How are Venice and Belmont described in The Merchant of Venice?

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Venice is not described, but we can glean certain information about the city from the characters. Venice appears to be a diverse and thriving area that is also an important trading site. Antonio notes that the duke cannot simply change the law because that would “much impeach the justice of his state; / Since that the trade and profit of the city / Consisteth of all nations.” There is a sense of mercantile freedom, regardless of one’s background, as exemplified by the Jewish Shylock being able to make a living by charging interest on loans.

On the other hand, Venice harbors severe bigotry. Salarino (hopefully hyperbolically) states that “all the boys in Venice follow” Shylock, mocking his tears for his eloped daughter and the treasures she stole. The law is also not as strictly just as it first seems to Shylock. Portia points out that if someone sheds “One drop of Christian blood” everything that person owns will go to the state. The legal system is distinctly slanted towards Christians. In fact, Portia refers to Shylock as “an alien” whose life is worth less than that of a citizen. As far as we know, what makes Shylock an alien rather than a citizen is his religion and ethnicity.

Characters likewise do not describe Belmont in so many words, but it does come across as an almost magical place, far from Venice and harboring the beautiful and rich Portia. At first, she is like a princess trapped in a beautiful castle by her father’s will, only free when the right suitor selects the right casket. The main characters end up in Belmont, providing a possibly happy, fairy-tale-like ending to a troubling comedy.

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The Merchant of Venice

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