The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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Does The Merchant of Venice suggest love and friendship can be stronger than money?

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Yes, it certainly does. The first evidence of this is when Antonio, out of love for his friend Bassanio, is prepared to provide him with the security to obtain a loan from Shylock, the money-lender. Although Bassanio already owed him money, Antonio was generous enough to provide his friend with the necessary assistance, even though he had no ready cash available. He did this to ensure that his companion could woo the wealthy heiress, Portia on the isle of Belmont.

When Bassanio seeks his help, the magnanimous Antonio responds as follows:

Thou know'st that all my fortunes are at sea;
Neither have I money nor commodity
To raise a present sum: therefore go forth;
Try what my credit can in Venice do:
That shall be rack'd, even to the uttermost,
To furnish thee to Belmont, to fair Portia.
Go, presently inquire, and so will I,
Where money is, and I no question make
To have it of my trust or for my sake.

These lines pertinently indicate Antonio's unselfish love for his desperate friend.

Later in the play, when Bassanio informs Portia of the danger that Antonio faces because he cannot repay the loan of three thousand ducats, she declares:

What, no more?
Pay him six thousand, and deface the bond;
Double six thousand, and then treble that,
Before a friend of this description
Shall lose a hair through Bassanio's fault.
First go with me to church and call me wife,
And then away to Venice to your friend;
For never shall you lie by Portia's side
With an unquiet soul. You shall have gold
To pay the petty debt twenty times over:
When it is paid, bring your true friend along.

It is evident that Portia does not care about the money and would settle the debt many times over. Even though she does not know Antonio, her love for Bassanio urges her to make this commitment, for she does not wish to see him unhappy. She calls the debt a 'petty trifle' even though the amount is quite substantial. Furthermore, she makes an effort to travel to Venice disguised as a lawyer after she has sought legal advice from an experienced lawyer, Bellario, to defend Antonio.

In contrast, the Jew Shylock is obsessed with money. He lends out money at interest and denounces his daughter, Jessica when she runs away with Lorenzo and steals some of his money and jewels in the process. He even goes as far as saying that he would preferably have back his stolen jewels and money than his daughter. She should rather be dead for all he cares. 

... would my daughter
were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!
Would she were hearsed at my foot, and the ducats in
her coffin!...

Although Shylock is obsessed with material possessions, he is driven by an even greater desire - revenge. He becomes so intent on taking vengeance on Antonio that he is not prepared to even consider accepting twice the amount of the debt when it is offered to him in settlement by Bassanio. It is this malevolence that finally leads to his destruction.

In the end, it is Shylock who is punished and Antonio who is released from his obligation and set free. For all his wealth, Shylock had no one to support him whilst Antonio was surrounded by loving and caring friends who came to his defence and succeeded in rescuing him from the Jew's malice. 

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