The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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Illustrate the theme of friendship and loyalty in The Merchant of Venice.

The theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice is best expressed through Antonio and Bassanio's relationship. Antonio's strong feelings of affection for Bassanio motivate him to take out a loan from Shylock to help his younger friend marry, setting the play into motion. Portia and Nerissa also illustrate strong friendship.

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The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare approaches themes of friendship and loyalty in several different ways, some more obvious than others. Characters exemplify both loyalty and disloyalty.

The most obvious example of loyalty and friendship is that of Antonio, who risks his money and even body to help his friend Bassanio. He models a form of loyalty which includes self-sacrifice and is a model of the Christian virtue of non-sexual forms of love. Portia is also a positive example of loyalty, using bravery and intelligence to help her beloved and his friend.

Shylock is a more controversial character, but one could say that he is ultimately admirable in the way he remains loyal to his religious tradition as long as possible despite the pressures on him to convert to Christianity and compromise with the oppressive power of the Christian religion. Although Shylock is, to a certain degree, a villain in the play, he does demonstrate the characteristic of loyalty to his faith until he is finally compelled to convert, albeit unwillingly. His daughter, Jessica, though, not only in her conversion but in her treatment of her father, is disloyal.

Bassanio appears a very self-centered character, mainly pursuing his own advantage. He exploits Antonio's good nature and seems an unworthy husband for the clever and engaging Portia. He is a fairly unimpressive model of friendship.

Nerissa is Portia’s lady-in-waiting and a witty and entertaining character who demonstrates loyalty to Portia. Her comic subplot teaches Gratiano a lesson in loyalty. The relationship between Nerissa and Portia is a positive model of friendship.

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The themes of friendship and loyalty play out in interesting ways in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, leaving the audience to figure out for themselves which is more important: a friend or a lover?

The relationship between Nerissa and Portia offers opportunities to analyze the intersection of loyalty and friendship as they confide in each other details about their husbands. By sharing with each other the negative qualities of Bassanio and Gratiano, they are demonstrating friendship towards each other, though at the expense of their husbands. Similarly, the men also place their friendship on a high pedestal, as evidenced by Antonio's willingness to give his own flesh for Bassanio.

These examples suggest that friendship is the more powerful force, and such a notion is reinforced by incidents in the play that demonstrate fractures in the love relationships. Portia confronts Bassanio about giving away the ring that symbolizes their relationship; to Portia, Bassanio has shown extreme disloyalty to her by treating the ring so casually as to give it away. Nerissa is just as angry with Gratiano for his mistake, for the same reason.

Though friendship and loyalty can exist between lovers, the loyalty the friends show each other is far more impressive than the loyalty they show their romantic partners. Perhaps Shakespeare is commenting on the fallibility of romance and marriage in this context, encouraging the audience to protect their friendships well.

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the chief example of friendship inThe Merchant of Venice is between Antonio and Bassanio. Antonio's willingness to risk himself to lend Bassanio the money he needs to court Portia is a sign of friendship.

Portia and Nerissa are another example of friendship. While their relationship is unequal because Portia is the mistress and Nerissa the maid, they speak to each other as friends, openly and intimately. For instance, Portia complains to Nerissa about being weary of the world, but Nerissa has none of it, saying:

You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries were in the same abundance as your good fortunes are.

Nerissa, in other words, reminds Portia that she is a privileged person with little to complain about.

Portia, bemoaning her fate in having to marry according to dead father's dictates, then says,

Is it not hard, Nerissa, that I cannot choose one nor refuse none?

Nerissa, again, is not servile in her response. She says frankly and pragmatically that Portia should be grateful that her father provided for her. Later, she goes along with Portia's cross-dressing plot, and at the end of the play, she is glad to join Portia in the final trick they play on the men. It is consistent with Portia's secure, generous, and down-to-earth character that she would not lord over her maid but would make her a friend and rely on her good sense.

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The theme of friendship and loyalty in The Merchant of Venice is represented on many levels and by many characters, but the most pronounced representatives of it are Antonio and Bassanio, who represent both friendship and loyalty. Antonio and Bassanio have a deep and genuine friendship that even extends to honest representations of information that others may receive a falsified idea of. Specifically, Antonio at first protests that he is not concerned about his ships because he has money invested in more places than his ships, so if they are delayed in or prevented from returning with their cargos of imports, Antonio won't be financially ruined.

However, when Bassanio comes to ask his assistance, Antonio tells him the truth as he says that everything he has depends uopn the safe return of his ships, so much so that he sends Bassanio to the marketplace to secure a loan in Antonio's name for the three tousand ducats that Bassanio needs. And speaking of Bassanio, he too displays the true picture of his situation. He says there is a chance he can marry a very wealthy woman and therefore needs money, of which he has none, to make a good showing of himself; in other words, he confides in Antonio that he doesn't want to look like the penniless, shiftless, fortune-hunter that he is. Only people with deep friendships confide truths like these to each other. As to their loyalty, Antonio pledges his flesh to help Bassanio, and Bassanio wishes to be able to sacrifice himself, his new wife, and all her wealth to be able to save Antonio from the court's ruling in favor of Shylock's claim stemming from the forfeited repayment of the money as required by the loan contract.

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Discuss the theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice.

Friendship is a critical theme of The Merchant of Venice, one most powerfully expressed in the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio. However, what I find particular interesting about Shakespeare's treatment of friendship in this play is how he depicts it in terms of hierarchy (which is noteworthy, given that usually friendship is perceived as a relationship between equals).

I think the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio is particularly murky, however (when it comes to discussing these themes of hierarchy). On the one hand, given that Bassanio is a noble, you would think he would occupy greater social status; but do not forget that he is also depicted as financially ruined and desperate to advance his financial standings. With this in mind, the merchant Antonio and Bassanio have a patron–client relationship of sorts, with Antonio lending Bassanio money (and it is in this context that Antonio makes his agreement with Shylock, in order to provide the funds Bassanio requires). With Bassanio's marriage to Portia, however, and Antonio's bond to Shylock coming due, the power dynamics reverse, with the now-wealthy and secure Bassanio attempting to intercede with Shylock on Antonio's behalf (although it will be by Portia's intercession that Antonio's release is ultimately secured).

That being said, I don't think you should discount the genuine bonds of friendship and loyalty these characters have for one another. Antonio proves this when he takes on real and genuine danger for Bassanio's sake, and Bassanio, in turn, is swift to rush to Antonio's support when he learns how his friend's fortunes have turned. Similarly, you can point towards the relationship between Portia and Nerissa to make a similar claim: theirs in particular involves a clearly defined sense of hierarchy (with the wealthy Portia and Nerissa, her servant), but this does not diminish the bonds they share, nor the loyalty they hold to one another.

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Discuss the theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice.

The most important friendship in the play is between Antonio and Bassanio. As the play opens, Antonio's friends notice he seems preoccupied and depressed and assume this is because he is worried about the ships he has out to sea. However, he is not anxious about them at all: his depression is due to Bassanio's desire to marry Portia. Antonio, a successful middle-aged merchant, has a great deal of affection for the younger man—so much so that Bassanio's desire to wed is a blow to him that throws him into a funk. Nevertheless, he feels such a strong bond to Bassanio that he is willing to borrow money from Shylock, a moneylender he despises, to help Bassanio. All of this has led some critics to conclude that Antonio' feelings, while they include friendship, are also stronger than friendship for his younger friend.

Whatever the case, Antonio's strong sense of attachment leads him to take a risk to help Bassanio, setting the action of the play into motion.

Another important friendship is that of Portia and her maid Nerissa. They are able to transcend the servant–mistress bond to some extent, because they are so much alike. Nerissa is a strong supporter of Portia, supporting both Portia's desire to wed Bassanio and Portia's desire to defend Antonio in court while disguised as a man. Nerissa is also not afraid to speak frankly to Portia, for example, reminding her that her father set up the casket game to try to protect her.

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Discuss the theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice.

I believe that the theme of friendship is best explored through the relationship that exists between Antonio and Bassanio. Audiences find out right away that Antonio and Bassanio are good friends, and I have always thought that Antonio is the far better friend of the two characters. This is because I see Antonio as the far more selfless and generous of the two men. By Bassanio's own admission, he isn't very good with money, and Antonio knows this about his friend. I laugh every time I read Bassanio's plan to woo Portia. He's so shallow. He desires Portia because she is rich enough to keep him out of financial trouble, and she happens to be gorgeous. In order to do his wooing, Bassanio needs money, and Antonio is completely on board with giving him the loan. Basically, Antonio is the guy that will see his friends through thick and thin, no matter the cost. He's the giver in the friendship, and Bassanio is the taker. To be completely fair to Bassanio, though, he does care for Antonio. Bassanio definitely wants the loan, and he wants to use it to win Portia's hand in marriage; however, when Bassanio hears the huge risk that Antonio is taking, Bassanio doesn't want to go through with it anymore. Bassanio may be more selfish than Antonio, but Bassanio understands that protecting his friend is more important than pursuing Portia.

You shall not seal to such a bond for me!
I’ll rather dwell in my necessity.
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Discuss the theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice.

The theme of friendship is indeed strong in this play; specifically, the friendship between Bassanio and Antonio is significant because their relationship is the catalyst for many of the play's major plot points. It is Antonio's love for Bassanio that prompts him to offer Bassanio a loan to help him woo Portia. Antonio procures the money from Shylock, who in turn levies a strict penalty for late repayment. Portia sees Antonio's stress resulting from his friend's predicament, and vows to help him. It is Bassanio's capacity for friendship and loyalty that insures even greater love from Portia.

Antonio is also quite possibly in love with Bassanio, perhaps in a platonic way, but the text suggests deeper romantic feelings, as we see in this quote:

Commend me to your honourable wife:

Tell her the process of Antonio's end;

Say how I lov'd you; speak me fair in death;

And, when the tale is told, bid her be judgeWhether Bassanio had not once a love.

There is every indication that the deep brotherly love between the two men may in fact have a latent homosexual context, at least from Antonio's perspective. But many productions of the play do not emphasize this theme. The more general theme of male bonding and loyalty is seen in Antonio's desire to convey his feelings to Bassanio in the event of his death. 

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Discuss the theme of loyalty and disloyalty in The Merchant of Venice.

Loyalty is expressed most fully in Antonio's willingness to be loyal to his friend Bassanio. He takes a risk in pledging a pound of his own flesh as collateral in order to obtain a loan from the moneylender Shylock. He does this to ensure Bassanio has the funds to woo the wealthy Portia. Even though currently short on cash himself, Antonio show great loyalty by refusing to let his beloved friend down.

The most blatant act of disloyalty comes when Jessica elopes with a Christian, Lorenzo, betraying both her father and her faith, as she plans to convert to Christianity. She even steals a ring that her father gave to her late mother, Leah. These acts are a blow to Shylock, who has suffered to remain faithful to his Jewish roots and who cares about his family.

The theme of loyalty and disloyalty comes up at the end of the play, when Portia and Nerissa, disguised as the lawyer Balthazar and his clerk, demand the rings that the men have promised they would never relinquish. The men break their promises and are later lightly tormented about it by their fiancees. The ring episode raises the question of how far loyalty to a promise should go: there seemingly are some circumstances in which a greater obligation makes an act of disloyalty the morally right step to take.

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Discuss the theme of friendship and loyalty as it is displayed by Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice.

It is patently clear from the text that Antonio and Bassanio share a deep friendship. Bassanio trusts that Antonio will assist him in any predicament for he has obviously done so in the past. Their friendship is obvious as one can gauge from their initial conversation:

...To you, Antonio,I owe the most, in money and in love,And from your love I have a warrantyTo unburden all my plots and purposesHow to get clear of all the debts I owe.

ANTONIOI pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it;And if it stand, as you yourself still do,Within the eye of honour, be assured,My purse, my person, my extremest means,Lie all unlock'd to your occasions.

The generous Antonio is prepared to help his friend in whatever situation he may find himself. Bassanio now faces another predicament for he wishes to woo the wealthy heiress, Portia, but he lacks the means of a fair chance against his other competitors since they are well off and men of some stature or title. He has too many unpaid debts and has now approached his friend for assistance.

Furthermore, it becomes evident that Bassanio had relied on his friend in the past, without always making good on his promises, but Antonio is more than willing to help him once more. but say to me what I should doThat in your knowledge may by me be done,And I am prest unto it: therefore, speak.

When Bassanio tells him of his current dilemma, Antonio informs him that he has invested his money in merchandise which he is transporting by sea and that he does not have any ready cash available. He does, however, ask him to use his good name to obtain credit and he would do the same.

Go, presently inquire, and so will I,Where money is, and I no question makeTo have it of my trust or for my sake.

Bassanio is given the freedom to obtain a loan using Antonio as security, something with which he will have no issue. Such magnanimity is indeed rare and reflects the depth of their relationship.  

Bassanio eventually obtains a loan from the moneylender, Shylock, and Antonio signs a bond as security. He is prepared to take the risk, even if the terms state that Shylock may cut out a pound of his flesh if he should forfeit. Antonio signs the deed against Bassanio's advice.  

We later learn that Antonio's ships have been wrecked and that he is bankrupt and, therefore, unable to repay the loans. Shylock demands restitution and asks the duke for judgement. When Bassanio, who is at Belmont after he had successfully won Portia's hand, hears about his friend's dilemma, he is utterly distraught, so much so, that he turns pale. His shocked response to the news moves Portia to enquire about his reaction.

With leave, Bassanio: I am half yourself,And I must freely have the half of anythingThat this same paper brings you.

Bassanio then informs her about Antonio's desperate situation and she vows to help. Bassanio's trauma in this instance further illustrates how much he cared for his friend. He was quite desperate to help him overcome his precarious circumstance. It is to this end that he decides to rush to Venice after a quick wedding ceremony.

On his arrival in Venice, Bassanio attempts to sway Shylock from his malicious purpose by offering him six thousand ducats, twice the original loan amount, but Shylock remains steadfast. He wants to exact his revenge on Antonio and nothing will move him. Bassanio tries to bring Antonio some comfort and says:

Good cheer, Antonio! What, man, courage yet!The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones and all,Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.

His statement once again provides evidence of the depth of his commitment to his friend. He is prepared to give his own life before he would allow Antonio to be harmed. He later also declares, not knowing that he is in Portia's presence since she is disguised as a lawyer:

Antonio, I am married to a wifeWhich is as dear to me as life itself;But life itself, my wife, and all the world,Are not with me esteem'd above thy life:I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them allHere to this devil, to deliver you.

Portia's clever intervention forces Shylock to withdraw his demand and he is prepared to accept thrice the amount of the loan which Bassanio immediately offers. His wife, however, has another ace up her sleeve and uses Venetian law to damn Shylock. Since he purposely wanted to harm a Venetian citizen, the court finds against him.

Later, when they have all returned to Belmont, Portia plays on Bassanio's emotions with regard to her ring that he gave away, thinking that he had given it as a gift to the eminent lawyer who had saved his friend's life. Antonio, who feels responsible for the altercation between the two, intervenes and says:

I once did lend my body for his wealth;Which, but for him that had your husband's ring,Had quite miscarried: I dare be bound again,My soul upon the forfeit, that your lordWill never more break faith advisedly.

In this instance, Antonio once more displays his love for his friend, offering to bond himself and forfeit his soul to guarantee that Bassanio would never again break an oath. The matter is resolved, though, when Portia declares the truth - that she and Nerissa had, in fact, been the lawyer and his clerk to whom the rings had been given.

The two men truly exemplify the expression: "A friend in need is a friend indeed."

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How would you illustrate the theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice?

The theme of friendship runs throughout The Merchant of Venice. Even the vindictive and isolated Shylock has a friend and associate in the Jewish Tubal, and he mentions friends that do not appear in the play. Tubal offers Shylock comfort by reminding him of Antonio’s ill fortunes. One reason for Shylock’s grief is partially due to the power of friendship: Lorenzo’s friends have helped him elope with Shylock’s daughter Jessica and steal from him. Gratiano, Salerio, Solanio, and Bassanio are all good friends who know about and partake in the plot.

Nerissa also comforts her lady Portia. She tells her not to worry over getting a husband, but she banters and sympathizes with Portia when she complains about her suitors. Nerissa encourages the romance with Bassanio and follows suit by marrying Gratiano, who visited with Bassanio. Nerissa joins Portia in dressing as men and acting as lawyers, when Portia playfully claims she would “prove the prettier fellow of the two” boys. Nerissa even tricks Gratiano by demanding his wedding ring when Portia does the same with Bassanio. The two seem to be very close, confiding in one another and doing everything together.

The most important friendship in the play is between Antonio and Bassanio. Antonio puts his life on the line in order to borrow money for Bassanio. He tells him, “My purse, my person, my extremest means, / Lie all unlock'd to your occasions.” Antonio’s affection for Bassanio creates the most suspenseful scene in the play, in which Shylock nearly cuts out a pound of flesh from his body. Bassanio attempts to repay Antonio’s kindness with Portia’s money, but only Portia’s wit can save Antonio.

Friendships in The Merchant of Venice are portrayed as strong and crucial bonds, even though they sometimes cause significant conflicts.

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How does the theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice  appear in the play?

In the Merchant of Venice there are two friendships that play important roles in the drama: 

Antonio and Bassanio

This friendship seems rather one-sided as Antonio makes far more sacrifices and gestures of friendship than Bassanio.  In Act I, Bassanio admits, 

To you, Antonio,I owe the most, in money and in love;And from your love I have a warrantyTo unburden all my plots and purposesHow to get clear of all the debts I owe. (1.1.4)

Antonio’s overture to donate a pound of his own flesh seems especially significant of itself as its altruism is superlative, but it is considered by some critics rather grotesque as it suggests the rites of marriage, in which "two become one flesh.”

Nerissa and Portia

Nerissa is devoted to Portia;sympathetic to Portia's frustration over the terms of her father's will, Nerissa advises Portia to accept the conditions and respect her father,

Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at their ...therefore, the lottery that he hath devised in these three chests, of gold, silver, and lead, (whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you,) will, no doubt, never be chosen by any rightly, but one who you shall rightly love. But what warmth is there in your affection towards any of these princely suitors that are already come? (1.2.24-30)

She also disguises herself as a man who is a law clerk that accompanies the "doctor" who is really Portia.  In her life, Nerissa mirrors the actions of Portia, a behavior of servants thought to be commendable by Elizabethans. Most salient is the wedding of Nerissa and Gratiano that imitates the wedding of Portia and Bassanio. 

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