The two settings of Belmont and Venice seem worlds apart. Is this true?
The Merchant of Venice is a play which uses themes and the contrast between these themes to great effect. Situated across two main settings, it first appears that Belmont and Venice are extremely different places. However, despite their initial, apparent differences, as the play develops it becomes clearer that Belmont and Venice may be more similar as to how they may have first been perceived. We discover this as the varying themes, such as money, relationships, deception, religion and so on develop to become strongly interlinked between Venice and Belmont.
Money is probably the aspect which dominates, and it is a topic which is introduced right from the title, with a trader being one of the main characters, and the namesake of the play. In fact, right from the first scene, Antonio, (‘the merchant of Venice’) is asked a great favour by his friend, Bassanio in the form of a loan. Bassanio needs this loan as he has been careless with his own assets, just as he admits in saying:
‘’Tis not unknown to you Antonio,
How much I have disabled mine estate,
By something showing a more swelling port,
Than my faint means would grant continuance.’
Throughout the play it seems that money is the biggest motivator. We see this at the start of the play, whilst Bassanio is describing Portia to Antonio, and the first piece of information that he provides is that Portia is ‘a lady richly left’ and only following this does he mention that ‘she is fair, and – fairer than that word – of wondrous virtues.’ Straight away we see that wealth is more important than her beauty and virtues. From this we can also see how the possibility of gaining even more riches by marrying into Belmont is a big enough motive for Bassanio to see it worthwhile to increase his debts further to Antonio so as to have a bigger chance of winning Portia’s heart as well as her riches. It is interesting however, that it would be unlikely that an audience would think less of Bassanio for rating Portia's wealth above her virtues, especially when Shylock does something similar in relation to Jessica, and she is clearly being made to appear victimised. When Jessica goes missing it appears that Shylock is more concerned about the money that Jessica took from him than the fact that she has run away. This is shown when Shakespeare uses Solanio in Scene 8 to report his speech and at the same time comment on the morals of it. This is clever, as by having a character quote another character and then comment on the quote, the audience has less room to form their own opinions of the speech; instead the audience has a judgement forced upon them, and so Shylock is quickly made out to be the villain to everyone watching.
‘I have never heard a passion so confus’d,
So strange, outrageous, and so variable.’
Solanio says, expressing his amazement to how Shylock supposedly said,
‘My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!
Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!
Justice! The law! My ducats and my daughter!’
Above, Shakespeare uses language to reiterate how Shylock values money over his daughter. When saying ‘O my Christian ducats!’, it could be argued that he is angry either by the loss of money which he gained through extorting Christians, or is angry that his money is now tarnished now being owned and managed by a Christian. Regardless of this however, it is shocking that he calls for justice from the law to be dealt onto his daughter, obviously unwilling to forgive her theft from him simply due to his fatherhood of her. In this extract Shylock is clearly being made out to be the villain and from this we see that in Venice money can be so powerful and inherent in a Venetian’s world that it becomes destructive also. There is certainly a difference in Belmont in relation to the value of money. Shakespeare tries to teach the audience through the casket