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The Merchant of Venice - themes

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					 The Merchant of Venice



Themes in the Play
Love and Wealth…
   Many works of literature deal with conflicts between love and
    money. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare takes a more
    unusual approach to this subject, treating love as just another
    form of wealth.
   Shakespeare seems to be saying that love and money are similar.
    They are blessings to those who can pursue them in the right
    spirit. On the other hand, those who are too possessive or too
    greedy, will get pleasure neither from the pursuit of romantic love
    nor from the accumulation of wealth.
   Bassanio sets out to win Portia's love, solving his money problems
    at the same time. Shylock, in contrast, is a miser who hoards both
    his gold and his love and loses his daughter and his riches
    simultaneously.
   Antonio demonstrates the love of one friend for another by
    pledging his own flesh to guarantee a loan for Bassanio. He, too, is
    rewarded for his generosity. Not only do Antonio's ships come in
    at the end of the play, but Bassanio's fortunate marriage enriches
    Antonio as well, bringing him Portia's loyalty and friendship.
    Mercy Vs. Revenge…
   A number of Shakespeare's plays are concerned with the question of
    justice and the nature of legitimate authority. The Merchant of
    Venice poses the question of whether the law should be tempered by
    mercy, or whether it should be morally neutral.
   If neutral, then the law can become a tool in the hands of men such
    as Shylock, who use it to further their own personal vendettas.
   In Act IV of the play, we find Portia arguing that the justice of the
    state, like God's justice, ought to be merciful. Mercy does triumph
    eventually in this courtroom scene, but not until Portia reveals a legal
    loophole which makes it possible for the Duke to rule in her favour.
   In the world of this comedy, at least, the conflict between morally
    neutral law and merciful law is easily resolved. Readers do disagree,
    however, as to how well the theme of mercy's triumph over revenge
    is carried out by the "good" characters' treatment of Shylock.
   You will have to decide for yourself whether Shylock's punishment at
    the end of the trial scene is truly merciful- or whether he in fact
    becomes the victim of an unconscious streak of vengefulness in the
    character of Antonio.
Harmony…
   In a reading of the play a number of sub-themes are revealed that
    contrast other sets of values, in addition to those of mercy and
    revenge.
   The test of the three caskets points to the truth that external
    beauty and inner worth are not always found together.
   On the whole, the play stresses harmony, not conflict. The play
    seems to tell us that in a well-balanced life the pursuit and
    enjoyment of money, romantic love, and deep friendship will not
    necessarily conflict. It is possible to experience and enjoy all of
    these things - but only if we do not place undue importance on
    gaining any one of them.
   The theme of harmony is stressed throughout the play by the use
    of music and musical imagery. Portia and Lorenzo both praise and
    enjoy music for its power to ease sorrowful moments and make us
    more reflective in times of happiness. Notice, too, that Shylock-
    the character who is out of harmony with society - fears the
    power of music. He even orders his daughter to close up the house
    to keep out the music of the masque.
    Friendship…
   It is not only romantic love that is discussed as a form of wealth in The
    Merchant of Venice. Friendship, too, is an important aspect of "love's
    wealth."
   The idea that a husband and wife should be best friends and a happy
    marriage takes precedence over outside friendships is a modern one.
    Shakespeare's audience would no doubt have found this notion rather
    bizarre - suitable, perhaps for starry-eyed and headstrong young
    lovers, but hardly the basis for life-long happiness.
   In the play, Portia demonstrates her depth of character by
    understanding that her husband's happiness depends on his ability to
    discharge his obligations as a friend. Thus, his loyalties have become
    her loyalties. The Elizabethans expected friendship to be the glue that
    held together business relationships between social equals.
   It is understandable, that in Elizabethan society, Shylock's refusal to
    dine with Bassanio is treated as an act of hostility. This was a common
    view; religious laws which kept Jews from socialising with Christians on
    a friendly basis were seen as sinister, and an expression of
    untrustworthy intentions. This explains the frequent references to
    the eating of pork throughout the play.
Appearance Vs. Reality…
   Appearances can be deceiving.The Merchant of Venice warns us
    repeatedly that outer beauty is not necessarily evidence of inner
    worth. As the motto on the gold casket puts it: "All that glisters
    is not gold."
   There is some belief that the emphasis on this moral is out of
    place in the play. After all, Portia the heroine turns out to be as
    good and wise as she is beautiful and rich.
   However, another way of looking at this theme's relation to the
    action is to say that Shakespeare has gone beyond the obvious,
    clichéd implications of his theme to hit on a deeper reality. Even a
    beautiful, desirable woman deserves to be loved for her inner self,
    not just collected like an object of art.
   The rewards from all worthwhile relationships can be achieved
    only when the partners open their hearts to each other. By the
    same reasoning, money itself is not necessarily a bad thing - but
    you must be careful to love it for the good it can do. Shylock's
    failing is not that he is rich, but that he seeks to use his money
    for an evil end – revenge!

				
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posted:4/17/2011
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