Consider the various types of love featured in The Merchant of Venice: friendship, love between father and child, romantic love, as well as love of possessions and money. Which type of love is...
Consider the various types of love featured in The Merchant of Venice: friendship, love between father and child, romantic love, as well as love of possessions and money. Which type of love is shown to be the strongest in the play?
This is an intriguing question to apply to this complex play. I think that the answer is somewhat complex as well: and that friendship and romantic love are the strongest forms of love in the play. This is revealed in the play's climax, wherein Shylock is readying to perform his own perverse form of justice upon Antonio (exacting his "pound of flesh"). Portia poses as a lawyer to try and defend Antonio, who is her lover Bassanio's best friend. It is love for Bassanio that prompts her to try and help his friend; but it is Bassanio's love for Antonio that inspires her to do what she does.
Portia's famous speech in which she says "the quality of mercy is not strained" refers to compassion, a crucial component in any friendship. She admires Bassanio's noble qualities, and understands that a man worthy of being his closest friend would be a good friend to anyone. Her point that Shylock's contract does not allow for any drop of blood to be shed when he extracts his pound of flesh speaks to her compassionate nature as well: just as Shylock says, "Come, prepare!" (in some productions, Shylock raises a knife or sword at this moment) she stops him. She is visualizing the sight of Antonio under Shylock's weapon and knows there will be blood. In this visceral moment of pity and compassion, she gets the idea for how to save Antonio's life. Friendship between Antonio and Bassanio, and Portia's romantic love for Bassanio, are shown here to be the play's most significant forms of love.