The Merchant of Venice Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Which characters show choice versus fate and wisdom versus foolishness in Merchant of the Venice? For each binary, please provide evidences.

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The contrasts between fate and choice, and between wisdom and foolishness, are visible in numerous places in The Merchant of Venice.

The financial fortunes of Antonio illustrate fate versus choice. The destruction of his ship by the storm is not his fault. However, he made not one but several choices which lead to financial disaster, and he compounds his bad luck by making an unwise bargain with Shylock.

The advice that Portia gives in court while disguised as Balthazar is a good example of wisdom. In the "quality of mercy" speech, she uses reason and logic to argue his point of law, but also advocates tempering strict interpretation of the law with compassion so that the justice has mercy.

Foolishness is best exemplified by the failed suitors who court Portia by attempting the riddles. Each in his own way shows his vanity or greed, and readily falls right into the trap that her father had set.

Shakespeare also draws a strong distinction between the two daughters, illustrating Portia's wisdom and Jessica's foolishness. Portia knows she is not in an ideal position because she must rely on her late father's scheme for selecting her future husband, but she prudently trusts his judgment. Jessica acts foolishly by stealing from her father and eloping. She barely escapes the dire consequences.

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