What are the differences between Belmont and Venice in The Merchant of Venice?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare sets The Merchant of Venice in Venice and Belmont, which have similarities and several differences. One similarity seen in Act I Scene i is that both are places where people may be unhappy. Antonio is unhappy in Venice and he does not know why. He denies that it is his business or love that are making him unhappy. In Belmont, the first thing that Portia says is that she is "weary" of the world. She knows why she in unhappy: she can neither choose her husband nor refuse one she doesn't want.

The biggest differences between Venice and Belmont are that while money, buying and selling and a public marketplace are the backdrop of Venice, music, stars, trees, a gentle wind, splendor and couples in love are the backdrop of Belmont. To emphasize this, Shylock makes his deal, after Antonio has enraged him, in Venice, and Lorenzo and Jessica escape from Venice and go to Belmont to start a new life of love.

It is interesting to note that one of the last things we learn about Belmont is that Belmont is where a Jewish woman and a Christian man will be given by a Christian the wealth of a Jewish man. Belmont, a seemingly idyllic place where stars look like white gold, is where unity of man and woman, Christian and Jew, and restoration of worldly respect and goods to a Jew (the wealth Antonio will pass over to Jessica is her inheritance by right of birth, anyway) take place.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Belmont and Venice represent what Shakespeare scholar David Bevington calls, in his edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, "two contrasting worlds." Venice represents the real world of commerce and corruption. It is a busy place, low and flat, most often shown in the glare of daylight. It is a man's world, ruled by business interests and the courts.

In contrast, Belmont is a magical mountain destination, an idealized world of love, reached from Venice by crossing water. It is dominated by women, though a male, Portia's dead father, has made his influence felt through the fairytale-like three caskets by which Portia's husband will be chosen. If Venice is a crowded, hurried place, Belmont, most often shown at night, is quiet and peaceful.

It could be argued that in disguising herself as man and defending Antonio in a Venetian court of law, Portia attempts to transport some of the sweet "quality of mercy" that characterizes Belmont into the stern patriarchy of Venice. 


eunicep16 | Student

In Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses two contrasting settings, Venice and Belmont. The two settings vary in several ways. Shakespeare describes Venice as an economic city where currency flows in and out with every docking ship. More so, Venice is also a cosmopolitan city that is bordered by the Ottoman empire. The male gender predominates the Venice society. In the play Jesicca, a single woman, is locked up at her house and the only way she can step outside is by disguising herself as a man.

In contrast, Belmont, known as the home to Portia is a city full of festivity and romance. Shakespeare portrays Belmont as a green land where ruthlessness does not exist. In addition, women have the upper hand in Belmont society.

Read the study guide:
The Merchant of Venice

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question