The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of The Bond The Merchant Of Venice. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.
The theme of bonds and promises referred to in the above question plays a key role in the ‘The Merchant of Venice’. It is play concerning the conflict and the legal bond between Antonio and Shylock as the main focus. Antonio, the merchant of Venice, is a generous man who promises to pay Shylock the money borrowed by his fellow friend Bassanio or else allow Shylock to cut off a pound of his flesh.
Shylock, the moneylender, is despised because of his greed and also because he is a Jew. He is Antonio’s rival, and when the money he lent to Bassanio is not repaid he demands the pound of flesh that Antonio promised as a forfeit. This promise is written in a legally binding bond to which Shylock has every right to claim.
We will now examine the outcomes from the promises in more detail.
In Act 1 Scene 1 we meet Antonio’s closest friend, Bassanio, who he admits spending a great deal of money and tries to seek even more so that he can visit Portia, a rich heiress that he is in love with. We discover that there is friendship, loyalty, and trust between Antonio and Bassanio as they converse with one another:
My purse, my person, my extremest means,
Lie all unlock’d to your occasions.
This tells us that Bassanio is able to confide in Antonio, showing a stable friendship. In this extract Antonio seems to be the dominant figure out of the two. However as we read on, we discover that there is a shift in power:
Then do but say to me what I should do
That in your knowledge may by me be done,
And I am prest unto it: therefore speak.
This proves significant to the bond they have between them as it also shows that they have a balanced relationship. It is also effective in terms of informing the audience that their friendship is impenetrable.
Further into ‘The Merchant of Venice’ the conflict between Antonio and Shylock becomes evident. This plays an important role in the exchange of money as Antonio mentions that it is better to lend money to an enemy rather than a friend. As there will be no compassion to the enemy if the money cannot be repaid:
But lend it rather to thine enemy;
Who if he break, thou may’st with better face
Exact the penalty.
This initiates Shylock’s idea for the penalty of a pound of Antonio’s flesh, to which it will be written in the physical, law-enforcing bond:
Your single bond; and, in a merry sport…
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh…
Shakespeare uses humorous language to portray this idea which ironically contrasts to the uneasy atmosphere for Antonio. It proves effective as the audience is unsure of whether Shylock meant for the idea of the penalty of the pound of flesh seriously or not. Either way Antonio agrees and seals this contract making it an unbreakable bond:
Yes. Shylock, I will seal unto this bond
As a general principle, Antonio neither lends nor borrows but in this case he makes an exception for Bassanio. This shows that Antonio is prepared to break one of his principles for him:
Yet to supply the ripe wants of my friend,
I’ll break a custom.
Again we see Bassanio’s loyalty as he refuses to allow Antonio to agree to this dangerous want from Shylock:
You shall not seal to such for me:
I’ll rather dwell in my necessity.
Subsequently Antonio and Bassanio’s bond is fortified showing the importance of relationships in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Shakespeare has used the repetition of friendship and loyalty to emphasise the bond that the two friends have, proving its significance to the themes of bonds and promises.
Not only is this platonic bonds between Antonio and Bassanio, there is also a father and daughter bond between Portia and her long gone father. Portia, a rich heiress that Bassanio has fallen in love with, has no choice about who she can marry. Before her father died, he left her his will being that her future husband would need to pass a series of riddles in order to gain her hand in marriage. Even though she does not agree with this system she is loyal to him and obeys his will, verifying the strong bond they have between the two:
But this reasoning is not in the fashion to choose me a husband…
so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father.
This bond is further reinforced when Bassanio arrives to challenge the riddles. Portia seems anxious and tries to persuade him to wait a few days before making his decision as she is in desperation for him to make the correct choice. However she withdraws herself from telling him the correct casket which shows significance to the theme of bonds as she still holds great respect for her father:
…I could tech you
How to chose right, but then I am forsworn;
As he chooses the correct casket the, bonds and the audience senses promises that are to be made within their marriage. This is important to above question as the theme of love is interlocked with the theme of bonds. Not only is there is idea of exchanges in their spiritual bond, but their love is also expressed symbolically by a ring:
I give them with this ring;
Which when you part from, lose, or give away,
Let it presage the ruin of your love,
And be my vantage to exclaim you.
From this, the audience can deduce that bond between Bassanio and Portia has some sort of physicality to it. This plays an important role in promises within the marriage as it is a tradition to have the exchange of rings, thus reinforcing the theme of bonds and promises in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. However this ring doesn’t necessarily prove their true love to one another as later in the play Bassanio gives the ring away to a lawyer. To Bassanio’s unawareness, the lawyer is a disguised Portia. Portia tests Bassanio’s loyalty to her and asks for the ring as a ‘thank you’ gift. Bassanio is reluctant to grant this want so Portia leaves; knowing that Bassanio has done right. Through when he has left the scene, Antonio gains success in persuading Bassanio to bestow the ring to the lawyer and Bassanio ruches off to do so.
Even though Bassanio has broken this physical bond, the spiritual bond between him and his wife hasn’t disappeared. He later confesses to Portia that he has given away the ring and explains why. Bassanio then asks for forgiveness to regain her trust:
Pardon this fault, and by my soul I swear
I never more will break an oath with thee
The effect of this is that it shows the audience and themselves that the bond between them is reinforced and of great importance. It is a key role not only to the theme of bonds and promises but also to the theme of love.
The other love theme that links in with the theme of bonds and promises is when Jessica elopes with Lorenzo. This shows that Jessica has chosen to break the relationship she had with Shylock for the relationship that she has for Lorenzo. The idea is significant in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ as it may give an extension to the idea of how living with Shylock may have been like:
Our house is hell
This contrasts with the bond of loyalty between Portia and her father.
Most importantly there is the bond in which Antonio has agreed to. This can be classed as the main focus in the play. In the trial scene of ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Shylock heavily demands this penalty that Antonio has agreed to. It is seen that the Duke has sympathy for Antonio using a demanding tone to try and persuade Shylock to discharge the bond, however he is unsuccessful and Shylock is unmoved:
And by our holy Sabbath have I sworn
To have the due and forfeit of my bond:
Because of this contract, Shylock’s stubbornness and strong-will surfaces, thus emphasising the importance of bonds in this play. Not only do we see Shylock in possession of these characteristics but one can also see that he is a smart man as he admits that his want for the bond is irrational and emotional: just as some people hate cats, or the sound of bagpipes. He cleverly justifies his this by using the following examples:
Some, that are mad if they behold a cat;
And others, when the bagpipe sings…
Master of passion, sways it to the mood
Of what it likes, or loathes.
The theme of this bond may be compared to a catalyst in a reaction as it seems to increase the pace of tension and suspense for the audience. It has also enabled Shylock to put through his opinions and to allow the people in the courtroom to acknowledge.
Further on in the scene we see his demands for his bond, Antonio’s pound of flesh, becoming stronger and more dominant:
… I would have my bond.
Again one can see the knowledge that Shylock possesses as he describes that if this contract is dismissed or changed, the legal system in Venice will take a sudden downfall and also many more exceptions would have to be made if this one is to be made as well:
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law!
Again we see the strong demand of Shylock as he is confident that he should get his bond. Shakespeare has heavily concentrated on this aspect of the bond that the audience is drawn in closer to the story as they are held in suspense.
Not only do we see the legal bond in this scene but the bond between Antonio and Bassanio. The loyalty that Bassanio has for Antonio is great as he offers to pay Shylock double the amount that was lent, and even allow the latter to have his own flesh and blood:
The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones, and all,
Again this can be related back to the idea of bonds and promises as it shows that a physical bond doesn’t have to exist in order to show the strength of a relationship. As the trial scene continues Portia, disguised as a lawyer, has enabled herself to go by a strategy where the contract for Antonio’s pound of flesh can be discharged. And in the end, is was not Antonio who lost, but it was Shylock as he was forced to surrender his money and be forced to convert into a Christian. This harsh result could be said to have come from the story line concerning the bond. This devastating point for Shylock may have kept the audience keen, and as a result it shows that the importance of bonds and promises play a key role in ‘The Merchant of Venice’.