Poetry in "The Merchant of Venice"There is much beautiful poetry in "The Merchant of Venice" and many messages are worth committing to memory! Why don't we discuss this?

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, there is some beautiful poetry. And there is - well, one message that might be worth committing to memory, "all that glisters is not gold", a moral about both not judging a book by its cover, and about there being more important things than material wealth.

The problem is - and the reason that no-one discusses "The Merchant of Venice" as a feast of beautiful poetry or a hotpot of well-worth-remembering morals - that the play depicts a series of absolutely horrible characters doing absolutely horrible things.

Who in the play acts upon the idea that "all that glisters is not gold"? Well, no-one really. Everyone wants their money, Portia wants the physically-attractive Bassanio, he wants her money, Antonio also wants the physically-attractive Bassanio, Bassanio wants his money as well, Shylock wants revenge and his bond... and so on. Everyone judges Shylock on his appearance, by his cover - that he is a Jew.

The whole ingredient of racism, liberally stirred through the play, also makes it deeply spiky and problematic. You want real evidence? At the start of his first scene with Portia, the Duke of Morocco comes in, and as the first line, says "Mislike me not for my complexion" (don't judge me by the colour of my skin). At the end of their second scene together, he's failed to win her hand in marriage, and the final line is spoken by Portia - it is the most absolutely straight-down-the-line judge-by-appearances you could get: 'Let all of his complexion choose me so'.

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The Merchant of Venice

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