy to date so this is why he turns to Antonio, to get money to pay of his debts which is ironic considering he is getting himself into more debt and trouble. By creating this relationship between the two characters, Shakespeare makes the reader want to continue reading to discover more about where the money will take them and how it will affect their relationship.

Bassanio is so convinced that he will pay marry Portia, even when he knows there is still the caskets to get past and Antonio is being supportive in his decision. O my Antonio, had I but the means

To hold a rival place with one of them
The descriptions indicates that Bassanio probably doesn’t even care for Portia, he just wants her money. Portia is a very strong and demanding character. She is also considered to be relatively stubborn and picky too. “O me, the word ‘choose!’ I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I dislike” lets us know, that she is being forced to marry to someone that she doesn’t want to, by her dead father as this was his wish before he died. Furthermore,“he doth nothing but talk of his horse” informs us that when it comes to finding a husband she isn’t the easiest too woo however when it comes to Bassanio it all changes. Later we learn that Bassanio is the man she really wants to marry as she doesn’t complain or moan about him. This ends up coming to Bassanio’s advantage, though it is sad that Bassanio is more interested in her for her money and wealth than her love and affection. Honestly, we question that she may not even care that he might be in it just for his money, and it’s not that she doesn’t notice what he is doing she may just choose not to notice it. The choosing of wealth over love is significant throughout the play and continues the story for mercy and even forgiveness.

Some readers question whether Antonio had developed further feelings for Bassanio and that’s why he is willing to risk so much and his life for him. But obviously, he couldn’t say or do anything about it in that time.

Shylock shows his hatred for Antonio with many reasons but one main reason is for the fact that he is a Christian. Antonio lends out money free of interest to other Christians, however, Shylock doesn’t see that sane but because Antonio is a Christian he can afford to do this, whereas Shylock gains his respect through the interest showing the other Venetians that he isn’t just some sort of joke.

I hate him for he is a Christian; But more for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis, and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice. Money lending and interest plays a big part in the play, and a lot of different opinions occur in this situation. The description informs us that Shylock really feels against for Antonio, a Christian who he has never met and shows how prejudice he can be. Nevertheless, the Christians attitude towards usury is that they don’t think very highly of the Jews, they believe that interest shouldn’t be so high. So, due to the fact that Shylock is a Jew and he is in business with Antonio, he doesn’t feel completely comfortable as Antonio lends out his money without interest and the interest is what gives Shylock his life.

As the Christians are viewed equally and have a right way of life, they are certain that if they lend out money they’ll get it back, however, in Shylock’s case ( the Jew) he knows no-one will take him seriously if he doesn’t have a decent size of interest and a strong manner towards it. We know that Antonio borrowed money from Shylock and as a result of him not returning it on time means he was sent to court. Shylock probably jumped straight to that conclusion to show people that he should be taken seriously whether he is a Jew or not. The point is that Shylock gets his small but needed amount of respect from his money and now that it’s all gone he has nothing left. The conflict between Shylock and Antonio and Shylock’s harsh feelings towards him makes us wonder if he will ever understand that he will not be treated fairly, not matter how unfair the situation is, we know that he will never be treated the right way, so we question whether he should be putting himself in a position like this, where he could lose everything within a blink of an eye. The reader understands this and by creating pathos for Shylock we are stuck on whether to be annoyed at Shylock or as we should feel, sorry.

No matter what we say about Shylock he does have a heart. In a part of the play Shylock shows a side to him we have never seen before. Instead of seeing him as the man who is greedy and centred, we see a man who has been ridiculed and ill treated. He does try to hide his more vulnerable side but this is exposed when it comes to his daughter but most importantly lost wife. My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!

Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!
Justice! the law! my ducats, and my daughter!
Clearly, Shylock’s reaction to Jessica is that he is peeved that his search is costing him so much, on top of the loss of the amount Jessica took from away. What really tipped Shylock over the edge is that out of everyone in Venice, Jessica ran away with a Christian. He is more upset on the fact that the pain he is feeling is because of everyone else. “ What, Jessica!- Thou shalt not gormandize, As thou hast done with me- What, Jessica!”, indicates that Jessica is a very demanding character like her father and this is what pushes them further apart even though they are father and daughter in a Christian ruled Venice. We learn more about how Shylock is honestly quite confused on whether he should feel more upset for the loss of his daughter or his ducats which explains his attitude throughout the play. If he chooses his money over his daughter this makes him insensitive, and a money-grabber. However later in the play, Shakespeare offers an alternative point of view of Shlock.

Shylock isn’t happy with Jessica’s decision and he cant do anything about it. We spot a deeper side to him, his loss of his daughter has hurt him but definitely not as much as the loss of all his money with the very important ring.

It was my turquoise, I had it off Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a Wilderness of monkeys. This shows a side to Shylock that we have never seen. It tells us, the love he had and still has for his deceased wife Leah is still there. Shylock could be considered as an undefined character but we know he has a heart from when he found out he had lost the ring. This is informing us of how the ring could have been more valued to him than the money. Shylock also cried relentlessly when he realised Jessica had left with the money with Lorenzo. Shylock shows how hurt and betrayed he feels that his daughter has sold his ring by saying that he wouldn’t had given it away for a ” wilderness of monkeys “. He judges people before he gives them a chance to show what they are really like, and he has done exactly that with Lorenzo.

Like Shylock, we also have different views on different characters depending on who they are, and yet we change our views through each stage of the play. Shakespeare did this well in the play as it’s  not only the tension within the play but the relationships between them, that makes us constantly change our opinion on them.

In conclusion, I feel that William Shakespeare has greatly projected how sad life was for Jews in the 16th century in “The Merchant of Venice.” We see how the playwright uses characterisation to reveal the themes of the play. I believe that Shakespeare shows this very well and the play makes you feel the urge to want to carry on. He makes us aware of how precious life is and how important family is, and how betrayal and money can kill any relationship. By using the techniques such as characterisation and setting, he makes the message more powerful for the reader.

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