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Essay/Term paper: The merchant of venice

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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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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