The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Many years ago I believed this play to be an early experiment in tragi-comedy featuring Shylock, a nemesis of almost tragic proportions, who--both because of the sympathies he evokes and the evil determination he represents--unbalances the play, making the last act in Belmont seem like a hollow exercise in formal completeness. More recently, I believed that Shylock was essentially a comic villain, one dark splash on a predominately sunny canvas that embodies f0r us the fallen world of Venice transformed by the magic of Portias Belmont. (I also believe our knowledge of the Holocaust makes it impossible to appreciate the play fully in this way).
Now-after my recent re-reading--Im no longer sure what to think. For one thing--taking the title seriously this time--I feel that Antonio the merchant, both in his unexplained sadness, his love (whether erotic or paternal or both) for Bassanio, and his unredeemed solitariness, is extremely important to the meaning of the play. I think that Antonio and Shylock, in their preoccupations and loneliness, are similar, but that Antonio--unlike Shylock--is able to look beneath the surface of things, to peer beneath our muddy vesture of decay and hear the music of the spheres as it echoes in the human heart. Thus Antonio becomes capable of love and mercy through choice, in much the same way that Bassanio chooses the right caskets and Portia chooses the mature way to respond to Bassanios giving away of her ring. Shylock, however, by willingly suppressing his compassion for another and insisting strictly on justice puts himself beyond mercy and beyond love.
Merchant of Venice Summary
Antonio, an antisemitic merchant, takes a loan from the Jew Shylock to help his friend to court Portia. Antonio can't repay the loan, and without mercy, Shylock demands a pound of his flesh. The heiress Portia, now the wife of Antonio's friend, dresses as a lawyer and saves Antonio. In Venice, a merchant named Antonio worries that his ships are overdue. As his colleagues offer comfort, his young friends—Bassanio, Graziano, and Lorenzo—arrive. Bassanio asks Antonio for a loan, so that he can pursue the wealthy Portia, who lives in Belmont. Antonio cannot afford the loan.
Antonio, a leading merchant of Venice, is a wealthy, respected, and popular man. Among his many friends is a young man named Bassanio, who owes Antonio a good deal of money.
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The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice named Antonio must default on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. - The Merchant of Venice opens on a street in Venice there are streets and not just canals in Venice—who knew? His friends suggest they'd be sad too if they had as much merchandise to worry about as Antonio.
Antonio is short of money because all his wealth is invested in his fleet, which is currently at sea. Antonio agrees, confident that his ships will return in time. The Princes of Morocco and Arragon fail the test and are rejected. Bassanio chooses the lead casket, which contains her picture, and Portia happily agrees to marry him immediately. Portia follows him, accompanied by her maid, Nerissa. They are disguised as a male lawyer and his clerk.
Antonio, a Venetian merchant, complains to his friends of a melancholy that he cannot explain. His friend Bassanio is desperately in need of money to court Portia, a wealthy heiress who lives in the city of Belmont. Antonio agrees, but is unable to make the loan himself because his own money is all invested in a number of trade ships that are still at sea. Shylock nurses a long-standing grudge against Antonio, who has made a habit of berating Shylock and other Jews for their usury, the practice of loaning money at exorbitant rates of interest, and who undermines their business by offering interest-free loans. Although Antonio refuses to apologize for his behavior, Shylock acts agreeably and offers to lend Bassanio three thousand ducats with no interest. That night, the streets of Venice fill up with revelers, and Jessica escapes with Lorenzo by dressing as his page. In Belmont, Portia welcomes the prince of Morocco, who has come in an attempt to choose the right casket to marry her.