Is the title of the play "The Merchant of Venice" an appropriate one?

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iambic5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the interesting things about “The Merchant of Venice” is its title. Antonio is the title character, and in many ways he’s an odd one: although he takes on the bond that the plot hinges on, and is in that sense at the center of the action, he actually speaks very seldom and his presence is often overshadowed by Portia, Shylock, even Bassanio and Gratiano steal focus from him sometimes. His role in the play is the linchpin of the plot, but both Portia and Shylock dominate the action much more. Yet the play isn’t called “The Jew of Venice”, even though Shylock is often the most memorable character, and it isn’t called “The Heiress of Belmont” even though Portia has the longest role. Why is that?

One possible reason is that by calling it “The Merchant of Venice”, Shakespeare not only focuses the play on Antonio and the bond that almost costs him his life, but also emphasizes the role of money in the play. Antonio is a merchant and by putting his job in the title Shakespeare has pointed up how much the play is concerned with money, finance, investments and the transactional nature of the characters’ relationships (almost everybody in the play has a certain financial interest in each of the others, no matter how they may feel about them). The title foregrounds the world of finance and investment that pervades the play.

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The Merchant of Venice

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