Merchant of Venice - Plot Structure

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Merchant of Venice - Plot Structure

By | October 1999
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Show how the plot of ‘The Merchant of Venice' is apparently fanciful but in reality exactingly structured.
"The Merchant of Venice is a fairy tale. There is no more reality in Shylock's bond and the Lord of Belmont's will than in Jack and the Beanstalk." H. Granville-Barker, in Prefaces to Shakespeare.


This is one way of looking at the play, reading it or enjoying the performance. But it can be a contradiction to our actual feelings about this complex play. ‘The Merchant of Venice' might appear to be a romantic tale without much logic but that would be a superficial interpretation. Portia's father may have raised our concerns in taking away her freedom to choose her beloved; Shylock's bond and those conditions may violate most legal codes; but the way the play moves takes one beyond these doubts and objections.

In ‘The Merchant of Venice' Shakespeare creates an interesting contrast between the mercantile and tumultuous city of Venice and the peaceful and gracious world of Belmont. The striking difference between these two settings helps to capture and maintain our attention. There are differences in the value of systems of the people belonging to the two different cities. The contrast between Venice and Belmont is that one place is where money is made and the other where it is spent. One is characterised by light and sunshine and the other by moonlight and music. Wealth is described in almost sensuous terms like when Salerio says

"…touching but my gentle vessel's side…Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks."
And in an ironic way later love is talked about in commercial terms. Another contrast is presented when the scenes shift from Venice to Belmont. When we hear of Shylock's hatred and his terms of the bond, our anxiety builds. But then the play moves on to Belmont and the mood shifts from a sort of harshness and tension to a world of romance and graciousness. The most striking...

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