What are moral questions in The Merchant of Venice?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One moral issues in The Merchant of Venice is judging by appearances, a theme Bassanio encounters in Belmont, which also applies to both Antonio and Shylock. Bassanio seems to be the only one in the play who really understands the value of not judging by appearances. Not only does he win Portia by selecting the least well-appearing leaden casket (box), he earnestly values Antonio for the good that Antonio has done him, despite the appearances Antonio presents to Shylock, and he speaks respectfully to Shylock in the marketplace while trying to secure a loan despite Shylock's social appearances as a Jew.

Antonio gives the appearance of being upright, upstanding, generous, loving, kind, gentle and probably merciful. But when his behavior is examined in juxtaposition to Shylock, Antonio reveals himself to be unkind, unloving, prejudiced, hateful, cruel and mean-spirited. Shylock makes the mistake of judging by appearances. For example, he judged his contract to be sound in a court of law because by all appearances it was. He judged revenge to be his best course of action because revenge had served the Christians so well.

Other moral questions are justice versus mercy; religious hypocrisy; and truthfulness in a court of law, bearing in mind that Portia lied in court by her very presence.