The Merchant of Venice- Critical Evaluation

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How effectively does Shakespeare explore the themes of love and hate through character in the play “The Merchant of Venice”?

William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice contains many themes and elements that could be considered timeless. Shakespeare effectively explores the themes of love and hate through character in the play which is a play of two parts. One part follows the fortunes of Bassanio, a friend of the Merchant, Antonio, in his attempts to win the hand of Portia, the rich and beautiful heiress of Belmont. The second part deals with the bond Antonio makes with Shylock, the wealthy Jew. Antonio agrees that if the three thousand ducats he borrows are not repaid within three months he will lose a pound of flesh in order to finance Bassanio’s courtship. Bassanio eventually wins Portia but discovers that Antonio has forfeited the bond. However, disguised as a lawyer, Portia crushes Shylock in the Venetian Court when he tries to get his pound of flesh, and the Christians return, victorious to Belmont.

The first theme love is very meaningful in the play and is first introduced through the characters Bassanio and Antonio when their friendship is explored. This is first evident in Act 1 when Bassanio acknowledges that he has been living above his income. He owes most to Antonio, but nevertheless asks him to lend still more in the hope of getting at least some of it back. Without a single thought of his own wellbeing or wealth, Antonio promises all he has. “My purse, my person, my extremest means

Lie all unlocked to your occasions”
(1, I, ll 138-139)
In this quote, Shakespeare is attempting to stress the importance of love felt for friends, through Antonio. By using the word “unlocked” in this phrase Shakespeare is conveying the idea that Antonio is willing to do anything to help his friend when he is in need. Moreover, that Bassanio is the metaphorical ‘key’ to all in Antonio’s power. This is successful as it shows how strongly Shakespeare feels about friendship, how it should be given more importance, and about putting the ones you love before yourself.

The next theme, hate, is a very strong one within the play and is mainly portrayed through the character Shylock. Although there were moments where he appeared to be victim, he was probably the villain of this play. At the start, we see Shylock grudgingly lending Antonio money- 3000 ducats. Even though he does not like Antonio he lends him the money with the agreement that if Antonio should not be bale to pay him back within the time given, Shylock will take a pound of his flesh. “If you repay me not on such a day…

Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh…”
(1, iii, ll 143-148)
Here, the words “an equal pound” show that the pound of flesh is a constant reminder of rigidity of Shylock’s world; where numerical calculations are used to evaluate even the most serious of situations. I think this is very effective as Shylock never explicitly demands that Antonio die, but asks instead, in his numerical mind, for a pound in exchange for his three thousand ducats. Where the other characters measure their emotions with long metaphors and words, Shylock measures everything in far more prosaic and numerical quantities. Everyone sees Shylock as evil through their eyes because of this strange bond he proposed, however, they do no see that Shylock is actually quite cunning and could have a purpose behind it. The theme hatred is also introduced when Shylocks assertion that Antonio is a ‘good’ man refers not to Antonio’s moral standing, but to his financial standing, and Shylock later says of Antonio: “How like a fawning publican he looks

I hate him for he is a Christian
But more, for that in law simplicity
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice”
(1, iii, ll 38-42)
“I hate him for he is a Christian”; this makes Shylock seem to be an unpleasant character that dislikes Antonio just because he is a Christian and...
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