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~ Rituparna Ray Chaudhuri

A certain question was given in Class-IX by a school.

How does Act I Scene 1 set the mood of the play The
Merchant of Venice?

-The moon shines bright: in such a night as thus.

When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees.
And they did make no noise.It is a genre, in which Shakespeare is a master. For the
other great comedy of the worlds literature, the comedy
of Moliere or Ben Jonson, is different in kind to his. The
play, The Merchant of Venice, resolves itself purely into
a simple form. It illustrates the clash between the
emotional and the intellectual characters, the man of
heart and the man of brain. The man of heart, Antonio, is
obsessed by tenderness for his friend. The man of brain is
obsessed by lust to uphold intellect in a thoughtless world
that makes intellect bitter in every age. Shylock, is a man
of intellect, who born into a despised race. It is a tragedy,
that the generous Gentiles about him can be generous to
everything, except to intellect and Jewish blood. Intellect
and Jewish blood are too proud to attempt to understand
the Gentiles who cannot understand. Shylock is a proud
man. The Gentiles, who are neither proud nor intellect,
spit upon him and flout him.
How like a fawning publican he looks!

I hate him for he is a Christian;

But more that in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
All we can say, is that in the tragedies, the dramatist
seeks to entertain generally mainly by playing on our
capacity to shudder and shed tears whereas in the
comedies are the Elizabethan feelings, whether humorous
or sentimental. Shakespeare has a careful selection of
the titles of his plays. His tragedies and historic plays are
named after the central character of the play. His
comedies on the other hand, are named after weak and
passive characters; similar is the case with the present
play. It has been named after Antonio, the merchant of
Venice, a weak and passive character suffering from
nameless melancholy. As with character, so with the
feelings, the gaiety and folly and pensive sentiments of
love are portrayed to the life, but not its pain, nor its
mystery-its profounder influence on the character of the
Let me play the fool:
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come,
And let my liver rather heat with wine
Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.
Why should a man, whose blood is warm within,

Sleep when he wakes , and creep into the jaundice

By being peevish?
If there is a moment of anxiety or sorrow, it passes and
leaves no mark when things go well again. Melancholy
Antonio is so not very melancholy at the end of the play,
though he has been in danger of a dreadful death hours
before. Shakespeare has been regarded as a master of
opening scenes. No matter what terms we may use, the
fact cannot be denied that an author, while portraying life
and human nature in his work, gives his own point of view
to us in the process. Every author looks a life from a
certain angle, and that determines the kind of reality he
depicts in his work.
Then let us say you are sad
Because you are not merry: and twere as easy
For you to laugh and leap, and say you are merry
Because you are not sad.
The opening scene of play The Merchant of Venice fully
illustrates this view. The play simply begins on a street in
Venice. Antonio , the protagonist, a rich and prosperous
merchant appears as a kind of a brooding man, who says
that he regards this world as the stage of a theatre on
which every man has to play a certain role, his own role
being a sad man.
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;
A stage where every man must play a part,

And mine a sad one.

Gratiano, another friend, who says in contrast that he
would like to play the role of a happy and jovial man
wanting that the wrinkles of old age should come to him
with mirth and laughter. He ridicules the man who is too
serious and solemn, and who pretends to be Sir Oracle,
wanting all others to become silent when he is about to
open his mouth to speak.
Ill tell thee more of this another time:
But fish not, with this melancholy bait,
For this fool-gudgeon, this opinion.
Salerino and Solanio, other friends, are talkative persons
as Gratiano is, though Gratiano has more wit and is more
glib-tongued than they. Solanio says that he too would be
feeling melancholy at this time if his ships were sailing
upon the sea; and Salerino elaborates this view as his
speech contains of vivid pictures of a ship being tossed
by the sea-waves and getting struck in shallow waters or
over-turning after a collision with dangerous rocks.
Should I go to church
And see the holy edifice of stone,
And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,
Which touching but my gentle vessels side
Would scatter all her spices on the stream,
Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks..

Salerino, in another speech is reasonably distinguishes

now between the two kind of men, those who are always
melancholy and sullen, those who are always laughing
and chattering.
Nature hath framd strange fellows in her time:
Some that will evermore peep through their eyes,
And laugh like parrots at a bag-piper;
And other of such vinegar aspect
That theyll not show their teeth in the way of smile,
Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable..
Bassanio, Antonios best friend, however, is a prodigal
young intelligent man, is also romantic with an
enterprising and adventurous spirit. He wants to try his
luck at Belmont but he has no money. He had previously
taken a loan from Antonio, whom he has not yet repaid.
He now asks him for again, another loan. He has an
ingenious and fertile mind therefore too. Asking for a
second loan, he refers over here to one of his boyhood
habits. He says that whenever as a school-boy he lost one
arrow, he used to shoot another arrow in the same
direction, succeeding in finding the first arrow, besides
recovering the second.
..I donot doubt,
(As I will watch the aim) to find both,
Or bring your latter hazard back again,

And thankfully rest debtor for the first.

compassionate natured heroine, Portia, who is quite
obviously resourceful and confident of herself can able to
take quick decisions to put them into action with
intelligent plans. She has been much praised during two
centuries of criticisms. She is one of the smiling things
created in the large and gentle mood that moved
Shakespeare to comedy. The scene in the fifth act, where
the two women, coming home from Venice by night, see
the candle burning in the hall, as they draw near, is full of
naturalness that makes beauty quicken at heart.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils;
However, though not directly, but through Bassanios
description of her in the opening scene, he is speaking to
Antonio about his to go to Belmont in an effort to win
her. In this description, loyal Portia is here described as
a lady richly left, as fair, and, fairer than that word,
and of wondrous virtues. Bassanio becomes eloquent
when he goes on to describe her:
Her name is Portia; nothing undervalud
To Catos daughter, Brutus Portia;
Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth,
For the four winds blow in from every coast

Renowned suitors;..
Of the mature comedy, the foundations of the major
stories of the play hence have been laid very clearly and
firmly. Indeed, Shakespeare became successful in his skill
of becoming an architect who had built up the plots with
his many-sided genius in the portrayal of his characters.
It is wonderful that Shakespeare has built up this play in
such a way that the impacts of each of the two stories
are found in the opening scene.
The Merchant of Venice consists of four plots- two major
and two minor, so intricately interwoven to form one
whole integrated story. The two main plots comprise The
Bond Story and The Lottery of Caskets. These two plots
are closely interlinked.
The main plot of this play
pertains to Antonio and the Jew and money-lender, and of
the bond that Antonio sighs and subsequently forfeits.
This story is known as The Bond Story.
Why thou-loss upon loss! the thief gone so much,
And so much to find the thief; and no satisfaction,
No revenge: nor no ill luck stirring but what lights
O my shoulders; no sighs but o my breathing;
No tears but o my shedding.
The other major story pertains to the will left by Portias
father, laying down the condition which a suitor of Portia
must fulfil before he can claim Portias hand in marriage.
This is known as The Casket Story.

O my Antonio, had I but the means

To hold a rival place with one of them,
I have a mind presage me such thrift
That I should questionless be fortunate.
Bassanio, asks therefore for a loan of three thousand
ducats from Antonio in order to be able to go to Belmont
to try to win Portia as his wife. Antonio, who has no cash
in hand, hence asks Bassanio to borrow money in his
name as the guarantor from some money-lender or
merchant. Both the stories hence have been set afoot at
the same time and the stories have closely interwoven
also. Without the one, the other has no obvious
significance of its own.
You know me well, and herein spend but time
To wind about my love with circumstance;
And out of doubt you do me now more wrong
In making questions of my uttermost
Than if you had made waste of all I have.
The two sub-plots in the play are- The Jessica-Lorenzo
love story and The Ring Episode. Both these sub-plots are
interrelated to each other and to the main plot as well.
However, this former story includes Jessica, Shylocks
daughter, falls in love with Lorenzo, a friend of Antonio
and Bassanio. Both the lovers go to Belmont, where Portia
entrusts them with the responsibility of looking after her

household, till she remains in Venice for the trial of

Antonio. When the Court scene reveals Shylock at his
most horrible and the Christians also not at very best, the
scene immediately shifts to a peaceful vicinity of
Belmont, where on a glorious moonlit night the run-away
lovers Lorenzo and Jessica are seen in Portias garden
engaged in a highly romantic conversation bandying the
names of lovers of bygone times and distant climes.
Lorenzo and Jessica get half the share of Shylocks wealth
when Shylock loses the case against Antonio.
The next episode constitutes one of the important stories
in the play. It is only after Bassanio wins the lottery of
caskets, that Portia marries him and gives him a ring as a
token of their love. She takes a promise from Bassanio
that he will never part with the ring. At the same time,
Nerissa married Gratiano and gives him a ring, with the
promise from him that he will not part with it at any cost.
The rings represent wealth as well as emotional value.
This is known as The Ring Episode, acts as an offshoot of
the Casket story. Then it is connected with the Bond Story
in the Trial scene, as Bassanio and Gratiano give their
rings to Portia and Nerissa respectively as a token of
gratitude for saving Antonio.
The quality of mercy is not strained
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath; It is twice blessed
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Justice and mercy, as delivered in the play, do not

appear to be as sweet, selfless and full of grace as
presented by Portia. The play depends on the theme of
appearance and reality to enrich the plot and to present
the atmosphere and to create the suspense in the
storyline. The exposition of the play is therein to the
audience to convey the circumstances that unfold,
leading up to the events of the play. Outward
appearances are liable to be deceptive. This principle is
best demonstrated through the lottery of the caskets. In
the choice of caskets, not only their appearance but the
mottoes inscribed on them are to be considered:
Gold: Who chooseth me shall gain what many men
Silver: Who chooseth me shall get as much as he
Lead: Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he
Thus the plot of the play, determines the general
framework but into it are fitted the other elements which
enrich and diversify their sense of pleasure. There is an
Elizabethan phrase-A Paradise of Dainty and Delight.
The phrase well described the romantic comedy except
that daintiness is not essential. Any delight has a right to
be admitted to the paradise. In the words of Raleigh, the
last Act of the play of The Merchant of Venice is an
exquisite piece of Romantic Comedy and Shylock has no
place there. It is easier to find an analogy to

Shakespeares comedies in musical compositions than in

his classical comedy proper. Shakespeare is closer to
Mozart that to Moliere.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

Are of imagination all compact.

orientation of words and its elaboration, contextualized
from Dr. S. Sen (of Critical Evaluations), Rajinder Paul,
Textual Workbook and other]
~ Rituparna Ray Chaudhuri.