The Merchant of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare between 1596 and 1598. The play evokes the question, will love or money prevail? And, what do we value more? The play presents the triumph of money. Through the use of both diction and imagery, the reader finds an argument for money. By doing so, the play allows us to question our own personal values. By doing so, the reader is able to identify personal biases, and even loyalties, to either love or money.
An example of the argument for wealth’s superiority can be found in Act 1, Scene 1. During this scene, Antonio discusses his sorrows with Salarino and Solanio. He outlines his sadness, and his companions offer explanations for his depression, the cause of which is seemingly unknowable,
“In sooth I know not why I am so sad.
It wearies me, you say it wearies you.
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,…”(ll. 1-3)
“…Your mind is tossing on the ocean,
There where your argosies with portly sail”(ll. 8-9)
“…Why then, you are in love”(l. 46)
Antonio’s companions offer little sympathy. Instead, they immediately jump to conclusions firstly concerning Antonio’s business affairs. After which they guess that his heart is aching. It is important to note that the matters of finances are addressed before the matters of the heart. This suggests that not only do Antonio’s companions prefer wealth over love. Further, being close friends of Antonio, Salarino and Solanio know him well, and thus base their guesses on the cause of his sorrows on what they know about Antonio. Another example of wealth prevailing over love can be found in Act 1, Scene 2. In which Bassanio describes his plan to rid himself of debts by marrying Portia. Portia is a wealthy young woman,
“In Belmont is a lady richly left,
And she is fair, and-fairer than that word
Of wondrous virtues.”(ll. 161-163)
Bassanio has planned to get out of debt by marrying a wealthy woman for her money. In a similar manner to the previous quotation, the financial benefits of marrying Portia are discussed before the content of her character or her physical appearance. This suggests that Bassanio has ill intentions. He sees Portia only as a means to an end, not as a human being. This exemplifies how wealth skews the perceptions of beauty and character. Further, Bassanio’s vision has been clouded by the possibility of wealth, and it has allowed him to dehumanize a woman he plans to marry. This further reiterates the theme of wealth prevailing over love. An additional example of wealth’s gains over love can be found in Act 2, Scene 6,
“I will make fast the doors, and gild myself
With some moe ducats, and be with you straight”(ll. 50-51)
The context of this scene is Jessica escapes with Lorenzo, but no before ransacking her home of ducats, jewelry, and other valuables. The scene occurs during the night. Further, Lorenzo has entered the ghetto, and has donned a mask as to not reveal his identity. Yet again, wealth has been prioritized over love. However, in this scene, Jessica ensures the safety and transport of her stolen goods before boarding the boat alongside her husband-to-be. Jessica quite literally places wealth before her relationship. She risks getting caught, and thus risks her marriage, for money. This highlights the carelessness of those who value money over all else. Further, the scene occurring at night compliments this theme. The night, and thus darkness, hides the shame felt by both parties. Further, the mask worn by Lorenzo and Jessica dressing as a boy both act as an additional cover from shame. In order to face the act of placing wealth above each other, the pair is forced to spend their first moments together in disguise.