Hi again! Your homework this week is to read the rest of The Merchant of Venice, watch my videotaped lectures below, and then post a comment about the assigned reading at the bottom of this page. The speeches that I refer to in my lectures are printed below each video. At the bottom of this page, below all of the videos, I give you some simple study questions to help you formulate a post. The study questions follow up on things I say in my lectures, so you may want to watch the videos first. Leave your post in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Some important speeches from Merchant 3.3-4.2:
Antonio explaining why Shylock's bond must be honored, 3.3.26: The duke cannot deny the course of law; For the commodity that strangers have With us in Venice, if it be denied, Will much impeach the justice of the state, Since that the trade and profit of the city Consisteth of all nations. Therefore go. These griefs and losses have so bated me That I shall hardly spare a pound of flesh Tomorrow to my bloody creditor. Well, jailer, on. Pray God Bassanio come To see me pay his debt, and then I care not! Portia devising the cross-dressing plot, 3.4.60: They shall, Nerissa, but in such a habit That they shall think we are accomplished With that we lack. I'll hold thee any wager, When we are both accoutered like young men, I'll prove the prettier fellow of the two, And wear my dagger with the braver grace, And speak between the change of man and boy With a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps Into a manly stride, and speak of frays Like a fine bragging youth, and tell quaint lies, How honorable ladies sought my love, Which I denying, they fell sick and died -- I could not do withal. Then I'll repent, And wish, for all that, that I had not killed them. And twenty of these puny lies I'll tell, That men shall swear I have discontinued school Above a twelvemonth. I have within my mind A thousand raw tricks of these bragging jacks, Which I will practice. Shylock rails at his Christian audience, 4.1.89: What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong? You have among you many a purchased slave, Which like your asses and your dogs and mules You use in abject and in slavish parts, Because you bought them. Shall I say to you, "Let them be free! Marry them to your heirs! Why sweat they under burdens? Let their beds Be made as soft as yours, and let their palates Be seasoned with such viands"? You will answer, "The slaves are ours." So do I answer you. The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is dearly bought, 'tis mine, and I will have it. If you deny me, fie upon your law! There is no force in the decrees of Venice. I stand for judgment. Answer: shall I have it? Portia's famous speech at 4.1.182: 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. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown. His scepter shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptered sway. It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself, And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this: That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much To mitigate the justice of thy plea, Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there. Bassanio seems to choose Antonio over Portia, 4.1.280: Antonio, I am married to a wife Which is as dear to me as life itself; But life itself, my wife, and all the world Are not with me esteemed above thy life. I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all Here to this devil, to deliver you. Portia has the key idea in the trial scene, 4.1.303: Tarry a little, there is something else. This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood; The words expressly are "a pound of flesh." Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh; But in the cutting it if thou dost shed One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are by the laws of Venice confiscate Unto the state of Venice. Portia punishes Shylock severely, 4.1.345: Tarry, Jew! The law hath yet another hold on you. It is enacted in the laws of Venice, If it be proved against an alien That by direct or indirect attempts He seek the life of any citizen, The party 'gainst the which he doth contrive Shall seize one half his goods; the other half Comes to the privy coffer of the state; And the offender's life lies in the mercy Of the duke only, 'gainst all other voice. In which predicament I say thou stand'st, For it appears by manifest proceeding That indirectly, and directly too, Thou hast contrived against the very life Of the defendant, and thou hast incurred The danger formerly by me rehearsed. Down therefore, and beg mercy of the duke.
Some important speeches from Merchant, Act 5:
JESSICA I am never merry when I hear sweet music. LORENZO The reason is, your spirits are attentive. For do but note a wild and wanton herd Or race of youthful and unhandled colts Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud, Which is the hot condition of their blood; If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound, Or any air of music touch their ears, You shall perceive them make a mutual stand, Their savage eyes turned to a modest gaze By the sweet power of music. Therefore the poet Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones, and floods; Since nought so stockish, hard, and full of rage But music for the time doth change his nature. The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
Write a comment on The Merchant of Venice Act 3, sc. 3-Act 5, sc. 1 and post it in the comments section below. Be sure to quote the text of the play at least once in your post. Consider answering any of the following study questions:
1. What can you say about Bassanio and Antonio’s same-sex romance? How does it take up or depart from the language used to describe heterosexual romance in this play? Do you think it has anything to do with Antonio’s depression? Does Portia and Nerissa’s friendship present any parallels with Bassanio and Antonio’s?
2. Shakespeare’s comedies typically depict their young heroes and heroines being transformed for the better, so that they deserve their happy ending. In The Merchant of Venice, the transformation of the characters is less apparent than usual (i.e., in other Shakespearean comedies). Do you think it is present at all? Or do these characters really not learn anything?
3. How does the cross-dressing subplot play around with notions of gender, especially when considered alongside Bassanio and Antonio’s homoerotic friendship?
4. The punishment of Shylock at the end of Merchant is difficult to stage for a modern audience, who won’t automatically take pleasure in seeing a Jewish person stripped of property, publically humiliated, and barred from practicing their faith. If you were directing a performance of this play, what are some decisions you might make when staging this crucial scene?
I encourage you to reply to your classmates’ posts if you want to. Also, feel free to ask questions that I can answer when we meet over Zoom.
36 thoughts on “Week 3 (Spring ’21): Act 3 Sc. 3 – Act 5”
When reading the ending of the Merchant of Venice, I was surprised to see two more women, Portia and Nerissa, cross dressing after Jessica cross dressed earlier in the play. How I interpret this theme of women dressing as men is that it represents the separation of daughter from father. For example, Jessica dresses as a man to sneak away from her father to elope without his permission, stealing his valuables along the way. Portia’s cross-dressing is in a similar circumstance; although Portia’s father is dead and she technically married the man her father wanted her to (the man who solved his riddles), she also somewhat cheated and hinted to Bassanio which casket was the correct one to choose. This choice, ultimately leading to Bassanio winning Portia’s hand in marriage, contradicts her father’s wishes as he wanted her to have no influence on the decision of who she would marry; not long after making this choice does Portia choose to sneak around while dressed as a man. While Nerissa is not as important of a character as Jessica or Portia, it can still be inferred that Gratiano did not ask her father for permission before taking her hand in marriage; during Shakespearian times, this would have been considered extremely disrespectful to the father. Shortly after doing this, Nerissa joins Portia in cross dressing. A quote that Portia said that stood out to me was “Ay, if a woman live to be a man”; Portia is referring to growing up and I interpret this as her saying that when she grows up she should be allowed to take her fate in her own hands. I thought it was especially interesting that she made this message clear by using a metaphor about gender.
I thought your representation of the distance between father and daughter was very well thought out, I never really thought of it like that and it really does make a lot of sense and I think that Shakespeare threw that representation into the play very quietly without many people noticing it.
Regarding the punishment of Shylock at the end of the play, I think that I would direct it as it is. I am a very realistic person and I feel like that if you changed anything to make it seem not as bad it would ruin the one of the main themes of the play which is Jewish Discrimination. Back
then Jews were ridiculed of their beliefs all the time and I think that is one of the main things Shakespeare is trying to show in this play, so I feel like it would be rude to not act out the whole thing. What I would do though to make sure everyone is comfortable in the audience is that I would put a warning in the play pamphlet that gets handed out. Also before the whole Act IV while our actors are changing I would Have someone come out and speak on the situation that is about to unfold in Act IV so the audience would now have two warnings before the situation unfolds.
Throughout the play we see the same-sex relationship between Bassanio and Antonio become the strongest in comparison to the other relationships in the play. In one scene their relationship even outweighs Bassanio’s relationship with his wife Portia. This is when they are all in the courtroom alongside Antonio while Shylock fights to implement the penalty of his and Antonios bond that could not be upheld. In this scene Bassanio states “I am married to a wife which is as dear to me as life itself, but life itself, my wife, and all the world are not with me esteemed above thy life. I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all Here to this devil, to deliver you.” (Act IV, Scene I, Lines 294-299). Bassanio is willing to sacrifice not only his own life which he states earlier in this scene, but his beloved wife in order to save the life of Antonio who he clearly loves more than just a friend. In relation to Antonios depression I believe the relationship between him and Bassanio is a big factor. Part of the reason Antonio may be depressed is because of the loss of Bassanio, the person he loves the most. I do see some parallel between the relationship of Antonio and Bassanio in Portia and Nerissa, but not so much in a romantic sense, more of a best friends relationship. I think Portia and Nerissa are close which we see when they team up to go in disguise to the courthouse to help Antonio.
#2: I believe that the transformation of characters in The Merchant of Venice is somewhat present. None of the characters seemed to have a major change in their personalities except for Portia. I think that love caused Portia to learn the value of being in a relationship and all of the sacrifices that come with it. Because they are married, Portia has to allow Bassanio to be in charge of everything she owns. If following the theme of this play, this is a big thing for Portia, because she values money so much. One thing that suggests that Portia has learned to be more selfless is the idea that Portia not only allowed Bassanio (it is his money now, but she did not seem to put up a fight about it) to take a lot of her money to try and save Antonio, but she ended up saving Antonio herself. She did not have to do this because Antonio is only Bassanio’s friend, and she has no relation to him. Throughout the play, Portia hated the men that pursued her because they did not have enough money, weren’t attractive enough, or lacked something that would benefit her. But, she loved Bassanio from the moment she met him. It is not like Portia to change how she looks and possibly sacrifice a lot of her money for a stranger. But, she most likely did it because she loves Bassanio and sees how close to his heart he holds Antonio. She feels love for Bassanio and does not ever want to see him heartbroken from losing a friend or someone close to him. She saw how much he cared for Antonio and wanted to help him free his friend. In fact, in Act 3, scene 2, around line 150, Portia tells Bassanio that she has a lot to learn when it comes to being a wife, but for him she will try to learn. For these reasons, I believe that Portia has been one of the only characters to learn and change the most throughout this play.
In Act IV, Scene 1, lines 402-404, Antonio makes Shylock become a Christian, saying “Two things provided more: that for this favor. He presently become a Christian.” Portia then rubs in it in line 409, saying “Art thou contented, Jew? What dost thou say?” I find it difficult to watch Shylock be treated so cruelly. This is not because I like Shylock or even care what happens to him, as he also has often acted in cruelty, but because I am aware that his humiliation is for the pleasure of an audience who enjoys indulging in anti-Semitic Jewish stereotypes — an audience that enjoys hating those who are different than themselves.
I know essentially nothing about theatre and how to stage a performance. However, if I were directing a performance of the Merchant of Venice, I would make as little change as possible to the trial/courtroom scene. I would simply attempt to be as true to Shakespeare’s original material as possible. I believe it is important for individuals to watch things that may make them uncomfortable, as it is how we grow and mature as a society. When we can identify things that are wrong and why they were wrong, we can learn how to make more moral decisions in the future. I certainly would not cut anything out of the play, as we cannot revise history because it hurts our feelings or makes us uncomfortable. However, the one thing I would do is put a disclaimer/informative message before the play begins, explaining Shakespeare’s intended audience and that any religious portrayals in the play are not reflective of the theatre’s own views.
I do not particularly see any transformation of characters towards the end of the play. Portia and Shylock are the two characters who solidified this idea. Portia is seen as a cruel and morally inferior character throughout the play, and her character remains static to the end. This can be seen during the trial scene when she was disguised as Balthazar and continued to punish Shylock (after establishing he cannot take a pound of flesh from Antonio without spilling a drop of blood) by stripping away his property and publicly humiliate him. Instead of a transformation for the better, I think Portia dived even further into her cruel and mean character. For Shylock, we understand his backstory and history (interactions) with Antonio, which led to his deep hatred toward him. I honestly believe Shylock could have taken a different path from revenge and had mercy on Antonio, but it was known in the text that he was already well-consumed by this obsession with revenge. I found it noteworthy how, although money is dominant and was seen as a primary focus of the play and Portia’s powerful speech about mercy, Shylock is blinded by his rage that he refused the money Bassanio offered him–no matter how much it was (more than the agreed amount). All in all, Shylock kept his title of being the villain until he lost the trial. Shylock’s continuation of being a villain can be seen a few times throughout Act IV, Scene 1: (lines 86-88, 100-101, 249-251).
If every ducat in six thousand ducats
Were in six parts, and every part a ducat,
I would not draw them. I would have my bond.
The pound of flesh which I demand of him
Is dearly bought; ‘tis mine and I will have it.
Proceed to judgment. By my soul I swear
There is no power in the tongue of man
To alter me. I stay here on my bond.
I believe the character transformation is minimal in the merchant of Venice. If any it is very subtle and not many characters went through this transformation. One character that sort of changed is Portia. In the beginning no man was good enough for her because he didn’t have money or was handsome enough and other things like that. When she meets bassanio she likes him immediately but he doesn’t have money so this is a subtle change in who Portia believes is good for her. Even in marriage Portia sacrifices a lot for bassanio which we wouldn’t think she would do for any man in the beginning of the play. Even after this she still was cruel to Shylock which was more like the Portia in the beginning of the play. So Portia changed for a bit in the play but ultimately was still overly cruel in the end.
Character transformation is certainly not a key feature of this play, but I do think that it is at least slightly present in Portia. When Portia first appears she is depicted as a wealthy, helpless, conceited girl who’s life is largely dependent on the wishes of other people. She had no choice in who she married and her only companion was Nerissa who she wasn’t terribly close with. After her engagement with Bassanio, Portia begins to change. When she disguises herself and goes after Bassanio to help Antonio she’s not only making her own choice for the first time in the play, but she’s also doing something for someone else for the first time. In her role as Balthazar she proves herself to be a capable and intelligent woman who loves her husband enough to save Antonio, whom she’d never met. Through her engagement with Bassanio, Portia also gains new friends and acquaintances that she welcomes into her home at the end of the play. Although Portia’s character is still morally the same and still holds the same judgmental and cruel beliefs, I do believe she’s grown and remains capable of change.
In literature, it is usually the case that by the end of the story the protagonist(s) go through a transformation where the character(s) grow and develop for the better. In the Merchant of Venice, it does not seem that by the end of the story the characters have gone through a transformation or changed. One might expect a sort of final transformation to happen after the trial between Antonio and Shylock. After we get to the point where it is revealed that Shylock has “lost” and will not receive the pound of flesh or any ducats, Antonio has demands for how Shylock is to be penalized. Among these demands is Shylock’s conversion to Christianity. This forced conversion is practically rubbing salt in Shylock’s wound all the while Antonio’s friend Gratiano is constantly poking fun at Shylock. Traditionally at this point we would expect a character in Antonio’s position to show Shylock forgiveness and ask that he not be penalized, with this transformation being of Antonio’s anti-semitic feelings towards Shylock; however, none of this happens. Shylock has been “defeated” and Antonio and company carry on unchanged internally and no better morally.
In the Merchant of Venice I don’t think we see the character development that we usually do in other Shakespearian plays. We see Portia act as if she is above everyone else for the whole play and proceeds to trick the men in the judgement scene. Bassiano actually says that he would choose Antonio over Portia. This just shows the love between the two of them and shows the seemingly lesser love for Portia. It’s almost as if their marriage is just an afterthought for Bassiano and he actually prefers Antonio. Also, we see Shylock lose everything he owns after he wanted to get his revenge on Antonio and it backfires in his face. So he doesn’t develop much either as he just walks away empty handed. In this play I just don’t see much or if any of character development for any of the characters.
I think Portia was the one who learned the most. The other characters didn’t really change at all because Bassiano ended up marrying Portia to use the money for his own sake which is what he intended to do in the first place even though he was in love with Portia. Also the others didn’t change since the hate aganist Anataino and Shylock still remain leading to Shylock’s converting and receiving a bad punishment. I think Portia had hange throughout the Merchant of Venice because at first, she didn’t want to marry someone because of how they are from inside but the outside. She at first didn’t know how to love someone emotionally but later on she was able to learn how to love. Her being in a relationship, she learned that there are sacrifices to make in marriage because she valued money more than love. In Act 3 Scene 2 lines 311- 327 Portia is willing to pay triple in what Bassaino told Shylock that he would pay, she says to him “ I love you dear,” meaning that she is changing the way she thinks of others by paying to free the life of a stranger who has not high status or is someone she knows. But when it came to Bassiano she sacrifices her money to help her husband’s friend. This decision that she made was something that Portia at the beginning of the play wouldn’t do, and she didn’t have to do that but she did anyway. She did it because she is in love and wouldn’t want her lover to suffer from losing someone and maybe because she didn’t want to lose him as well.
Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, has a peculiar “happy” ending in which it is questionable whether the characters have evolved and learned something. I believe the characters haven’t learned anything and are the same as they were when introduced to the play. The play ends with Nerissa and Portia picking a fight with their husbands about giving away the rings. Portia exclaims, “Even so void is your false heart of truth. / By heaven, I will ne’er come in your bed / Until I see the ring!” (5.1, 203-205). Both women feel betrayed by Bassanio and Gratiano and are suggesting cheating with other men. Their relationship seems rocky and the men did not really learn to value the woman as they should. The characters in this comedic play were made to be flawed for satirical purposes so it makes sense that they would come out still acting immature. Another example is Jessica and Lorenzo receiving Shlyock’s assets which they did not deserve as Jessica already abandoned and stole from him. The couple do not seem to feel any sympathy for Shylock and ironically don’t show mercy. The ending of the play is bittersweet and the characters are still centralized around money and material items similar to the beginning.
For the punishment of Shylock, I think that I would try to direct it how it is. Although it was originally written for the audience to laugh about, I think directing it this way would show how different we are today compared to the past. Shakespeare wrote things in a certain way to make his audience experience all types of emotions, so to get rid of or alter a scene that does exactly this could be seen as disrespectful to such a talented writer. I think that I would have a narrator come out before the scene started to warn the audience about what is going to happen next, and I would give the audience members time to leave the room if they wanted. Other than that, I would direct it as it was written.
I would argue that the characters’ transformations in The Merchant of Venice are definitely less apparent than usual, but I do think that they are present, at least slightly. This is because most of the main characters did not undergo any significant changes during the play. The young characters do change slightly from the beginning of the play to the end of the play. The most obvious example of this is in Antonio. Antonio starts off the play expressing that he is sad and for a reason that is not explicitly stated, but by the play’s end Antonio is happy. “Sweet lady, you have given me life and living;/ For here I read for certain that my ships/ Are safely come to road” (Act V, Scene 1, Lines 306-308). This quote from Antonio shows that he is thankful to Portia for saving his life and he finds out, in this moment, that his ships have come back safely, so he has kept his wealth. I find that characters like Bassanio have not really learned anything during the play. At the beginning of the play, Bassanio exploits his friendship with Antonio by borrowing 3,000 ducats from him, and at the end of the play, Bassanio easily gives away the ring that Portia gave to him. This shows that he has not learned anything from his experiences and therefore has not undergone any sort of transformation. I would say that Portia underwent a little bit of a transformation herself in this play. When Portia is first introduced to us in the play, she seems as if she is only concerned with outwardly appearances, but as the play progresses and as we see in Act 4, Portia saves Antonio’s life. She could have been doing this for selfish reasons, but I like to think it’s because she would not want her husband, Bassanio, to have to mourn over the loss of his best friend.
Even in the very beginning of the play we saw the very strong relationship between Antonio and Bassanio. In the beginning we saw that Antonio would do a lot for Bassanio. He even made a deal with Shylock for money for Bassanio in return of a pound of his own flesh if the debt is not repaid. Antonio then goes bankrupt with all of his ships gone and Shylock demands the flesh. In the courtroom scene we see the same-sex relationship between Antonio and Bassanio. Bassanio offers Shylock double the money, and he denies it. Bassanio then offers Shylock his own life in order to save Antonio, “The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood!” (Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 114-115). And in the end a lawyer who Bassanio does not know is Portia in disguise saves Antonio’s life, and Bassanio wants to repay the lawyer with all the money he came with. But the lawyer said only that ring will repay, he explained he couldn’t do that because he promised his wife he would never take it off as a symbol of their love. But Antonio persuaded Bassanio to pick him over Portia, and he did, he gave the lawyer(Portia) the ring.
Regarding Shylock’s punishment: one possible way around this is to somehow place less significance on his “Jewishness” during the scene. This may not be terribly convincing, as Shylock’s “Jewishness” is ubiquitous throughout the play. Perhaps I would omit his forced conversion to Christianity.
-For question 1 in the study questions, I noticed Bassanio and Antonio’s relationship with each other in Act 4, scene 1, lines 273- 278, Bassanio states:
“Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself.
But life itself, my wife, and all the world
Are not with me esteemed above thy life.
I would lose all—ay, sacrifice them all
Here to this devil—to deliver you.”
I interpret their relation not as a same-sex romance but more of a friendly relationship, although I do remember a previous discussion in class about them holding hands in a scene. Bassanio is showing how he would do anything to save Antonio during the trial and it shows the closeness of their relationship. I also noticed how strong their relationship was when Portia is disguised as the lawyer and requests the ring on Bassanio’s hand as a gift of appreciation for her service. At first Bassanio is reluctant because the ring was given to him from his wife (Portia) who he had just been engaged to and it was very important to him. However, when Antonio tells Bassanio to let him have the ring to show him how thankful they are for his service, Bassanio gives the ring away right away. It is almost as if Antonio is more important to Bassanio than his wife Portia. I think that Portia and Nerissa’s relationship parallels Bassanio and Antonio’s because both are very close friends and are usually with each other throughout the scenes in the play. They also both help each other out in various instances.
-For question 4, since, the punishment of Shylock at the end of Merchant is difficult to stage for a modern audience. Shylock is stripped of property, publicly humiliated and barred from practicing his faith. I would make a notice at the beginning of the play, so the audience knows that the time period the play was written was different. I would also change the language so it isn’t as offensive and targeting towards his religion, but still is somewhat true to the story and language in the play. Maybe if Shylock dressed differently than the rest of the cast it would be a less offensive way to target him out, rather than using so much negative and discriminative language towards him.
In The Merchant of Venice we can see the transformation of characters being present. One specific example would be Portia. We can view Portia as having major influence in the scenes because of her battle with love, marriage, and important relationships like her fathers. Portia values monetary aspects a lot in her life and we see this throughout the play. We see that people in the play only want to be in her life for the money. Portia has had to change drastically in the play like because she is married to Bassanio, he has to be the head of everything she owns now. We see change when it comes to her allowing him to take over the monetary aspects of her life. We also see change when it comes her loving Bassanio since we met him in the play and it gets stronger and deeper.
After reading the play, The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare , I was disappointed. I assumed more of a dramatic ending because when I think of the Shakespeare’s plays that I have read in the past, they have been overly dramatic with some sort of death. For example the plays Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet or Othello. My prediction within the first Act, I thought that either Shylock or Antonio were going to die. Then after hearing your lecture about how Shakespeare writes his comedy, I realized what I read what was more of a comedy than a romantic play. You said in your lecture that he makes his scene before the final scene have more of the problem resolved than the final scene. The final scene is more of the aftermath of what the problem is was throughout the whole play. I understood that this is a comedy and now I can compare the structure of how William Shakespeare used romantic plays versus comedy plays. My thought was that Portia will tell Bassanio that she had heard everything he said about their marriage compared to his love for Antonio and then she would either kill him or have Shylock kill both Antonio and Bassanio. Or the ending could have insisted of a love triangle between Antonio, Portia and Bassanio be focused on and ending with the unexpected; Antonio and Bassanio giving rings to each other.
I kind of focused on the question if any players learned any lesson and I would say not at all. The story kind of ended the best interest for everyone instead for Shylock who I don’t think the result of the trial really made him too upset. He carried on. Portia and Bassanio end up together , Jessica and Lorenzo are together and Nerrissa and Gratiano are together. Unfortunaly if we were to extend this book, I bet not one would last. I believe that Bassanio and Antonio belong together because he says, “But life itself, my wife, and all the world are not with me esteemed above thy life. I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all here to this devil, to deliver you” (Lines 281-285) shows that Antonio means a lot more than his whole life and that takes a lot of love and care for someone.
Overall, I enjoyed the play The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespheare. It had a fun storyline that would have kept me seated if I were sitting watching the play in person.
I think it’s pretty well known that back in the days that this play is set in, women did not have the freedom to act as they wished. And, as was discussed in class before, many times the obstacles around women were the men (mainly fathers) in their lives. In Portia’s case, I don’t imagine it would be an easy pill to swallow that she married a bankrupt man, and now that man has complete control over the estate she had been in charge of. And lets not forget that besides a pretty face, there really isn’t anything that Bassanio can give in exchange for her love and estate (which, as discussed in the first two acts, is her real source of worth). As we know from Act 4, Bassanio values his relationship to Antonio more than the commitment he made to Portia when he gives up the ring. And I think it’s important to note that Bassanio only gives up the ring after Antonio tells him to. “My Lord Bassanio, let him have the ring./Let his deservings and my love withal/ Be valued ’gainst your wife’s commandment.” (Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 467-469) So what does she really get out of her efforts in this story? A halfhearted husband who’s secretly in love with his patron? Or maybe it was the loss of control over her estate? The way I see it, she hasn’t evolved at all during the play. And her presence as a woman is only that of an object for the men around her. Her value is only at the surface level, not her personality, her intelligence, or her opinions.
The most empowered Portia we see in the entire play is when she’s crossdressing. And I believe that’s because she can finally step out of her societal roles of a woman and show her quick wit and intelligence without feeling like she’s emasculating the men around her. Which, if we look back into the first and second acts of the play we see her manipulation of words to insult her suitors without them realizing. She only outright says what she thinks when she is alone with Nerissa. But when she is crossdressing she has no qualms with being bold. And her cleverness is on full display when she “defeats” Shylock. Which must have felt great, to be praised for something other than her external traits. This probably gave her the courage to confront Bassanio about his priorities with the ring trick. But then when she gets back home and tries to confront him again, she buckles and they come to a “happy” conclusion. There was probably a moment when she realized that he didn’t respect her as much as he did when she was a man. While I know Portia’s not supposed to be a “good character”, and I don’t believe what she did to shylock was right, I personally pity her by the end of the play. Because if she were born a man, then there’s no doubt that he would be one of the most influential men in the country, with that level of money and brain. But sadly she was born a she, and thus is watered down by society.
Bassiano’s and Antonio’s same sex-relationship has become stronger as the play carries out, compared to all of the other relationships we were introduced to. As the play begins, we were shown that Antonio would do anything for Bassino. He would do anything for him, which includes Antonio making a deal with Shylock; if Antonio doesn’t have all the money that Bassino owes to Shylock, Shylock will take a pound of his flesh if the money isn’t returned. After that, we learned that Antonio has gone bankrupt due to his ships sinking, resulting in Antonio not having the money to give to Shylock. In Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 273-278, Bassino states.
“Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself.
But life itself, my wife, and all the world
Are not with me esteemed above thy life.
I would lose all—ay, sacrifice them all
Here to this devil—to deliver you.”
One of the important events to me was the courtroom scene, and it showed that Bassino would do anything to save Antonio.
Throughout the entirety of the play characters didn’t alter much in the sense of their role or characteristic. Of the characters I do think Portia had a change in character when comparing her from the beginning of the play towards the end of the play. We see in the beginning of the play Portia as a rich character with her only priority being herself. She also saw that no man was worthy of being her husband, until Portia got married to Bassanio. Everyone hears the saying that a loved one brings the best out in someone, I do think Bassanio is what resulted in Portia changing, she began to act selfless and an example would be when she also gained new friends which she welcomes into her home at the end of the play. She hasn’t changed completely by any means necessary, but I do think she can change in the future. I think this is because I think her marriage with Bassanio will affect her moral and cruel beliefs.
I agree that Portia has definitely changed in becoming more accepting and more selfless. I think that her marriage to Bassanio is necessary in order to bring out this change in her. Otherwise, she may have carried the same mindset throughout the rest of her life. Even though she hated her father’s test to determine her true husband, it was actually his way of making her grow as a person.
I think that the main part of Shylock’s punishment that makes it a shock to modern audiences is the fact that he has to give up his Jewish faith. The main factor in the play that was intended to demonize him is the fact that he is a Jew, and that just wouldn’t translate well to modern audiences. As a character, he is definitely less than moral due to his insistence on killing Antonio without showing any mercy. I think that all of the other punishments inflicted on him are acceptable to be staged today. Antonio insists that Shylock “presently become a Christian” (Act 4, Scene 1, line 2312) in order to fulfill his punishment. Perhaps omitting the part about stripping him of his Jewish faith would be necessary.
Throughout the play we see Bassanio and Antonio’s relation progress, which I think is a bromance, but there are also some things that make me think otherwise. I mean Bassanio would choose Antonio over his wife, so that has to say something about the gravity of their relationship. In my honest opinion I think their relationship is probably one of the strongest ones in the book. To go back on what I was saying about Bassanio choosing Antonio his wife and anyone else, I want to present a quote taken from Act IV, Scene I. “I am married to a wife which is as dear to me as life itself, but life itself, my wife, and all the world are not with me esteemed above thy life, I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all here to this devil, to deliver you”. This quote shows that Bassanio is willing to throw his whole life away to save Antonio and I do think this plays a role in Bassanio’s depression throughout the play. In regards to Portia and Nerissa, I think they are close, but not as close as Antonio and Bassanio.
The cross-dressing subplot play around with the notions of gender because it is when men perfer to wear womens clothing or when women perfer to wesr mens clothing. Even though these individuals dress as the other gender, it does not change their identity or personal sex. Most cross-dressers have an inter thought or intuition that they belong to the opposite sex, and this is called gender dysphoria. In Shakespeare, there are many different ways you could look at cross-dressing; the heroibnes construct their masculine appearance before traveling, cross-dressing women are active and determined rather than passive and submissive. There are four different ways you can go about active behavior in Shakespeare and they are verbal activity, clever manipulation, open defiance, and disguise which is cross-dressing. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s marriage is restricted by her father but because she is not submissive to her father completely she is able to go against it and marries the husbands she loves because of helping Bassanio with his casket. Portia got Bassanio to trust her by helping him pay off his debt to Antonio. Portia disguises herself to save Antonio’s life, and that is when Bassanio gave disguised Portia his ring. This is important because he gave his ring as a sign of his heterosexual commitment to someone he believes to be a man and because he gave his ring to thank Portia for Antonios life, like he is committing Antonio as a husband because that is what you do for someone you love. In the end it is proven that the female Bassanio chooses to love is able to cross the gender line by cross dressing which goes to show that Basaanio can love either gender.
The character transformation wasn’t as dramatic as I intended it to be. The only character that I could see a change in was Portia. At the beginning of The Merchant of Venice, Portia acted like she was “better” than everyone else(as you could say). She didn’t think she needed a man and that no man was “good enough” for her for multiple reasons. But, when she met Bassanio that changed. She started liking him very quickly. Even though Bassanio didn’t have money or some things that she was turning down men before him, she still gave him a chance. This makes Portia not only change in the story but it changes my perspective of her as a person. She works hard to not be the same Portia like she was at the beginning of the book.
Bassiano and Antonio’s same-sex romance has been hinted at several times throughout the play. While it is not explicitly said, I do believe that there is a high possibility that there is something more than just what is commonly referred to as a bromance. There are times where it seems that Bassiano views Antonio as more important than Portia, his wife. In most cases, even if a best friend needs help, your significant other comes first. In Act 4, Scene 1 lines 113-115 Bassiano says “Good cheer, Antonio! What, man, courage yet! / The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all / Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood!” This quote made me think that if push came to shove, Bassiano would choose Antonio over Portia because to me he’s saying that he would rather die before seeing any harm come to Antonio. I think that the same-sex romance between Bassiano and Antonio does have to do with Antonio’s depression. Even though Antonio denies being in love in the first act of the play, I believe that part of Antonio’s depression is due to the fact that he doesn’t have Bassiano and now that Bassiano has married Portia, he probably never will. I don’t see any parallels between Portia and Nerissa’s friendship with Bassanio and Antonio’s. The two girls are close, but it seems that neither one of them would willingly give up their own life to save the other.
Throughout this play, there isn’t any very obvious character transformations from beginning to end. One character that showed a little bit of development in my opinion was Portia. In the beginning of this play she came off as materialistic and thought that no man would ever be good enough for her, neither looks-wise nor money-wise. When she meets Bassanio her outlook on love changes and she has a bit of a change of heart and becomes a little less self centered. She dresses as a boy and helps to save Antonio, even though she’s never met him before, and in doing so is showing her growing sense of care for Bassanio and his love for Antonio. She still had a certain sense of cruelty towards other people like Shylock and definitely wasn’t completely transformed, but her character probably shows the most development over the course of this play in my opinion.
In my opinion, Bassanio and Antonio’s relationship blossoms into the most powerful and resonant of the entire play during the last 2 acts. Shakespeare’s usage of diction that depicts common wedding vows such as the words “bound” and “swear” show me that both Bassanio and Antonio are confident in their relationship, and don’t foresee an end to it. One of Antonio’s statements reading “I once did lend my body for his wealth, / Which but for him that had your husband’s ring / Had quite miscarried. I dare be bound again, / My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord / Will never more break faith advisedly” (V.i.268-272) suggests to me that both Bassanio and Antonio are fully committed to each other unlike they were to their wives. Being the only homosexual relationship we see throughout the play, it is important that this specific diction is used to suggest the committal of their love for each other. I think that Portia and Nerissa’s relationship is conveyed only to support the comedy of the play, as in the end they are truly left to no one but each other, and are not devastated by this.
The characters in The Merchant of Venice don’t change much. I don’t think they change for the better at all. Antonio gets his happy ending in the form of his lost ships returning to port, but he didn’t do anything or change in any way to deserve that ending. Antonio is basically the same character throughout the play. Portia is just as petty at the end of the play as she was at the beginning. Bassanio picks the right chest but if Portia is poor I don’t think he would care about her. If there was a change in the characters I missed it. All the characters have been through an experience that is important in their lives but it doesn’t seem to have changed them at all. There are no consequences for any of their actions. The argument over the rings in scene 5 seems more like a joke than an actual moral lesson. If anything the characters may have gotten a little worse which is kinda funny. The end was the only bit of the play that I thought was actually funny in a modern sense. It is technically a happy ending but with all the characters in conflict at the end it doesn’t feel that happy. I found that to be comedic.
When staging this play, you must do so carefully. It is a very very delicate situation, especially when Shylock is punished. How do you stage a Jewish man being stripped of all his property and wealth and everything he’s gained? And having him renounce his Jewish faith? Absolutely not. I would remove that line altogether as it isn’t necessary and is just there to demoralize him as a Jewish person. How do you do that without falling prey to stereotypes or upsetting the audience members? I’m almost tempted to have it be done offstage. It would not be violent, the lighting would change from colorful, to muted or drab. Maybe he’d be stripped of an expensive coat or hat, and have people crossing the stage holding his belongings. It is an important scene but it does not need to be drawn out and dramatized.
At first glance of Antonio’s and Bassanios relationship I thought it was just a deep friendship. But as you dig deeper into the play it is proven to be shown as much more then that and perhaps could be considered a same sex romance. I think this part of the play is a key component that shows that Bassanio seems to choose Antonio over Portia, 4.1.280:
“Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself;
But life itself, my wife, and all the world
Are not with me esteemed above thy life.
I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all
Here to this devil, to deliver you.”
It shows that Bassino would do anything to save Antonio’s life. I remember him being in debt to Bassanio but I think this passage goes above and beyond to show how he feels towards Antonio. I think this has a lot to do with Antonios depression because he feels as if he will always have to do what Bassanio requests. This wouldn’t be considered a normal relationship but I think shows the deep connection that the two have together. I believe Portia and Nerrissas relationship align with Bassanio and Antonios but I wouldn’t consider them I a romantic one.
3. Shakespeare uses the act of cross-dressing as a subplot to show a representation of the homoerotic relationship between the characters of Bassanio and Antonio that has been shown throughout the play. Shakespeare does this to further break the barriers of gender conformity and to introduce acceptance to express an individual’s true self identity that is being kept in by Bassanio and Antonio. Bassanio’s partner, Portia in Act 3, Scene 4 dresses as a man, which indirectly challenges Bassanio’s feelings towards his preferred gender.
Portia says to Nerissa(Act 3, Scene 4, Lines 60-71)
They shall,Nerissa,but in such a habit
That they shall think we are accomplished
With that we lack. I’ll hold thee any wager
When we are both accoutered like young men,
I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two,
And wear my dagger with the braver grace,
And speak between the change of man and boy,
With a reed voice,and turn two mincing steps
Into a manly stride,and speak of frays
Like a fine bragging youth.And tell quaint lies
How honorable ladies sought my love,
Which I denying,they fell sick and died.
I could not do withal.
If I were to direct the scene of Shylock’s punishment I would keep it as close to the source material as possible. I think that whenever you recreate someone’s story it is best to keep it as close to the original content as possible so that the original message is intact and as a sign of respect to the original creator. Plenty of movies based on real events or previous work can be somewhat disturbing or unpleasant at times, but that is why these films have ratings and age requirements. The only why around this problem for me is to make sure that people know before buying tickets that there are very unsettling parts in the performance.