How does The Merchant of Venice illustrate the theme of appearance versus reality?

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The theme of appearance versus reality is prevalent in The Merchant of Venice. One of the ways to examine this is by looking at the relationships between many of the characters in the play. Most obvious is Portia's disguise and subsequent interactions with the gentlemen of the court, in order to save her suitor's friend Antonio from Shylock's wrath in collecting his bond. Another example is the appearance of Jessica's devotion to her father Shylock, which is underscored by her desire to flee his grasp. The manner in which she accomplishes this, coupled with what she does once she has, highlights this theme.

There are other more subtle instances of appearance versus reality as well. Towards the end of the play Portia and Nerissa are complicit in a scheme to test their new relationships with Bassanio and Graziano. Also, Antonio's willingness to enter into a bond with Shylock, a man he despises, on the surface appears to be done out of freindship. Another possible interpretation is that Antonio is trying to live vicariously through the exploits of his younger  companions and gain entry to the life promised by Belmont.

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To address the question of how the Merchant of Venice deals with the theme of appearance versus reality, start by reviewing the play. To be specific, look at the following things:

Look at how Antonio acts towards Shylock when talking directly to him, versus how he acts when Shylock can't hear him.

Then do the same for Shylock. What does he say privately, versus publicly?

Then, consider Portia. She dresses up like a man, changing her appearance, in order to change reality. Look at that section.

Then look at the discussions of the laws. What do they mean--and what are they interpreted to mean?

Then look at which chest is considered the right choice, versus which one different people choose. There is a conflict there between appearance and reality.

Remember this line from the play: All that glisters is not gold.

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