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How The Themes of Love Marriage and Friendship Overlap in The Merchant of Venice

In this essay, I will show how the themes of love, marriage, friendship, and money overlap in the Merchant of Venice. In this play, the main theme is money, and this theme is portrayed throughout the Merchant of Venice, being presented in many different ways. Prejudice is also a large theme used, which is tied in with the theme of money: Shylock and Antonio and their bond of a pound of flesh. Shakespeare wanted to show that money can’t buy you, love. Money contributes largely to the merchant of Venice, and it is the main theme shown. Firstly we see Bassanio, who needs to borrow a sum of money from Antonio, his friend, and although Antonio is wealthy, he is not happy as he says to Bassanio that he does not know why he is ‘So sad.’ Suggesting that his wealth does not make him entirely contented.

However, Shylock seems to show that maybe money is everything; Shylock is only interested in money and money creation. As we see later in the play, Shylock’s loss of ducats is more significant than his daughter’s disappearance, ‘My daughter!’ ‘O my ducats!’ Shylock refers to his ducats more than his daughter; he also says, ‘I would my daughter were dead at my foot’ This shows the cruel side of Shylock. Shylock’s love for money is great, although revenge is sweeter. As we see when Shylock is determined to see Antonio die, he refuses to receive three times the amount owed to spare Antonio’s life. Shylock is seen as evil through his pursuit of the pound of flesh, and he tries to show his humanity, ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ ‘If you prick us do we not bleed’ In order to excuse his behaviour.

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Portia is a young beautiful heiress; her father sets up a casket system to make sure that Portia is married to someone that loves her and not just for her wealth. Portia is unhappy with the situation she is in when she says, ‘I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse who I dislike’ this reveals that she is unhappy with the arrangement of the three caskets. First, Bassanio acknowledges that he lives above his income, and Antonio always bails him out. Secondly, we see the theme of love. Portia is a wealthy heiress, and many men want to marry her for her money. One suitor picks the gold casket, believing that beauty is on the outside; the men think that the lead casket cannot be the right one as it is so unattractive. ‘Twere damnation To think so base a thought’ shows that the prince of Morocco believes that the leaden casket is unworthy, and Portia cannot be contrasted to that.

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Lorenzo and Jessica represent forbidden love, as their religions do not allow them to love each other. Jessica, a Jew, should have nothing to do with Lorenzo, a Christian. They see past their religions, and Jessica will become a Christian to be with Lorenzo. If thou keep the promise, I shall end this strife, Become a Christian and thy loving wife”. This shows the stereotypical view that different races cannot mix and how Jessica is ashamed to be her father’s child. Shylock’s relationship with Jessica is that Shylock shows that he cares more about his money than he does this daughter, “Look to my house” … “For I did dream of money bags tonight”. Showing how Shylock is worried for his belongings, as he fears that there will be bad luck. Bassanio picks the right casket; he chooses the unassuming leaden casket. “And here choose I”… “Joy be the consequence!” Portia is not worried that Bassanio does not have as much money as she does, and so she believes that love is more important than money. Nerissa and Gratiano are too in love.

Friendship is another strong theme in the Merchant of Venice. Bassanio and Antonio are very good friends as he lends money to Bassanio when he needs help. Although Bassanio has more than once borrowed money from Antonio, Antonio is still willing to help his friend in any possible way that he can. “To you, Antonio,” he confessed, “I owe the most in money and love…” My purse, my person,” Antonio says. Showing that he is more than happy to help his friend, and Bassanio knows that he will not have to ask twice. Antonio shows that he is a truly loyal friend when he is prepared to sacrifice his own life in exchange for his friend’s happiness. Bassanio is worried about his friend and is uncomfortable about the deal. “You shall not seal to such a bond for me, “I’d rather dwell in my necessity.” Salerio and Salanio are too good friends of Antonio’s and show they are worried for Antonio’s welfare.

“I would have stayed until I had made you merry” Salerio is prepared to stay to help his friend. Portia and Nerissa show qualities of friendship, as they are close friends. Nerissa and Portia will have a joined marriage. This shows that they are willing to share their personal lives. Nerissa is a reliable friend and supports Portia when the suitors come to try and defeat the three caskets and receive Portias hand. “By my troth, Nerissa,” she confided to her maid, “My little body is aweary of this great world.” Here Portia is showing Nerissa that she trusts her and is able to confide in her. Portia shows friendship when she is prepared to help out with re-paying the money owed to try to save Antonio’s life. So, in conclusion, friendship in the Merchant of Venice is shown and proved throughout with the trust and loyalty that Antonio and Bassanio share.

This shows how two friends are willing to help each other and stand by each other whenever they can. Antonio shows the greatest respect and self-sacrifice towards his friend, Bassanio when he shows that he is prepared to sacrifice his own life in order to make Bassanio’s dreams happen. “My extremest means lie all unlocked to your occasions.” Showing how everything Antonio has is available to meet the needs of his great friend Bassanio. Also, friendship is a very strong theme used as it shows how much we are willing to do for our friends and how loyal we can be. In addition to the theme of marriage, if it wasn’t for Antonio’s loyalty to his friend Bassanio, he and Portia would not be getting married. The caskets ensure that Portia will get a man who will love her for who she is and not her wealth.

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It is ironic that every other suitor does not choose the least likely leaden casket, and Bassanio does. This has a fairytale idea to it as Portia and Bassanio are really in love from the beginning as Portia shows she wants Bassanio to choose carefully. ‘I pray you to tarry, pause a day or two before you hazard for choosing wrong I lose your company.’ Portia wants to delay Bassanio, as she does not want him to pick the wrong casket and thus lose her hand in marriage. The other suitors are portrayed as being arrogant, and they believe that beauty is on the outside and that what the person is truly like does not matter. Bassanio sees that beauty and wealth are less important than what is on the inside of a person, and this is how Bassanio wins Portias hand in marriage. We can see throughout the play that in most cases, money, religion and social class do not matter when you are truly in love. As we see Jessica and Lorenzo in love, Portia and Bassanio are in love; it does not matter to Portia that Bassanio is in a lower social class than her. At the end of the play, the two rings are given to Bassanio and Gratanio.

The point of this is to show how easy Bassanio will give up a ring after he has promised that he will never part with it. “But when this ring Parts from this finger, then parts life from hence: O then be bold to say Bassanio’s dead,” Bassanio says that the only time when the ring will be removed is when he is dead. This also shows the friendship coming in with love and marriage. Bassanio is persuaded to give up his ring even though he loves Portia so much, so he does it for his friend Antonio, who helped him pervasively. So I think that the rings are used to show all of the themes in one situation and how they are each portrayed and how they overlap. Nerissa and Gratanio are too in love and will marry at a double wedding; this shows that marriage and friendship are overlapping.

Lastly, there are stereotypes; Jews during 1290 were banned from England if they practised their own religion. Throughout the centuries, Jews have suffered for their religion and Shylock is taunted for his religion. In Shakespeare’s day, the audience would have found Shylock hard to deal with as Shylock is a Jew, and in Elizabethan times, he would have been largely disliked. Shylock is called a ‘Misbeliever’; he says that Antonio “Spits on my Jewish gabardine.” Shylock is shown as an uncaring, money-orientated Jew. He is shown to care more about his ducats than his daughter. Antonio calls Shylock a ‘Dog,’ and Antonio replies that he would do so again. ‘I am as like to call thee so again, To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.’ Here we see Antonio’s hatred towards Shylock because he is a money-lending Jew who charges interest and plays off of other people’s misery.

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Women are below men and are told and expected to do what they are told; in most cases, they did not have a say in whom they would marry. An example of this is shown by Portia having to marry the man who picks the correct casket, even if she does not like him. ‘I may neither choose whom I would nor refuse whom I dislike.’ Obedience is expected from the men being a wife or daughter. However, Jessica defies her father Shylock and runs away with a Christian and Shylock’s money. So it is funny to see when Portia and Nerissa disguised as men to trick their husbands here, they are undermining their husbands and making a joke out of them. ‘We’ll see our husbands Before they think of us.’

So, In conclusion to how the themes overlap in the Merchant of Venice, I have shown that every theme is tied in with one another. Seen that Shakespeare’s point of the play, in my opinion, that money can’t buy you love, is very true and is shown throughout the play: Bassanio and Portia who finds true love, which is not based on wealth. Now having completed this essay, I think that there are two main theme’s money and friendship. These themes are constantly shown throughout the play. I think that the play is successful as it has different aspects to it love, revenge, betrayal and of course, the bond of a pound of flesh. The play has everything you need to make a good storyline, and I think that’s why it is a success.

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How The Themes of Love Marriage and Friendship Overlap in The Merchant of Venice. (2021, Aug 13). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from