MOV OTHER ELEMENTS
The following break-down of each Act may help you to visualise how the action of the play is structured around the ‘problem’ of Bassanio’s debt:
ACT I: EXPOSITION Bassanio declares his intention to repay Antonio. The audience learns of the difficulties that stand in his path- the terms of Portia’s father’s will and Shylock’s determination to revenge himself on Antonio.
ACT II: RISING ACTION Complications ensue. Other suitors arrive to compete for Portia’s hand; the elopement of Shylock’s daughter strengthens his desire for vengeance.
ACT III: RISING ACTION Bassanio wins Portia, but the problem of the debt is more urgent than ever.
ACT IV: CLIMAX Portia’s unexpected appearance at the trial enables Bassanio to repay his debt of friendship.
ACT V: CONCLUSION The ‘interest’ on the debt is tallied up in the form of Antonio’s restored wealth and the lovers’ happiness.
Another view of the structure of The Merchant of Venice is that the action is circular: Antonio helps Bassanio to borrow money, which Bassanio uses to win Portia, which causes Portia to go to Venice to save Antonio. In this interpretation, the circle is completed at the end of Act IV of the play. Act V also serves to re-emphasise the theme of circularity through the episode of the rings.
Another way of looking at the structure of the play might be to see it as a two-stranded braid. Woven together are events in two settings, Belmont and Venice, as well as threads of two different stories – the tale of the three caskets and that of the pound of flesh. Here, too, the knot between the two strands is tied in Act IV, when Portia comes to Venice and resolves Antonio’s dilemma. Act V might be compared to the decorative tassel at the end of the braid- finishing off the play neatly and happily.
SYMBOL OF THE CASKETS
The inscription on the lead casket reminds us of the fact that Bassanio’s courtship of Portia literally involves a man who must “hazard all he hath.” (That would be Antonio, who risks his life to loan his best pal the money to woo the rich heiress.)
Portia is a wise woman. If her father didn’t create this scheme, she would have used a similar plan to avoid suitors she didn’t want to marry. She sung the song to give Bassanio hints as to the correct casket. She used the caskets to marry a man she wanted to marry. The caskets were used to portray the theme of the interrelationship of love and fate. She truly loved him, and the casket plan confirmed her love as destined. The casket plan was successful in choosing a good husband for Portia. It prevented her
from marrying the greedy Prince of Morocco, and the foolish Prince of Aragon. The plan worked well, choosing Bassanio, who loved Portia, and who was loved by her. Portia’s father was successful in choosing the best husband for his daughter.
Thus it can be said that the caskets proved to the audience that Portia and Bassanio were destined to be together. If previously, there were a few people who thought Bassanio didn’t deserve Portia and there were better suitors out there, Portia’s nasty comments and the unwise choosing of two of her suitors proved that Bassanio may actually deserve her. When he successfully chooses the right casket, we are forced to think that Bassanio is a smart person (if he were a fool he would’ve chosen the silver casket) who is ready to “hazard” all he has for her, which proves his dedication and tells us he doesn’t want her for her money as many thought before (otherwise he would’ve chosen the gold one). As a result, we think the two were destined to be a couple, and this strengthens their love.
The gold casket is a symbol of greed and of materialistic and shallow people who value surface over substance. Silver, while still precious, is not quite as luxurious as gold. The silver casket symbolises a more cautious greed. These are the people who make compromises in trying to fulfil their dreams — wanting to go for the gold but falling short. The lead casket ends up being the right choice. It is plain on the outside, but it holds an inner treasure. It represents Portia herself, who may one day grow old and plain, but who is beautiful and valuable on the inside. The inscription on the lead casket also says “Who chooses me must give and hazard all he hath,” which is the same in marriage.
It could be thought of Morroco as the Sun (greedy of more power, gleaming), Aragon as the moon (which gets only as much light from the sun as it deserves, to be able to be seen by other), and Bassanio as the youth of a star (simple on the outside, but with a great potential).
Also, the caskets and be thought of as diff types of women: gold being the flaunting and shiny women who on the inside are cold and greedy, silver as women who only get as much as they deserve, despite aspiring for wealth, and lead, like Portia, who are warm and don’t care about materialistic possession and wealth. These are the women in the end who get what the other two types want, as proved by Portia being beautiful and wealthy.
ROLE OF MUSIC
The usage of music plays different roles throughout the extract. As part of the stage directions, several times there are “flourish cornets”, or a sound of trumpets. These signal the arrival of someone important, and serve a purpose of attracting the audience’s attention so that they can focus on what is about to happen next, for eg. When the two suitors arrive. Shakespeare’s use of music also contributes to conveying different moods and atmospheres. In Shakespeare’s time, music indicated harmony, an ordered world where men and women acted together according to a divine plan. Harmonious music suggested that all was well with the world. Therefore, in the beginning of Act 5, when the climax was over and the play had reached its conclusion, the lengthy discussion of music by Lorenzo and Jessica, and then the harmonious sound of music playing indicated that all was well, and there would not be any more plot twists (indicating the play was a happy ending).
It is also notable that Shakespeare, by giving each character’s views on music, deplores their characters further. Shylock detests the sound of music, asking her daughter to “lock up my doors, when you hear the drum”. He is not a character who prefers entertainment, esp. in the form of music. Portia thinks of music as something signalling the mood or creating an atmosphere. She says that if Bassanio chooses correctly there should be a different “flourish” to indicate his triumph. Lorenzo, however, finds it as a tool of romance. He thinks of celestial objects when he talks about music in Act 5 (even the “smallest orb” “in his motion like an angel sings”). This shows he is a romantic character.
GEN. NOTE- Both Antonio and Portia are “weary” of their lives and the world in the beginning, as indicated by their opening lines in Act I Scenes I and II. A possible reason for this is that both are so rich that they don’t have time to enjoy the quietude of life.
SHYLOCK- ANTI_SEMITISM AND JEWS
Even before the play begins, the dramatis personae presents Shylock as an archetype, Shylock, the Jew. Throughout the play, the other characters consistently refer to him as simply, the Jew. This characterization dehumanises and depersonalizes Shylock and reduces him from a person to a category.
Shylock is an outsider, both literally (living apart from Christian society in the Jewish ghetto) and figuratively (being forced into the margins). He is continually insulted, degraded by the other characters and described in bestial terms as a dog and a wolf. At other points in the play, Shylock (and by extension all Jews) is equated with the devil and with evil. He is spat upon by Antonio and reviled even by his servants. Shylock s daughter, Jessica, abandons him by running away and marrying, and by symbolically leaving the Jewish faith and converting to Christianity. In the end, Shylock s greed leads to his ruin. He is left without a livelihood, and in many ways, without a life. Shakespeare s creation of Shylock mirrored the sentiments, fears and myths about Jews that were commonly held in his day.
The pound of flesh that Shylock seeks from Antonio is another extremely troubling aspect of the play. His inhumane (and unmerciful) cry for murderous vengeance adds to the despicable nature of his character, particularly in light of Portias words about the quality of mercy. Shylock s greed and lust for money are paralleled by his cruelty. One can read this scene as a contrast between the vengeful Jew and the merciful Christian. Strikingly, though, the mercy that Portia so eloquently describes is not ever extended to the Jews of the play.
In Shakespeare’s time Shylock was played as a comic figure. In the 1700s many actors created a monstrous and despicable villain. Later, in the 19th century Shylock was portrayed as a wholly sympathetic character. Starting in the Victorian period, and continuing through our contemporary times, most actors play Shylock as a tragic and human figure. While one can debate the nature of Shylock s character, there is no doubt that Shylock has been used to fossilise and perpetuate the stereotypes of the evil Jew as powerful, cunning, money-hungry, and inhuman. Stereotypical depictions of Jews may have had dangerous repercussions and fanned the fires of anti-Semitism, for eg the usage of the Merchant of Venice as a part of the Nazis’ propaganda campaign of the scapegoating of Jews.
At the end of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is virtually dead. He is disgraced and ruined at the trial, his daughter has abandoned both him and their faith, and he is destitute and forced to convert to Christianity. Literally, the Jew is dead. Shakespeare pushes Shylock even farther to the margins of Venetian society than we find him at the beginning of the play. His loneliness and isolation stand in sharp contrast to the union of the young lovers on the idyllic island of Belmont that marks the happy ending of the play. This leaves a disturbing impact on the audiences, considering that this action was why the play was a tragicomedy rather than just a comedy.