The folllowing sample essay on Greed In The Merchant Of Venice discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
William Shakespeare wrote the Merchant of Venice in 1596, and finished it in 1597. Throughout the Merchant of Venice, the underlying theme is love and friendship. Shakespeare uses the theme to demonstrate how it can overcome other emotions and situations on many occasions. Indeed, the theme forms the ‘skeletal frame’ of the majority of the play, with one scene leading to another due to love, friendship, greed or other emotions associated with the theme.
In this coursework I will explore exactly how love and friendship between characters overcomes greed, or in some cases vice-versa.
The play opens with two great friends, Bassanio and Antonio. After only a few simple sentences, it is apparent to the audience that they have a close bond. Bassanio admits to Antonio that he has ruined himself, despite Antonio having lent him money on previous occasions.
Despite this, Antonio insists that the door is always open for Bassanio. As the conversation goes on it becomes apparent to Antonio and the audience that Bassanio is on the way to asking for another ‘loan’ from Antonio. Despite the fact that Bassanio had previously spent all his money unwisely Antonio is prepared to listen to Bassanio’s request.
This alone demonstrates friendship, as most people would not even consider lending Bassanio money considering his situation and his history with money.
It also shows that the friendship is stronger than any greed which may be found inside Antonio. Bassanio then tells Antonio of the reason behind his need for money, love. Bassanio is besotted by Portia of Belmont, and he enthusiastically describes before saying ‘O my Antonio, had I but the means To hold a rival place with one of them, I have a mind presages me such thrift, That I should questionless be fortunate. This is a direct address to Antonio, and the first words, ‘O my Antonio’ are a climax spoken with intensity and eagerness following the enthusiastic description of Portia.
Antonio feels inclined to loan Bassanio the money, but is not able to; ‘Thou know’st that all my fortunes are at sea, Neither have I money nor commodity To raise a present sum, therefore go forth; Try what my credit can in Venice do, That shall be racked even to the uttermost To furnish thee to Belmont to fair Portia. Go presently inquire, and so will I, Where money is, and I no question make To have it of my own trust, or for my sake. Antonio tells Bassanio to go to Venice, as all Antonio’s fortune is at sea. He says he would be stretch himself to equip Bassanio suitably for visiting Portia at Belmont. Antonio basically tells Bassanio that he would go to a loan shark to get Bassanio money, which he would later pay back when his ships return.
This could be seen as taking a gamble, because there is always a chance of the ships not returning and Antonio being unable to pay back the loan. Antonio ends up in a bond with a Jewish man called Shylock. 000 ducats for 3 months, this for which Antonio will be bound (he offers himself as surety). Shylock and Antonio do not get on, mainly due to religious reasons, and if Antonio failed to repay him the loan Shylock would relish the prospect of deciding what to do with Antonio. Despite this, Antonio enters in the bond, all for the sake of his friend Bassanio. This shows a friendship almost beyond reason, with Antonio risking himself for Bassanio. It also shows that Antonio has no greed at all within him, and can be described as a simultaneously loving and foolish person.
Later on, chance hazard and risk also become prominent in Belmont, the land of Bassanio’s love, Portia. Before his death, Portia’s father devised a test to determine who would take his daughter’s hand in marriage. There would be one chest full of gold, one full of silver and one full of lead. He who chooses the correct casket would take Portia’s hand in marriage. Many men came from near and far in search of the correct casket but Portia did not find any of them remotely suitable for marriage. Thankfully for her, they all chose the wrong casket.
For choosing the wrong casket each suitor was asked to go home, never to return. By even carrying out the casket test Portia is showing her love and faith in her father, letting people know that she wants to carry out her father’s will. Many people would choose their own husband in their own time, but out of respect and faith in her father she has chosen to carry out his wishes. This may be loyal, but in many people’s eyes it would be seen as foolish. However, the casket test was carried out. Many suitors came. None stayed.
Every suitor chose the wrong casket because they were influenced by appearances, not the true significance and properties. Gold was the most popular choice, closely followed by silver. Nobody chose lead. Why? Because every single suitor was influenced by the appearance, showing an aspect of greed within a person not usually seen. It would eventually leave Bassanio with Portia’s hand in marriage, as he would be the one who was to choose the leaden casket, making the money he borrowed from Antonio well spent, perhaps for the first time in his life.
In stark contrast to the manner of Antonio and the reserved calculating of Bassanio to choose the correct casket, I come to Shylock. Shylock is the jewish businessman who agreed to loan 3000 ducats to Bassanio with Antonio as surety, despite his dislike of Christians and of Antonio in particular. Act 3 Scene 1 tells us through Solerio and Solanio that Antonio’s ships are at some narrow seas, where many ships have perished. Shylock enters at this point, and says that he would take Antonio’s pound of flesh for nothing but revenge, were he not able to repay the loan.
The motive for Shylock’s hate is the racism between Jews and Christians, and in defence of ruthlessness concerning Antonio, he comes out with this famous phrase; ‘If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? ‘. Shylock said this to point out that Jewish people are just like anyone else, and like anyone else they will take revenge on those who cross them. Whether anyone but Shylock would take revenge in the ruthless unfeeling manner he planned is another matter.
Eventually news comes that Antonio has lost a ship. This obviously means that Antonio can no longer pay back the loan, and Shylock may have his pound of flesh. Antonio pleas with Shylock to have mercy and give him more time, but Shylocks unrelenting insistence on his bond prevails; ‘Hear me yet good Shylock’, said Antonio. ‘Thou call’dst me a dog before thou hadst a cause, But since I am a dog, beware my fangs’. Antonio was unpleasant to Shylock before, and now is desperately trying to improve the situation, but Shylock refuses to hear.
This whole episode shows that Shylock has no compassion and refuses to relent. His insistence is understandable, considering his dislike of Antonio and Christians and the fact that a bond is a bond, but the actual ethics behind his insistence show a greed and heartlessness unique to Shylock alone in the play. Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, shows one attribute similar to her father – greed. Despite this, she is a very different person to Shylock. Jessica meets a Christian called Lorenzo, and falls in love with him.
In order to rendezvous with Lorenzo, Jessica disguises herself as a boy, and steals money from her father at the same time. These actions show the extent of her love for Lorenzo, and the complete lack of respect she has for her father. Her love for him results in her stealing jewels from her father, marrying Lorenzo and converting to Christianity. Instead of feeling sorrow or regret for his daughter, Shylock feels nothing but resentment and scorn towards her. Indirectly, Jessica having eloped with a Christian amplifies the mercilessness he feels when Antonio pleads with him.
Perhaps a little of this anger is appropriate considering she stole jewels from him , but he not only felt angry, he damned her. She did what she did for the sake of love, but even so stealing from her father shows her greed, and in a way, shows how she takes after him in being greedy. In this case, both love and greed instigated the actions of Jessica, a combination which doesn’t occur with any other character in the play. Indeed, the eloping and unification of Jessica and Lorenzo is a very significant part of the play, as at the time it was written, Jewish people were seen as outcasts in England.
Therefore the fact that Jessica converted to Christianity may have been more of a significant talking point 500 years ago than it is now. Jessica always had a slightly awkward relationship with her father, Shylock. It pinnacle of this awkward relationship was her change of religion, which completely distanced her from her father. Both characters were greedy people, but perhaps in different ways, and relatives with similar personalities are known to clash. Her relationship was the mirror opposite to that of Portia and her father.
We don’t know how they got on, but we do know that Portia respected her father’s wishes and had faith in him. This could not be said for Jessica. She turned on him (by stealing and rebelling) as quickly as he turned on her (damning her). This perhaps could have been because she was a Jewish girl growing up in England, and she rebelled. Portia was probably brought up as a little ‘princess’ and so had nothing but admiration for her father. Each girl’s social, cultural and historical background contributed to how they grew up and in turn got on with their parents.
Throughout the play Shakespeare demonstrates different types of love and greed, and the different effects each of these can have. Antonio and Bassanio have a friendship almost comparable to love, indeed it could be called love. Ruthless and uncompassionate behaviour is shown by Shylock, seeking only his own way. This is a form of greed. The love between Jessica and Lorenzo is a love so powerful that it completely destroyed Jessica’s relationship with her father, a sacrifice which she was willing to make. This is a different sort of love to that of Antonio and Bassanio, but both lead to hazardous situations.
Why did Shakespeare demonstrate so many types of love, compassion, greed, anger and friendship? The repercussions of each was distinctive, and would perhaps show the audience what it would be like to be in each given situation. It could serve as a warning to show what happens when love becomes uncontrollably powerful, or when greed takes control of a person. What the play does show, is that no matter how good natured a person is, love does not always overcome greed, and that both emotions can make you blind to the truth.