This sample essay on Venice And Belmont provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
“The Merchant of Venice” is a play written by Shakespeare. It corresponds two very contrasting stories and settings. One of these ‘stories’ takes place in 16th century Venice and the other from Shakespeare’s imagination, Belmont. Both the stories have such different settings in them, which Shakespeare deliberately does.
There’s ‘The Bond Story’, which takes place in Venice and then there’s ‘The Casket Story’ which takes place in Belmont. Both have totally different atmospheres and conflicting stories. Each setting forms the backdrop to two very different stories.
The two settings have very dissimilar natures. Venice is a trading city with a thriving community. Venice is the centre of International trade making it a wealthy city. Shakespeare makes passing references to the city’s features;
“Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my monies and my usances”
“Since that the trade and profit of the city
Consisteth of all nations.
Belmont on the other hand comes from Shakespear’s imagination. Belmont is very femininely dominated. It’s a wealthy city like Venice. Belmont is a fairy tale world of ‘love’ and ‘romance’, which Shakespeare imagines it to be. It is a harmonious and tranquil city. Although we are not told if it is an island or not, we get passing references that give us a hint it is an island as it is described as a beautiful, opulent mansion;
“The watery kingdom, whose ambitious head
Spits in the face of heaven, is no bar
To stop the foreign spirits, but they come”
This shows the reader that the house must be a luxurious mansion.
The phrase the “watery kingdom” shows it is Neptune’s realm. Portia also shows the reader that her house is great; when Bassanio picks the right casket describes her house as “this fair mansion”.
Belmont is the home of the rich Portia. Portia lives in a beautiful great mansion;
“But now I was the lord
Of this fair mansion, master of my servants”
This shows that Belmont is magnificent, peaceful and tension free. The complete opposite to Venice.
There are two main stories ‘The Bond Story’ and ‘The Casket Story’. The bond story takes place in Venice and the casket story takes place in Belmont. Venice is a wealthy, trading city where much business man live. It consists of dramatic, tense events and is a place full of unhappy and unkind people, however it could be said that it also has a vibrant street life. The scenes in Venice mostly take place on the streets. It is very masculine. It is a mercantile risk-taking city. This is where the serious side of the play takes place. On the other hand Belmont is a city, which reflects tranquil, harmonious comedy.
The main character of ‘the bond story’ is the rich Jew, Shylock. He is the moneylender. The other characters in ‘the casket story’ are Bassanio, an Italian lord who is a suitor to Portia, Antonio, a merchant of Venice. The main plot of the story is, that Bassanio wants to go to Belmont to marry Portia, however doesn’t have enough money, so his good friend Antonio wishes to borrow money from Shylock to give to Bassanio to go to Belmont. Yet Shylock and Antonio hate one another;
“You call me misbeliever, cut throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine”
This shows that Antonio has such hatred of Shylock. However Shylock lends Antonio three thousand ducats, but for a very harsh price;
“let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me”
As you can see Shylock is asking for exactly a pound of fair flesh from Antonio, from whatever part of the body he chooses. This makes the bond a murderous one especially between Shylock and Antonio. Shylock wants revenge for the many times he as a Jew has been hurt. This side of the play is dominated by hate. The main themes that take place in Venice are hatred, religious intolerance, revenge, greed and prejudice.
This reflects upon the city as being murderous, dramatic and tense. Whereas Belmont on the other hand is a city of Love, marriage, romance and comedy. Belmont is an aspect of the play, which brings the comedy, fairytale romance into perspective. It changes the play from tense and murderous to fun and comedic. It breaks up the dark, horrid features of Shylock and adds gentle, beautiful features of Portia and Bassanio and Lorenzo and Jessica; “an equal pound of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken” to “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!”
This also shows that Belmont is a peaceful, moonlit and calm place to be whereas Venice is masculine and tense.
The casket story is set in Belmont; it mainly captures Portia, and her great beauty;
“In Belmont is a lady richly left,
And she is fair, and – fairer than that word-
Of wondrous virtues. Sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages”
The prince of Morocco repeatedly calls Portia as “fair Portia”. This shows her beauty. He also says “all the world desires her.”
The comedic features take place in Belmont, when the suitors arrive. Before Portia’s father died he wanted to make sure she would marry the perfect man so he planed a test. He made three caskets; one gold, one silver and one lead. First came the prince of Morocco, he choose the Gold casket which was incorrect, then came the prince of Aragon, he choose the Silver casket which too was incorrect then finally came Bassanio he choose the casket that was made from lead and that was correct. Bassanio and Portia rejoice, Gratiano marries Nerissa and Lorenzo marries Jessica. The main themes here are love, marriage, romance and comedy.
The societies represented in the two settings are very different. The Venetian society is energetic, opulent, full of wealthy confident young men for example; Bassanio, Lorenzo, Gratiano, Salarino and Salanio. They enjoy good fellowship and help each other through life for example when Gratiano and Salarino help Lorenzo elope with Jessica. Another example is when Antonio helps Bassanio court Portia. However they make life intolerable for those outside their group;
“Fair say, you spat on me on Wednesday last,
You spurn’d me such a day, another time
You call’d me dog: and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much monies”
This shows that Antonio makes life intolerable for Shylock. This shows that Antonio has been so cruel to him simply because he’s a Jew. Venice is a city full of dramatic tensions, especially racial tension; between the Christians and Jews. Shylock says;
“I hate him for he is a Christian”
This shows his hatred towards Christians, especially Antonio. They both hate each other simply for the fact that they are different religions; Antonio being Christian and Shylock being Jewish.
Belmont is very different to the Venetian society. Belmont is a place of wealth and luxury. Portia lives in a mansion and when the prince of Morocco arrives there, he enters to “a flourish of cornets”. This shows Belmont is a place of harmony and ease free from the commercial bustle of Venice, and the racial tension.
Both Belmont and Venice have different atmospheres, Venice being energetic and exciting. A city full of dramatic tensions for example racial tension, mercantile risk taking, when Antonio borrows money from Shylock in the hope that several ambitious business ventures will produce large profits;
“Why, fear not, man, I will not forfeit it.
Within these two months, that’s a month before
This bond expires, I do expect return
Of thrice three times the value of this bond”
This shows there is a lot of competition and rivalry, especially between two of the play’s central figures Antonio and Shylock. Belmont’s atmosphere on the other hand is calm, peaceful, and free from the tensions of Venice;
“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony”
Shakespeare has chosen to set “The Merchant of Venice” in two very different settings because the play has two very different stories in it. One reason could be to provide a sharp and dramatically effective contrast. Another reason maybe The Venetian setting provides us with the serious side of tension. Conversely Belmont gives us the ‘Casket’ story, which lightens the mood throughout the whole play, because Shakespeare has chosen to go back and forth from Belmont to Venice. For example the great drama of the court scene just before the play’s end is immediately followed by the romance and gentle comedy of the play’s final scene, the coming together of the three lovers, Bassanio and Portia, Gratiano and Nerissa and Lorenzo and Jessica. The play finishes in Belmont on a note of love and harmony rather than in Venice on a note of hatred, vengeance and betrayal.