The merchant of Venice revolves around Bassanio and Antonio who are great friends. Bassanio took a loan from shylock and guaranteed the loan with Antonios pound of flesh that is nearest to his heart. Shylock hated Antonio because Antonio berated the Jews and insulted them for usury. More so, Antonio lent money at very low interest rates, which undermined shylocks business. The money that Bassanio borrowed was to be used to woo a rich heiress named Portia. At the end, Antonio was unable to repay the loan that Bassanio had taken and Shylock demanded his pound of flesh (Shakespear). However, a young lawyer who argued that as much as Shylock was entitled to a pound of flesh, he was not entitled to any blood saved Antonio. At this point, Shylock was defeated and ordered to give half of his wealth to the state, the other half to his daughter Jessica as well as convert to Christianity. Symbolism is used extensively in the book and in this paper, the symbolism of the three caskets and the ring will be discussed.
Symbolism of the Three Caskets
Portia had a lot of suitors who came to seek her hand in marriage as she was very beautiful. Once a man came to woo her and failed to choose the wrong casket, he forfeited any chance of ever getting married to any other person in the future. There were three caskets of gold siver and lead. The caskets represent various aspects of the culture in Venice (Pierre). The contest of the caskets represents the fact that everyone in the society is given the same opportunities and given the freedom to choose the path that they take. People of different nationalities, ethnicities and religion are given the same opportunities. However, there is some bias towards Christianity just like the city of Venice.
The gold casket says that whoever chooses it shall have what is desired by many men, the silver says that the one who chooses it shall have what he desires and the third casket which is made of lead warns that whoever chooses it shall risk all that he has. There are a number of Christian teachings that are adopted by the casket(Don). For instance, the gold casket says that whoever chooses it shall have what many men desire. However, according to Christianity, desires should never be the guide for making proper decisions in life. Peoples desires are worldly and should be resisted. The silver casket says that one shall receive what they deserve. However, according to Christianity, people do not deserve much since they are all sinners and fall short of grace offered by God.
The bible teaches that things should not be taken as they seem and people should remain humble at all times. People should not rely on evidence that is provided with the three senses and thus this leads to the humble lead casket. Christians are encouraged to have faith and participate in charity as well and these are the values that are promoted by the lead casket(Gold). When one risks all that they have, it shows that they have faith in that which they place their lives. Portias father envisioned marriage as an institution where both spouses are there for one another and risks all they have for the other individual. Bassanio chooses the lead casket ass he believes that he does not deserve good fortune but is ready to put all he has at risk.
Symbolism of the Rings
The characters in the merchant of Venice place a high value on their rings as a symbol of love and marriage. Portia gave Bassanio a ring as a symbol of their marriage and she instructed that he should never take it off. In addition to her vows, she gives Bassanio her entire estate and the ring and this is a relief to Bassanio as he has a lot of debt that he needs to settle. Therefore, the huge inheritance is a solution to his financial problems. However, due to their love, the marriage is not only as a result of acquiring wealth and status on the side of Bassanio. Portia gives her entire wealth to Bassanio as a symbol of love and marriage(Berger). She goes ahead and states that she must always have the ring at all times and if he takes it off, then it shall be the end of their marriage and consequently their love. Additionally, she will also reclaim her wealth and leave him destitute once again.
Bassanio quickly agrees to these conditions though it might be said that he did not really have a choice. He loved Portia and it does not occur to him that anything might take the ring from his finger. He, therefore, vows that if the ring ever comes from his finger then he should die. He admits that he will protect the rig with his life. However, he soon realizes that he cannot keep his promise after a young lawyer who saved Antonios life asks for the ring as the only payment. At first, he is at great conflict with himself as to whether he should give out the ring and eventually gives in to the young lawyer(Trevor). At this point, he is not aware that the young lawyer is none other than his wife dressed as a man. Understandably, Portia later realizes that she had been very unfair and forgives him. Therefore, in this case, the ring is used as a symbol of love, eternity and marriage in the case of Bassanio and Portia.
In the case of Shylock, the ring represents the love that he shared with his wife and through the ring, we learn that he can grieve for something in spite of him coming across as a bitter individual incapable of love (Wilson). He was given the ring by his late wife Leah and when he learns that his daughter Jessica traded it for monkey he laments that he would never have given it even for a wilderness of monkeys. At this point, he comes across as very vulnerable and the reader can view him as a human being who has feelings other than anger. Even though he does not mention the ring for a long time, his reaction shows that he valued the ring greatly and it is an important symbol in his life.
In conclusion, the book uses symbolism to communicate with the reader indirectly. The reader should be able to understand the community and the setting in which the story is located so that they can be aware of the various symbolism used in the book. Symbolism makes the reader think deeply about the story hence enhancing understanding of the book.
Berger, H. Mercifixion in The Merchant of Venice: The riches of ebarrassment. Renaissance Drama, 38:345.2010.Don Selwyns The Maori Merchant of Venice (2002, New Zealand). This play sets the struggle between the Maori and white New Zealanders.
Jack Golds The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice (1980)
Michael Radfords The Merchant of Venice (2004)
Pierre Boullions Le Marchand de Venise (1953)
Shakespeare, W., Mowatt, B. A., and Werstine, P. The Merchant of Venice. Folger Digital Texts. Simon and Schuster.2015.Sisk, J. P. Bondage and release in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare Quarterly, 20(2):217223.1969.Trevor Nunns The Merchant of Venice. Mobil Masterpiece Theater, PBS (2001).
Wilson, M. J. View of justice in shakespeares The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure. Notre Dame Law Review, 70(3):695726.1994
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