The Merchant of Venice is considered a romantic comedy of William Shakespeare written between 1596 and 1598. Yet because of the powerful speeches and the dramatic appeal it can be considered as one of his more serious plays. Women have been given very strong characters and in this drama they prove to be equal men in all aspects. Friendship, love, mercenary attitude is given equal importance as themes in the play The Merchant of Venice. The play takes place in Venice and Belmont.
Antonio’s Mind Portend Mishaps
Antonio and Bassanio are friends whose friendship is tested in this play. Antonio is a rich merchant and the play opens to some disturbance seen in Antonio. His friends attribute it to unrequited love or fear of ships not reaching safely. But there is nothing that Antonio can pinpoint as the reason for his worry. Shakespeare indicates that even though all is going well, there was danger lurking around the corner which would upset the life of Antonio. Bassanio was indebted to Antonio as he had borrowed money from him on many occasions. Once again Bassanio requests Antonio to lend him money to woo his lover Portia a rich lady in Belmont.
Portia was a rich woman who was bound by her father’s will to find a husband. He had hidden a painting of Portia in a casket and the man who chooses the correct casket and finds the portrait was eligible to marry her. There were three caskets. One had gold, the second silver and the third had lead. No one knew in which casket the portrait was kept. If they failed in finding the correct casket, the suitor could never marry again. Fearing this many eligible suitors refused to go through the test. There were however a couple of them who did try but failed. Portia had heard about Bassanio and hoped he would come to try his luck.
The Money Lender Who Changes the Course Of the Story
It was to marry this Portia that Bassanio wanted money. But Antonio could not help this time as his ships had not returned after their trade. But he promised to stand guarantee for a loan taken from anyone in the city. Bassanio approaches Shylock who was a Jew and a cut throat money lender. Antonio and Shylock hated each other as one a Christian and the other was a Jew. Also Antonio lent money without any interest and this made Shylock look more villainous. However a deal was made where Bassanio borrowed money and the guarantor had to give a pound of flesh if the money was not returned by the stipulated time. Though Bassanio dissuaded Antonio to enter upon such a deal, Antonio refused and wanted to help his friend. He was certain that he could repay his debt without any hassle.
Shylock was not hated just by the people of Venice, even his daughter, Jessica, also despises his ways and elopes with Lorenzo, a Christian, a friend of Bassanio, and marries him. Meanwhile Bassanio reaches Belmont and wins the heart of Portia and also chooses the correct casket. Bassanio’s companion Gratiano falls in love with Portia’s servant and this marriage also take place. By then they hear the news that Antonio’s ships have wrecked and that Shylock was going to take his revenge on Antonio. Bassanio rushes back to be with his friend and he comes with twice the amount given to save his friend. Before leaving Portia and Nerissa give their husbands a ring to keep as their remembrance.
Shylock an Epitome Of Revenge
Back in Venice, Shylock is regaling in his victory over Antonio’s loss and his plans of revenge. At the Duke’s court Shylock is in no mood to accept the amount brought by Bassanio as the stipulated time was over. Now the case moves to the court where Balthazar the assistant of Dr Bellario appears to give verdict as Dr Bellario is indisposed. Balthazar asks Shylock to change his stand and give mercy for Antonio but he refuses. Then Shylock is allowed to carry out his agreement but Balthazar says that since the agreement spoke about only flesh and not blood, not a drop of blood should come while taking the flesh.
This upsets all the plans of Shylock and he has to accept the final judgement given by the Duke. Balthazar and his assistant meanwhile do not take any fee for their work but ask for the ring on the fingers of Bassanio and Gratiano. They part it with a heavy heart but it is all done for friendship. The dramatic moments of the play end here with Shylock making his daughter as his legal heir. Some of Antonio’s ships come back and the friends leave for Belmont to unite with their wives. They are in for surprise when they reach Belmont. The wives ask the husbands for the ring they had given but Bassanio and Gratiano cannot give it back. Antonio tells them what happened but Portia and Nerissa do not listen. Finally they give them another ring and ask them to keep at least that safely. That’s when all realize that it was Portia and Nerissa who had disguised as the judge and assistant to save Antonio from Shylock.
This play of Shakespeare has inspired many directors to make it into a film. The trend set off as early as 1914 as a silent film till as recent as 2004. This is a theme that enthrals people till date. It has been adapted into operas as well. As a play the stage direction is quite elaborate and changes in each act a couple of times, makes it a challenging task. However it has been staged many times all over the world in different languages. Each of the character in this play creates a niche even if it is a brief appearance. The powerful and intelligent portrayal of women is really heartening especially when we know the time it was written. The Merchant of Venice is a romantic comedy which goes a little further to make it a more serious play of Shakespeare.