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Some questions and answers of The Merchant of Venice

1. Which of the general characteristics of a romance during the Elizabethan period that
can be applied to this play? (Ludowyk)
The play was composed of various romantic stories from Italian and Oriental sources. Thus,
there are general characteristics of a romance that can be applied to the play. Namely, the
princess, the king or noble man who helps the worthy youth, the ogre, and a dreamy land
where all the good characters go in the happy ending.
According to Ludowyk, Portia is the princess, the prize for which all heroes contend. Her
actions also prove to be common ingredients in Elizabethan romances. Namely, her heroic
rescue of her beloveds friend, the ring she gives to her husband and the oath related to it.
What is more, she even compares her situation to that of Greek heroine Hesione in
Than young Alcides when he did redeem
The virgin tribute paid by howling Troy
To the sea monster. I stand for sacrifice (III.ii.55)
Her ring and the oath she demands from Bassanio further depict her as a princess. However,
she is also considered as a divine being, a saint by Morocco and a goddess by Bassanio.
Her role in the trial resembles that of angel God sent to save Issac as he was about to be
Antonio is the royal merchant, as the Duke describes him (IV. ii.29), a wealthy man of
prominent position whose generosity reaches a peak when he gives all he has for his friend.
He is pretty much like a king of true Christian virtue whose generosity contrasts with
Shylocks miserliness. As in many romances, he is linked to Bassanio, another romantic
character. This poor extravagant youth who may look as a fortune hunter, but who proves
himself worthy of a princess when he chooses right.
Furthermore, it is evident that the ogre in the play is Shylock. As Ludowyk states, Romance
works in with contrasting forces and characters, thus Shylock is the black to Antonios
white. A devil that opposes the good man is a classical religious fable and Antonio refers to
the Jew as a fiend in the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose (I.3.95). The main reason
for Shylocks portrayal as the evil creature is that he is a Jew and Europe considered them
as hateful infidels. Despite this, Ludowyk notes that it is not his religion what is central to
the play, but his vengefulness and lack of mercy.
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Belmont is the golden land where there is pleasure and happiness. It is the place where the
princess resides and the place where the good characters go at the end, to live happily.
These are aspects of fairy tales that Ludowyk mentions, however, he and other authors
agree that the play touches on deeper social and moral issues than the simple tales that
conform it. For Granville Barker, the characters were constructed in such a way that they
are real, human though their stories are fabulous.

2. What is the structure of the play built upon? How do the different parts in this structure
merge together to make a whole?
The structure of the play is built upon a set of trials and tests which are based on moral
criteria. The choice often depends on a matter of what is more important appearance or
reality. The choice between virtue and show in the three caskets plot and between mercy
and justice in the trial, are some examples.
The different parts in the structure merge together by means of this succession of tests and
the relationships among the characters.
At the opening there is the bond plot is connected to the caskets plot by means of a test that
requires Antonio to risk his life in the hands of his enemy for Bassanio, who is to be tested
in the casket plot to win Portia. Nerissa will test Portia as regards her faithfulness to her
oath to her father in the exposition of the casket plot. Then, again Antonio is tested, but this
time by Shylock not only as to the acceptance of the fantastic bond, as Ludowyk notes, but
also as to the acceptance of friendship offered by the very man he detested, which is what
Goddard notes of this part of the play.
The casket test follows with the suitors trying their luck at the lottery, while Launcelots
humorously tests his father and Jessica robs and leaves hers. She herself is tried by her
lover as he states in and true she is, as she hath proved herself ( Thus the
elopement plot is connected to the other plots.
In IV scene i comes the great trial scene, where mercy or, according to Goddard, the
substance of justice is proven to be superior to its word and how men can fall in ruin by
trusting more on the surface or the word of justice more than its essence. After the success
of this scene there is a the test of the husbands by means of the rings they have given away,
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and this time the merchant proves himself by giving his life and soul for his friend and the
play ends. All the plots are thus connected by a succession of tests.

3. Account for the parallelism that exists between the content of the caskets and the
characters of Antonio, Shylock and Portia (Goddard)
There is, according to Goddard a parallelism between the content of the caskets and the
characters of Portia, Antonio and Shylock, and even Bassanio. In fact, he views Portia and
Bassanio as the golden casket, Antonio as the silver, and Shylock as the lead casket.
In the case of Antonio, he is equated with the silver casket since he got as much as he
deserved, wealth and a suicidal melancholy. He is successful in his trade, yet he was made
for greater things than this and thus he is weary of his situation and feels hatred towards the
man that represents the error of his life, Shylock. The Jew dedicates his life to usury and
what is usury, says Goddard, but getting more money than that invested, and thus it is very
alike trade which is based on the same principle. This similarity, this reflection of ones
flaws on the stranger is what makes Antonio hate Shylock, though he does not notice it. He
even uses a word that will give him away when he tries to mark the difference between his
and Shylocks profession
This was a venture, sir, that Jacob served for;
A thing not in his power to bring to pass,
But sway'd and fashion'd by the hand of heaven.
Was this inserted to make interest good?
Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams (I.ii.83)
He states that it is unnatural for metal to reproduce as animals do, yet he uses the word
Ventures, the same word he uses to refer to his argosies, which do multiply and bring him
profit as Shylocks money, and thus his trade is quite similar to usury. Despite this, Goddard
considers that Antonio is not a hypocrite, just blind and cannot see the real thing that is
troubling him.
Shylock, on the other hand, is compared to the leaden casket with the spiritual gold within.
Goddard argues that there are many Shylocks living in the same character and that the gold
within is his humane, kindly and loving aspects which cannot come out because of the
constant insults and abuses he suffers. His daughter robbed and deserted him taking also the
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token of love from his dead wife only to give it away as if it was a trifle. His offer to lend
money gratis to Antonio seems to have been a supreme effort of the loving Shylock to come
to surface. In fact, Goddard suggests that the Jew tried in this way to actually establish a
relationship with Antonio and that the merry bond he mentions is just an afterthought, not
a real trap. His intention to catch the merchant on the hip may relate to having him not
killed but rather placed in the position Antonio does not want to stand. That is, as friends.
There are some instances in which this is seen. For example, just before he actually decides
to take his bond, Shylock laments Antonios losses since he will not be repaid: There I
have another bad match (III.i.35). Had he had in mind from the beginning to take the
merchants flesh, the news would have cheered him up.
What is more, it is Tubal the one that serves to confuse and drive him into despair by
alternating news from Antonio and Jessica to the point that he wants revenge. Even his
responses, like in Genoa? show that he is wholly preoccupied by his daughter still while
he receives the news of the merchant.
Now Shakespeare, says Goddard, made an effort to show Shylocks potentialities for good.
His vices are perverted virtues, his tyranny is a vitiated love of family and home and his
outward servility a depraved patience. He is shown to have more Christian spirit than his
Christian enemies. He offers the other cheek to the one who kicked him and tried to make a
friend out of him. Whereas the ones who wanted him to show mercy, the very Christians
who had regarded him more of a devil because he had refused to show mercy, punish him
and take revenge. Antonio cuts his heart by taking his profession and his religion. By taking
this mans religion, which comes with the community where he shelters and the profession
he has been exercising for many years, he cuts him from society and his loved ones.
Portia and is the Golden casket in that she is the fair gold that glistens on the outside,
yet she is something quite different on the inside. She looks fair and seems impartial, yet
she does judge her suitors by their appearance
Let all of his complexion choose me so (II.vii.83)
Moreover, Goddard writes that the casket in which she is locked prompts the suitor to give
and hazard all he had, yet there is nothing to indicate that she had ever sacrificed what she
had. The modesty she shows to Bassanio in wishing to be fairer and more wealthy are, to
Goddard, the simple desires of a fresh lover. Even when she plots to save Antonio, she is
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more concerned with the part that she will play and how she will deceive others with her
appearance, what is this if not the same thing the golden casket does. Even Bassanio
mentions it : the world is still deceived by ornament (III.ii. 73). Moreover, she showed
the appearance of the merciful angel that comes to save Antonio in the nick of time, yet she
does not show mercy to Shylock when the tables turn and he is the one under judgement.
Despite all this, Goddard also mentions that there is spiritual gold beneath the gold of her
superficial life. Her speech about mercy is an example of this. What is more, Bassanio, the
other golden casket is proven to deserve Portia and to have a spiritual depth we do not
notice at the trial of the caskets. At the trial he proves to be worthy of Portia when he states
that he would sacrifice all he had to save his friend.

4. How does the reference to Laban's story serve to unleash Antonio's flaw? (Harold

According to Goddard, the Jew uses the Labans story to depict the resemblance in his and
the merchants vocation. However instead of seeing this resemblance, Antonio sees in it an
attempt to justify usury. This vague attempt angers him since he cannot see that what he
hates in Shylock he catches his own reflection and what he dislikes in himself. His flaw is
not only that he hates the Jew for being a usurer and an outsider, but the fact that he does
not recognize why.
Furthermore, his hatred towards Shylock is most noticeable in the fact that he, the most
noble among merchants, despises the Jew and outdoes even the crude Gratiano. It is strange
that he does not express his hatred in a rational way, but with kicks and spits and that he
does not deny this

I am as like to call thee so again,

To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too (I. iii. 123)

His hatred and constant abuse of the Jew worked against him since Shylock is, as Goddard
says, the leaden casket. That is, he is capable of mercy and love, and had he been shown
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kindness on the part of Antonio, perhaps his actions would have been different and he
would not have seek vengeance.

Antonio does not see that beneath the appearance of respectful vocation, his is just the same
as Shylocks profession, and that they are both alike in another respect also, they are both
isolated, alone. Shylock is abandoned by his daughter and is forced to become a Christian,
thus is also isolated from his community. Antonio does not have a wife and loses Bassanio,
at the end of the play he stands alone among the happy couples.

5. Explain the metaphors behind Shylock's reasons for having Antonio's pound of flesh.
(Harold Goddard)

When shylock gives his reasons for having Antonios flesh, he uses a number of metaphors,
which Goddard regards as metaphors for psychological issues such as complexes,
compulsions and urges. He believes that Shakespeare used this imagery so as to show these
deep psychological problems.

The animals are thus symbols of deeper feelings that disturb the one who suffers them.
They are the feelings that the person cannot express. It might be the case that the rat stands
for the Christians who infested his house and corrupted it by taking his daughter. He is the
one who loathes a gaping pig for it represents heresy in Jewish tradition. The cat is often
associated with dreams and false images, but also with superstition and black arts. The
bagpipe is associated with mournful occasions and the fact that a man would urinate at its
sound might suggest fear of death. Thus, all these are fears within the psyche of a person
that he cannot help or explain. In this way, Shylock states he cannot explain his wish for the
pound of flesh more than as founded on hate and loathing whose cause he cannot verbalize,
even though he admits this urge shames him.

Again the theme of the play of appearance versus reality or the surface versus the content
can be seen here. Shylock is the casket and in his interior he hides forces that are
elemental, not human. Elemental, because they are not about the result of the particular
sufferings of this character, but of the injustice suffered by his ancestors. The man is no
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longer a man and he is described by Gratziano as having the soul of a Wolf (this may be a
reference to Lopez,-the physician whom seems to have inspired Shakespeares Shylock-
since lupus means wolf in Latin)

6. Where, according to Granville Barker, does Shylock's offence lie? (Granville Barker)

According to Granville barker Shylocks offence lies in his deep scorn for compassion. He
rejects showing mercy for Antonio despite the young judges and the Dukes appeal to
He even answers to the Duke as an equal with his what judgment shall I fear doing no
wrong? (IV.i. 124). He is so against the idea of forgiving even after the famous appeal for
mercy of the young judge that Barker states that he degenerates from avenger to butcher
when he further tells the rest that he will not show mercy and will have his bond.
Shylock clings to legality to fulfill his purpose and he does have the law on his side. As it is
mentioned by himself, if he were not given what he wanted, the law would have no value.
, If you deny me, fie upon your law!
There is no force in the decrees of Venice. (IV.i. 102)
and also by the young doctor
It must not be; there is no power in Venice
Can alter a decree established:
'Twill be recorded for a precedent,
And many an error by the same example
Will rush into the state: it cannot be. (IV.i.214)
However, this trust on the word of the law-on its surface, according to Goddard- will prove
his doom. He does not take into account the substance of law and he is trapped in the same
game he started. His insistence on the wording of the bond and his cruelty towards Antonio
is seen when he refuses to bring a surgeon in order to heal the merchants wound since it
was not written in the bond. Portia urges him to be charitable at least to the point of
assuring his victim will not die there, yet he refuses to do it
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It is not so expressed, but what of that?
'Twere good you do so much for charity.
I cannot find it. 'Tis not in the bond (IV.i.250)
Yet, he is further punished by means of the same law he so defended and is condemned for
trying to kill a Christian. Thus, in this punishment that is like a backfire of his own hatred,
reliance only on the surface of the law and lack of mercy, he ends up suffering the same
villainy he has just taught the Christians. This turn of events was expected and enjoyed by
Elizabethan audiences and is thus how Shakespeare rounds out the theme.