Explain how Venice differs from Belmont in The Merchant Of Venice.  

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The two settings are direct contrasts of each other. Venice is filled with the hustle and bustle of life. It is a teeming town occupied by a variety of inhabitants. Since it is a trade centre, it is logical that it will be filled by many people from not only different walks of life but also a cornucopia of foreigners who practice a variety of customs, cultures, and religions. As such, it would obviously also have its fair share of disputes and clashes, as the one between Antonio and Shylock, who are in conflict with one another on a material and a spiritual level. 

Added to this, Venice is loud and boisterous because of the large numbers of people not only living in it but also occupying its streets and indulging in trade in its markets. We can also imagine it having large numbers of stray animals and vermin lurking around. Furthermore, it would also have a darker side, an underbelly where criminal and immoral elements conduct their sordid business. 

The dwellers of a city such as Venice would paradoxically feel both free and restricted. They would enjoy the freedom of contact with others and relish the pleasure of openly plying their art and their craft but they will be depressed by their living circumstances. They will feel stifled by the lack of space - signified by narrow streets and alleys and the lack of open, living space. Many will probably be claustrophobic about always being surrounded by buildings and a variety of people and activities. 

Belmont, on the other hand, is peaceful and serene. It is a beautiful island with lush scenery, isolated from the confusing volatility of a metropolis such as Venice. Life would obviously be much slower here and there would be greater opportunity to indulge in aesthetic activities at one's leisure. It is also here, we find, that issues are resolved and where lovers come to be together and not only declare their vows and be wed but to also consummate their commitment to one another. 

It is obvious that the squalor of urban life would be absent in such a beautiful place. The buildings and surrounding areas would epitomize beauty and be symbolic of grand ideals - a veritable Shangri-La. It is a place where dreams can and do become a reality, such as Bassanio's dream of marrying Portia, Nerissa's dream of wedding Lorenzo and it is the place where Gratiano finds love with Nerissa, Portia's best friend and attendant.

The play depicts these contrasts throughout and strikes a balance by intermittently shifting the action from one to the other. In Venice, when there is conflict, a solution is found in Belmont as with Antonio and Shylock's dispute and Lorenzo and Jessica's disputed affair. The main issue is ultimately resolved in Venice and is celebrated in Belmont. It is apt that cynicism and conflict find its origin in the city and its resolution in Belmont, once again emphasizing the contrast between the two. 

There are, however, some similarities in the two settings. Both Venice and Belmont are places in which we find a coming together of different cultures and persuasions. Portia's suitors come from a variety of different climes and cultures, just as the inhabitants of Venice do. In Belmont, though, this state of affairs is short-lived since the suitors all leave the island once their attempts at the casket lottery fail. When Bassanio eventually becomes the victor, such visits to Belmont obviously cease, whereas, in Venice, the ebb and flow of foreigners is permanent.    


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