What is the theme of The Merchant of Venice?   

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a great discussion of the theme of this play right here on eNotes. See the link below.

The themes revolve around love vs. hate, mercy vs. condemnation, obeying vs. circumventing the law, the importance of the human beings over business endeavors. There are stark contrasts between Christian virtues (exhibited by Portia and others) and non-Christian virtues (represented by the character Shylock) who is always out to get his "pound off flesh." The play is often criticized for being anti-Semitic for its portrayal of the Jewish merchant, Shylock. However, anti-semitism was, sadly, widespread throughout Europe during Shakespeare's time. Modern critics of the play, viewing it through a lense not clouded by anti-semitism, have tended to look upon Shylock in a more sympathetic way.

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muddy-mettled | Student

"Why, I will fight with him upon this theme / Until my eyelids will no longer wag!"(HAM5.1)  In the movie WEST SIDE STORY, Maria doesn't take a potion like Juliet because the effects belong to the science fiction genre.  Nevertheless, that Tony welcomes death at the hands of Chino corresponds more to Antonio and Shylock's behavior in 4.1 of MV("Nay, take my life and all"). Genre is another theme  in MV as  Professor  Garber's work suggests:  "Comedy or tragedy?"  ROM is tragical, MND is comical and MV is linked to both.  Among the comments from S.T. Coleridge on ROM:  "Thus we see that no one passion is so predominant, but that it includes all the parts of the character, and the reader never has a mere abstract of a passion, as of wrath or ambition, but the whole man is presented to him."  In the MV text and the criticism, then, we find quite a variety of passions.  The importance of context is suggested within MV itself:  "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose"(1.3).

muddy-mettled | Student

More regarding the theme question:  If a theme in a drama refers only to an an abstract term, context is important. For example, in MND when Titania declares her love for Bottom he replys:  " Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that, and yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.  The more the pity that some honest neighbors will not make them friends"(MND3.1).