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Jacob Dennerlein Mr. King Honors English II December 16th, 2010 “The Merchant of Venice”
The Shakespearean play “The Merchant of Venice” is about a man named Bassanio, who is deep in debt to his friend Antonio. Antonio is a merchant and the namesake of the play. Bassanio has fallen in love with a woman named Portia and hopes to win her over, but in order to do so, he must borrow more money from Antonio. Antonio tells him that his money is tied up at the moment, but that he will back up any loan that Bassanio gets. The two go to see Shylock, a rich Jew and lender in Venice. Shylock agrees to loan Bassanio 3000 ducats for three months, but on the terms that he gets to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh if the loan is not paid. These terms put Shylock in a bad light, making him a villainous character. A few nights later, Bassanio and some of his friends invite Shylock to dinner to exchange the money, but they have an ulterior motive. Shylock’s daughter Jessica wants to sneak out that night so she can convert to Christianity and marry her lover, Lorenzo. Before Shylock leaves, he tells Jessica to be careful, because he’s having a bad feeling about that night. Shylock’s servant, Launcelot, tells Jessica that Lorenzo will be at her window that night. Once Shylock leaves, Jessica says, “Farewell; and if my fortune be not cross'd, / I have a father, you a daughter, lost” (II, v 57-58). His leaving is bittersweet for her because she loves him, but is also glad to see him gone. These events are very hard for Shylock to handle and hurt him emotionally. He seems to be less of a villain now, and more of a victim of events. In order to marry Portia, Bassanio must play a high stakes game that her father declared in his will, wherein he must choose the correct casket out of three (gold, silver, and lead). If he picks wrong, he can never get married in his life, but if he chooses correctly, he gets to marry Portia. When many of Portia’s suitors find out about this game they choose to leave, but two stay. While Bassanio is getting his money and Jessica is leaving, Portia’s first suitor, the prince of Morocco has a go at the casket game. He goes through an elaborate show and chooses the gold casket, which turns out to be incorrect. He leaves, depressed and Portia is relieved. Shylock comes home to find his house empty and his money stolen, again portrayed as a victim. He becomes extremely distressed and goes down on the streets. His friends comfort him by telling him that they’ve heard a rumor that all of Antonio’s ships had crashed. Shylock becomes very happy, realizing that Antonio won’t be able to pay him back and he will get his revenge upon Antonio, now playing more of a villainous character. Meanwhile, the Duke of Arragon is trying his luck at the casket game. He too picks the wrong casket and is described as a bumbling fool. He leaves in a hurry and Portia is once again relieved. She says, “Thus hath the candle sing'd the moth. / O these deliberate fools! when they do choose, / They have the wisdom by their wit to lose” (II ix 79-81), meaning that the suitors are attracted to the boxes like moths are to light, but the boxes end up hurting them, just like a moth is burnt when it gets too close to the light. Just then a messenger comes in, reporting that Bassanio has come. After Bassanio has his dinner, Portia asks Bassanio to stay for a while, presumably so she could instruct him as to which was the right casket. Bassanio decides to just play the game. He passes over the silver and gold caskets, and after much pondering decides to pick the lead casket. It turns out to be the correct one and Bassanio celebrates. Portia gives him a ring and makes him promise never to take it off otherwise he would lose her. During the festivities, a letter comes from Antonio saying that Antonio’s ships have all wrecked and Shylock is going to collect his pound of flesh. Bassanio immediately runs off to save his friend with money from Portia. Portia sends a messenger off to her cousin who is a lawyer in Venice, then goes to Venice herself. When she gets to Venice, she and Nerissa, her servant, disguise themselves as men, Portia as a lawyer and Nerissa as her clerk, and enter the court. They find Shylock, still a villian, insisting that he will have his bond, even though Bassanio offers him twice its value. Portia also hears Bassanio say that he would rather have his wife dead than have Antonio die. Although mad at Bassanio, Portia uses her cousin’s knowledge to show Shylock that there is no way he can collect his bond without being killed as a punishment. When he decides to take the money offered by Bassanio, she says that since he has already refused it, he cannot take it. Furthermore, she tells him that since he threatened a Christian, he has to take give up all his wealth and must be killed. Antonio offers to give him back some of his wealth on the terms that he become Christian and give his estate to his daughter in his will. He consents and leaves, once again a victim of other people's knowledge and his stubborness. To thank Portia (disguised as the judge), Bassanio wants to give her a gift. She asks for his ring, but Bassanio refuses, saying “ There's more depends on this than on the value. The dearest ring in Venice will I give you, And find it out by proclamation; Only for this I pray you pardon me. … Good sir, this ring was given me by my wife; And, when she put it on, she made me vow That I should neither sell, nor give, nor lose it.” (IV i 450-453, 457-459) Portia continues to beg him for the ring, secretly testing him. She's also very unhappy about what he said in court, but he refuses to give it up, so she leaves. Once she leaves, Bassanio feels guilty and sends a messenger after her to give her the ring. She is disappointed in him, but returns home without a word. Once Bassanio returns with Antonio, she teases him about letting the ring go. When Bassanio finally gets worked up, she reveals that it was all a trick. Portia even takes Bassanio back even though he gave away the ring that was very important to her and said he wished that she would be killed instead of Antonio. Then a messenger comes and informs Antonio that some of his ships have made port and that he will not be poor. The entire group rejoices in their good fortune and the play ends. Portia's decision to take Bassanio back was a very important part of the play. It shows the power of love and understanding. Portia understood that when Bassanio wished her dead, he was really just trying to comfort his friend who's head was on the chopping block. She also understood that Bassanio was so grateful to the "judge" for saving his friend that he felt the judge deserved a worthy reward. She also tricked him, so it was partially her responsibility for his mistake. This particular play is a tragic comedy. It includes many comedic events, such as Portia tricking Bassanio into giving up his ring to her, and when Portia's second suitor opens the casket which portrays as a complete fool. Also, when it was first performed, only men had parts in theater, so men played women pretending to be men. It also has many tragic events, like when Antonio's ships were all lost, when Shylock's daughter left and his money was stolen, and when Shylock was forced to give up his fortune and become Christian. Many of the tragic events in "The Merchant of Venice" center around Shylock. Overall, Shylock can be considered both a victim and a villain. As stated above, many tragic events affect Shylock, but he also effects some of those same events. For example, he goes to court to collect his bond from Antonio, but his lack of knowledge of the law causes him to have to give up his religion and estate. He tries to go through with the villainous deed of cutting off a pound of Antonio's flesh, but never gets to. His intents showed him to be a villain, but his plan backfired upon him. At the end of the play, Shylock comes out pretty bad off. On the other hand, Portia, Bassanio, Antonio, and the rest of their entourage have great lives. Jessica and Lorenzo come out with the best fortunes: nothing tragic happened to them, and they got all of Shylock's money. Neither of them knew Antonio, and Shylock was too humbled by what happened in court to come after Lorenzo for "stealing" his daughter. They would be the best characters to play because everything you do would have a good connotation.
• Shakespeare, William. “The Merchant of Venice.” mit.edu. Web. 5 May 2009. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/merchant/full.html • SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Merchant of Venice.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2003. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.
Period and two spaces is size 13.5 Spacing is 2.1
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