Do you think that the title of the play The Merchant of Venice is an appropriate one?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Antonio is generally recognized as the merchant in The Merchant of Venice. He is a Christian who stands as the opposite of the money lender, Shylock who is a Jew. In European culture, when in the 1500s and 1600s Christianity was virtually universal, Antonio is also the symbol of Christianity. When Antonio is dealing with Bassanio, he does act like a Christian showing generosity, love, devotion, kindness. Later the same day, when he is talking with Shylock. Antonio shows not one shred of Christian qualities: he is hateful, mean, cruel, insulting. This is also part of the representation Christianity of the era because it was viewed as right to suspend Christian precepts when dealing with Jews.

Antonio is the pivotal character. On one side, it is his display of Christian values that lets Bassanio win Portia's hand. On the other side, it is his dearth of Christian values that incites an enraged Shylock to exact an absurd bond--the pound of flesh--for the lending of the three thousand ducats. Furthermore, the climax of the play centers around Antonio. When Antonio's pivotal and contradictory role is considered, it seems safe to say that yes, the title The Merchant of Venice is an appropriate one because it is through the merchant Antonio that Shakespeare explores the assumptions about Christian behavior and values.

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