Merchant of Venice: the Different Forms of Love

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William Shakespeare, a classic, ever-famous English author, has without a doubt influenced English literature throughout the years. With notable plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and the very topic of this essay, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare has time and time again shown us his creative genius—as well as his ability to skillfully and realistically incorporate compelling relationships into what he writes. Like in many of his works, including the ones mentioned above, The Merchant of Venice embodies various forms of love into those relationships he writes in; these being platonic love (or in other words, friendship), family love (specifically between father and child), and of course, romantic love. While the type of love Shakespeare focuses on in each of his works varies, it could be argued that The Merchant of Venice most strongly signifies the value and importance of friendship through examples such as Nerissa’s never-ending support for Portia, Bassanio’s ever-present concern and appreciation for Antonio, and likewise, Antonio’s willingness to make constant sacrifices for Bassanio.

To begin with, let us take a look at the relationship between Nerissa and Portia. One might view it as a simple “master and servant” sort of relationship, considering the fact that, indeed, Nerissa is Portia’s lady in waiting; however, this is not the case. While it is true that Nerissa would be of a lower social class than Portia, it is seen in the play that it is as if they treat each other more like close friends—or even sisters. For example, Portia’s very first line in the play is said to Nerissa herself, and she says, “By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world. ” [Shakespeare, Act I Scene II, ll. 1-2, p. 17] With this, we are able to see that Portia willingly discloses her deepest troubles and woes to Nerissa. As such, this clearly shows that she trusts her greatly, and definitely more than one would trust a lady in waiting. Of course, in retrospect, Nerissa’s reply of “You would be, sweet madam … / but competency lives longer” [Shakespeare, Act I Scene II, ll. 3-8, p. 17] demonstrates her straightforward, to-the-point speech around Portia—there is little to no hesitance in the way she gives her advice. This is proof that despite their difference in social statuses, she is not afraid to be honest, as she knows that their friendship is strong enough to withstand such honesty. This pattern continues on throughout the rest of the play as well, and through this, their closeness and friendship is seen evidently and vividly.

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Indeed, after reading the entire manuscript of the play, one can conclude that they are, rather than “master and servant”, more of “partners in crime”. Another important platonic relationship to take into account would be that of Antonio and Bassanio. Only within three pages of the play was Bassanio introduced, and even then the characters already present seemed to recognize their closeness. This is illustrated most clearly when Solanio states, “...Fare ye well; / We leave you now with better company. ” [Shakespeare, Act I Scene I, ll. 59-60, p. 7-9] During that time, Antonio had been expressing his troubles to Solanio and Salerio—two people that, already, seemed to be close enough friends of his. However, once Bassanio came, Solanio himself admitted that Bassanio would be of much better help towards Antonio’s woes. Additionally, if one would delve deeper into Antonio’s view on the friendship, we can take what he says in response to Bassanio asking him for a favor: “Within the eye of honor, be assured / My purse, my person, my extremest means / Lie all unlocked to your occasions. ” [Shakespeare, Act I Scene I, ll. 137-139, p. 13] Within this one quote, Antonio’s love for Bassanio is clearly exhibited—he states that no matter what Bassanio asks of him, he would do everything within his power to fulfil that wish. Support like this, and this kind of willingness to make sacrifices for someone else, can only be seen in such close relationships like theirs. This quality of their friendship is without a doubt an important point in the plot of The Merchant of Venice, and it is indeed heartwarming to read through their various interactions.

Alternatively, let us take a look at the previously mentioned friendship through Bassanio’s perspective. Similarly to Antonio’s case with Salerio and Solanio, his closeness with Antonio is recognized by the two friends he had been with. “My Lord Bassanio, since you have found Antonio, / We two will leave you…” is stated by Lorenzo when they meet up with the merchant [Shakespeare, Act I Scene I, ll. 69-70, p. 9]. It could be inferred from these lines as well, that Bassanio seemed to be searching for Antonio in the first place; his friends Lorenzo and Gratiano only seemed to be accompanying him on this search. Of course, this only strengthens the impact of their friendship, as it shows how important Antonio was to Bassanio—so much that he would search through Venice for him. Once again, the minute Antonio had been found, Lorenzo and Gratiano took to leaving the two alone, knowing that they would well be able to help each other through their troubles.

Additionally, of course, another important aspect of the friendship that Bassanio provides would be his profound gratitude and appreciation for Antonio. For example, let us take a few more of his lines: “...To you, Antonio, / I owe the most in money and in love... ” [Shakespeare, Act I Scene II, ll. 130-131, p. 13] As displayed, Bassanio has indeed asked for many favors from Antonio on the past—and these lines are clearly an expression of gratitude. Bassanio, after all, knows more than anyone how much Antonio has helped him through many years. This weaves into the plot as well during the course of the play, and we get to see how much Bassanio’s overwhelming gratitude for Antonio’s friendship leads him to make his own sacrifices—such as leaving Portia, and even giving away Portia’s ring.

As a whole, the qualities of both the friendship between Nerissa and Portia as well as the more complex one between Antonio and Bassanio play major roles in the play. The Merchant of Venice may center around the theme of the antisemitism of the Elizabethan era, however these very forms of love are what drives the plot forward the most. Their relationships are well-rounded, and introduced early on to give a reader insight on what role they will play in the main plot. Just like in real life, indeed, friendship is important to move us forward as well.

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