Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is a simple story line with three distinct plot lines incorporated into each other intricately. These three plot lines are the bond plot, the casket plot, and the ring plot, each equally vital to the meaning and conclusion of the play. In this essay, I will discuss the roles of the characters in the plot, the symbols, images, and rhetorical figures central to each plot, and finally how the events of the three plots are intertwined.
The first sign that the three plot lines are intertwined is that the characters involved in each plot overlap. However, each of these characters plays a different role in each plot line. The characters involved in the bond plot are Antonio, Bassanio, and Shylock, although Bassanio is not as involved in this plot as Antonio and Shylock are. It is for Bassanio that Antonio takes out a loan from Shylock so that Bassanio is able to have enough money to win Portia’s hand in marriage. In the next main plot line that arises, the casket plot, Bassanio plays a much more major role as Portia’s suitor. He and Portia are the central characters of this plot. Bassanio and Portia are also two of the central characters in the ring plot along with Nerissa and Gratiano, whose relationship acts as a parallel to the relationship between Bassanio and Portia.
Bassanio has one of the major roles in all three of the main plot lines of the play, but his role in each is different. In the bond plot, Bassanio is dependent on Antonio; he needs money to pay off his debts, and Antonio has the means to get that money. However, in asking Antonio for this loan, instead of becoming more indebted to him, Bassanio hopes to end his dependence on Antonio by marrying Portia, whose wealth could pay off the debt. The casket plot serves to show a more noble side of Bassanio. Although he admits that in his youth he squandered his money to gambling, he is still portrayed as having noble character as he chooses the correct casket. However, this event does not prove only Bassanio’s noble character. Joan Holmer writes that “the casket story . . . tends to ennoble both the character of the hero and the character of the heroine since the emphasis is placed on being proven worthy of a peerless woman” (Holmer 54). After proving his worth and winning Portia’s hand, Bassanio is given Portia’s ring, vowing that “when this ring / Parts from this finger, then parts life from hence” (Shakespeare 3.2.186-87). However, Bassanio is easily tricked into giving away the ring after the trial scene comes to an end; this seems to indicate that he was not as noble or worthy of Portia’s love as previously thought.
Portia’s character also appears to change from one plot to another. Sigmund Freud describes Portia as “the fair and wise” (152); each of these attributes is revealed at different times in the play. In the casket plot, she is portrayed merely as a daughter obeying her father’s wishes; even though she laments that she can “neither choose...