Monday, December 31, 2012

The Merchant of Venice

Bassanio is on a mission; he wants to win Portia - a beautiful and rich heiress - and make her his wife. But in order to do so, he needs to take a journey from Venice to Belmont and for that he needs money. Bassanio comes to Antonio the merchant and asks Antonio to lend him three thousand ducats. Because at that moment Antonio's ships haven't yet to dock thus he hasn't got such amount of money, he tells Bassanio to find a lender.

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.

The Merchant of Venice is play by William Shakepeare
First published in 1598
Ebook by: Feedbooks


  1. This play is a little disturbing indeed.
    1. Shylock! Dia kasian amat sih. I don't like the way Antonio proselitizing him at the end of the play. Yah, emang sih dia bencinya setengah mati sama Antonio, cuma ga gitu juga kali..
    2. Portia. She's very smart at the court, true, tapi licik banget. Itu kaya sengaja menjerumuskan Shylock.

    But the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio is awesome. "Repent but you that you will lose your friend, and he repents not that he pays your debt. For if the Jew cuts but deep enough, I shall pay it presently with all my heart." *blush*

    Kalau nonton adaptasinya yang sama Al Pacino dll lebih ditunjukin lagi background societynya. I like that movie too.. (Maaf ya jadi malah numpang fangirling)

    1. IMO sih Portia ga licik, she just needs to find the way to "bend" the law; the law which Shylock uses for his own revenge.
      Masalahnya Shylock juga licik; dibayar 2 kali lipat ga mau, dia manfaatin hukum untuk kepentingan pribadi, dari awal emang dia niatnya ga pengen dibayar dan berharap bisa ambil sepon daging Antonio.
      Jadi untuk mengalahkan orang model begini emang harus dengan cara begitu :D

      Denger2 sempet ada gosip Antonio loves Bassanio more than a friend, in a more romantic sense - itu gosip looh, di internet :p

  2. Setuju, play ini gak lucu2 amat, yg paling lucu bagian Launcelot & Gobbo itu :)
    Setuju juga ttg Portia, she's not only smart but fair in judging the case. And remember, it's Antonio who asked Shylock to change religion, not Portia. And I disliked Antonio for that, it banished his previous generosity!

    1. Come to think of it, I can imagine now how funny the court scene would be when Shylock at first thought it will be his win but then... LOL
      And about Antonio, it is not easy to understand such an issue in our days like today. Forcing someone to convert is of course never acceptable. I don't know, perhaps, considering the situation in the era, Antonio thinks that Shylock's new religion would be a revelation, a mercy and a happy ending for Shylock himself.