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Free Study Guide-The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare-Study Guide
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THEMES

Major Theme

The qualities of mercy and justice usually receive their just rewards. Shylock's thirst for vengeance and his determined refusal to allow even an iota of compassion to mark his character are contrasted with the constant and open generosity that the Christians live by and propound. However, justice is not shown to be served in totality either, since a loophole in the law is used to prevent the foreign Jew from equating himself with a Christian.


Minor Theme

Friendship and love are idealized as the values worth sacrificing one's all for, as developed in the relationships of Antonio, Bassanio, and Portia.

MOOD

The play is set at two levels: one is the commercial world of Venice, where trade and profits rule; the second is the idealized setting of Belmont where the heart rules over the head.

In the opening scene, Antonio is projected as being a sad, melancholy man. Despite this opening, The Merchant of Venice, being a romantic comedy, is full of life, vigor, and courtship. This mood of savoring the full joy of life continues until the scene of the trial in Act IV.

The trial of Antonio in the court of Venice creates a mood of apprehension and suspense. Shakespeare has deliberately created the character of Shylock to be despicable to pander to the anti-Semitism of his audience. Cast as his opposite in gentility, benevolence, religion, and nobility of character is Portia, who is the "queen" of Belmont.

The final act of the play is set in Belmont where love, lyricism, and music abound and create a joyful and romantic mood. Shakespeare masterfully alternates the two settings and the two moods, using each to highlight the other.

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