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Essay on Unresolved Issues in The Merchant of Venice

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For much of the play, The Merchant of Venice appears to be vintage Shakespearean farce. A group of buffoons vie to marry the beautiful and wealthy Portia; women dress up as men and fool their betrothed; servants are willing accomplices in playful deceits. Where Merchant of Venice departs from the pattern of a typical Shakespearean farce is with the appearance of Shylock, the Jew. Shylock transforms this play from a simple comedy to a work of enormous complexity. In The Merchant of Venice, the contrast between the tragedy of Shylock and the comedy of the other characters raises many issues that are left unresolved for the thoughtful reader.

            As the action begins Antonio, a wealthy merchant who deals in overseas trade, is sitting on a bench preening. The character of Antonio is clearly written as full of affection and devotion towards Bassanio. Bassanio wishes to borrow money to woo Portia, a woman of beauty and means who is constrained by her dead father's demand that she marry the man who solves the riddle and chooses the right metal casket. Antonio is having a cash flow problem, with his many ships out at sea and not yet returned, so he suggests borrowing the necessary funds from the Jew, Shylock. He agrees to post the required bond.

            Enter Shylock, a comical yet sympathetic fellow, who makes clever jokes at the expense of the Christians in his presence, while conveying the pain and rage he feels as the victim of an unfriendly society. Quickly, the reader learns that he lends money because there are laws which prevent him from pursuing any other career. He resents that Antonio lends to his fr...


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...ntent, rattles the sensibilities of anyone concerned with the ills of society. It appears too easy to turn away from the pain of others to the comfort of our own lives. No thought or mention is given to Shylock and his end. Only Antonio seems disheartened, and seemingly only because he has lost the affection of Bassanio to Portia.

            Shylock is the driving force that catapults The Merchant of Venice from simple comedy to a work of enormous complexity. The contrast between the tragedy of Shylock and the comedy of the other characters is difficult to dismiss. Many questions are raised and issues left unresolved for the thoughtful reader. The presence of Shylock makes the play unsettling, raising once again the subjects of discrimination, revenge, mercy, and the very essence of human weakness.

 


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