Shylock - a Jewish moneylender who hates Antonio for the fact that he's a Christian and often lending money without interest - agrees to lend the money in one condition; if Antonio cannot repay it on the exact date, he can take a pound of Antonio's flesh.
At first Bassanio is reluctant since it's very risky.
You shall not seal to such a bond for me,
I'll rather dwell in my necessity ~ Bassanio, Act I Scene III
But Antonio persuades Bassanio to take the money, he is sure that his ships will come on time. At this point we can see that Antonio is very dear to Bassanio, so much that he is willing to take such risk to help his friend.
Come on, in this there can be no dismay,
My ships come home a month before the day ~ Antonio, Act I Scene III
And so with the money Bassanio departs for Belmont.
Miles away in Belmont, Portia must face some gentlemen who come to win her. Her father prepared a contest that whoever wishes to become Portia's husband must choose the right casket out of three.
By putting this test into his will, her father had hoped that Portia would get a good worthy husband whose intention is pure and not merely money and power.
And then there is Jessica, Shylock's daughter, who's in love with Lorenzo. Lorenzo, being Christian, is of course not approved by Shylock.
|Shylock and Jessica, by Maurycy Gottlieb | Source|
Bassanio has no problem in taking the three-casket test to win Portia. Portia, is even attracted to Bassanio before he takes the test. But the real obstacle is the upcoming event where Antonio's ships are wrecked at the sea, leaving Antonio unable to repay his debt to Shylock. Shylock of course is happy, and eager to take Antonio's flesh as his long buried revenge.
It is impossible for Bassanio to be happy when Antonio is in despair. This, is when Portia shows her intelligence to solve everybody's problems.
Having read A Midsummer Night's Dream, I am more than delighted that the hero in The Merchant od Venice is a woman; Portia. Beautiful, rich and smart, well well Bassanio you're a lucky guy!
|Portia at the court, watercolor art by Hannah Tompkins | Source|
With Shylock - a Jewish - as a full of vengeance villain who then is forced to convert to Christian, I think The Merchant of Venice is probably a little disturbing for today's readers/audiences. However, looking back to the era when Shakespeare wrote this, it was probably acceptable and not much a problem at that time (I really don't know for sure though).
|Al Pacino as Shylock in 2004 film | Source|
On the other hand, I think the Christian-Jewish theme was not meant to be taken too seriously, simply a background, to thicken the feel of hatred and the urge for vengeance (considering the history). This background can be replaced by any situation; as long as Antonio remains a good merchant, while Shylock is the opposite. Though of course by replacing the background, Shylock won't be famous for his "hath not a Jew eyes" speech.
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, Act III Scene I
The Merchant of Venice didn't make me laugh out loud, only a little grin over some comical scenes involving Launcelot and Gobbo, and the failed suitors. The play is often categorized as tragic comedy or problem play; which lies between tragic and comic. But it still - being a comedy - has a happy ending and is a light non-depressing read :D
[Edit: I can now laugh imagining the court scene, it does have a potential to become a comical and laughable scene]
Love and lust, revenge and mercy, we are always floating in between. Let's pray we are protected from greed we cannot overcome and hatred we cannot bear.
3 cups of coffee for The Merchant of Venice, plus 1/2 for our smart Portia.
First published in 1598
Ebook by: Feedbooks