Contemporary Issues In The Merchant Of Venice

1085 words - 4 pages

Contemporary Issues in The Merchant of Venice

  Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is still relevant today because it

deals with issues which still affect us. Throughout the play a distinction

is made between how things appear and how they are in reality.  The issue of appearance

versus reality is demonstrated in varied ways, mainly by the use of real-life

situations.  The first representation of this is Shylock's generosity with his

money and eagerness to make friends with Antonio when he says, "I say, to buy

his favour, I extend this friendship," when all he wants is to take a pound of

Antonio's flesh and end his life, "If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will

feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him."  Shylock pretends to want to be friends

with Antonio, but only wants revenge against the Jew-hater.


     The choosing of the three caskets is used as the main explanation of

appearance versus reality.  The suitor of Portia must choose either a gold,

silver or lead casket, where the right choice will allow the suitor to marry her.

 The Prince of Morocco, on choosing the beautiful gold casket with the

inscription, "Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire," sees the message,

"All that glisters is not gold," and is thus turned away by Portia.  The Prince

of Arragon, on choosing the silver casket with, "Who chooseth me shall get as

much as he deserves," receives a fool's head, and is told that that is what he

deserves.  Bassanio however, on correctly choosing the lead casket with the

inscription, "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath," says, "The

world is still (constantly) deceived with ornament."  He chooses the lead casket

so as not to be fooled by the dull appearance, and receives the beautiful Portia

and all her wealth who, in reality, contrasts with the ugly lead.  The two

princes, however, were deceived by the ornament of the gold and silver caskets.


     Another way that Shakespeare discusses appearance versus reality is with

the use of Portia and Nerissa in disguise, plotting to take Bassanio's ring, the

former dressed as a Doctor of Law and the latter as a Clerk.  They save Antonio

and Bassanio from their problem with Shylock, and Portia (Doctor of Law) asks

for Bassanio's ring because she knew he had promised, "When this ring parts from

this finger, then parts life from hence."  Bassanio, after some encouragement

from Antonio, reluctantly parts with his ring.  When they arrive home, Portia

pretends to be angry at Bassanio for losing the ring but then explains what has

happened and forgives him.  Bassanio was deceived by appearance of Portia as a

Doctor of Law and her apparent good intentions to take the ring as a payment for

her services.


      The issue of racial discrimination is mainly displayed through Shylock,


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