The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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In Act 1, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice, what impression are we given of Venice through the poetry of Salanio and Salarino?

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In The Merchant of Venice, since Salarino and Salanio are talking to Antonio about the topic of his shipping ventures and his feelings of melancholy it is only possible to infer a vague impression of what Venice is like, in deed, there is a danger of seeing inference to more than is rightly suggested. The premise for finding impressions about the setting in the opening passages is an important one in literature (novels and short stories) but plays are a visual medium as are films and the setting is in some degree or other visible.

Having said this, it is true that Shakespeare was the original minimalist and had nothing onstage other than what was necessary. From Salarino's and Salanio's speeches in Act I, Scene 1, we know that Venice is a port town: ("tossing ocean"). We know that Venice is a wealthy merchandising town because it is inferred to have "signors and rich burghers." We can infer that Venice celebrates holidays and other festive events with pageants, which are usually religious in nature, such as the one marching beneath Shylock's window on the  night of Jessica's elopement with Lorenzo. Finally, from the pageant's and the later mention of "go to church," it can be inferred that Venice is a Christian town as well as a devoutly religious town.

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