Free Merchant of Venice Essays: The Price is Right
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When I first read The Merchant of Venice, I had a lot of mixed
reactions. One of them, surprisingly enough, was that it was too short!
How can this be? We all know that Shakespeare's plays are notoriously
too long. In reading it over, I think this perception comes from a
number of sources. One is the idea that the two story lines, that of
Portia and her suitors and that of Shylock and his money-grubbing ways,
are only loosely held together by the title character, Antonio. The
other reason is that when we finally get to the trial scene, the supposed
highlight of the play, we notice that the trial is only a very small part
of the whole play. It is not "what the play is about" in my opinion.
Many people have suggested that the play should have ended after the
trial, that the final scene served no purpose. I saw it more like the
hurriedly thrown together conclusion to a choppy paper. We have talked
about cut versions of literature as they make their way to the screen.
This seems to me as though it is a choppy version of an idea that didn't
work out as well as the playwright had hoped. As I read even more
closely, I may find I change my mind.
Since it didn't seem to be about what I thought it was supposed to be
about, I decided to try to figure out what it really is about. Based on
my current understanding (subject to further enlightenment), the play
is (at least partially) about the merchandising of people. People can
be bought or sold for "Three thousand ducats, well" (Act I Scene 3
Line 1), or "chests of gold, silver and lead" (I.ii.30).
Every one has a price. All are bought or sold at one time or another.
Let's look at some of the leading characters and see what price they
Antonio sells "a pound of his flesh" for "three thousand ducats" in
Act I Scene 3. Bassanio sells his marriage vows to repay the lawyer/
judge for defending Antonio (Act IV Scene 2). Grationo sells his vows,
by giving away the ring that represented them, and his friendship to
Bassanio at the same time. Portia sells herself as property in marriage