How does the theme of friendship in The Merchant of Venice  appear in the play?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Merchant of Venice there are two friendships that play important roles in the drama: 

Antonio and Bassanio

This friendship seems rather one-sided as Antonio makes far more sacrifices and gestures of friendship than Bassanio.  In Act I, Bassanio admits, 

To you, Antonio,
I owe the most, in money and in love;
And from your love I have a warranty
To unburden all my plots and purposes
How to get clear of all the debts I owe. (1.1.4)

Antonio’s overture to donate a pound of his own flesh seems especially significant of itself as its altruism is superlative, but it is considered by some critics rather grotesque as it suggests the rites of marriage, in which "two become one flesh.”

Nerissa and Portia

Nerissa is devoted to Portia;sympathetic to Portia's frustration over the terms of her father's will, Nerissa advises Portia to accept the conditions and respect her father,


Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at their ...therefore, the lottery that
he hath devised in these three chests, of gold, silver, and
lead, (whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you,)
will, no doubt, never be chosen by any rightly, but one
who you shall rightly love. But what warmth is there in
your affection towards any of these princely suitors that
are already come? (1.2.24-30)

She also disguises herself as a man who is a law clerk that accompanies the "doctor" who is really Portia.  In her life, Nerissa mirrors the actions of Portia, a behavior of servants thought to be commendable by Elizabethans. Most salient is the wedding of Nerissa and Gratiano that imitates the wedding of Portia and Bassanio. 

Read the study guide:
The Merchant of Venice

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