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Love and Friendship

In connection with mercy and generosity, The Merchant of Venice also explores love and
friendship between its characters. The central romantic relationship of the play is that
between Bassanio and Portia. Their marriage is paralleled by several others: the elopement
of Shylock's daughter, Jessica, with the Christian, Lorenzo; and the marriage of Portia's
servant, Nerissa, to Bassanio's companion, Gratiano. In addition, numerous critics have
suggested that the strongest friendship in the playbetween Antonio and Bassanioalso
approaches romantic love. In addition, the play shows how strong the amicable ties are that
connect all the various Venetian characters.
Given the generosity that they motivate between characters, love and friendship might
seem to offer alternatives to the ugly emotions of prejudice, greed, and revenge on display
in The Merchant of Venice. However, beginning with Bassanio's borrowing money from his
friend Antonio in order to woo Portia, the play also demonstrates that the apparent purity of
love and friendship can be tainted by selfish economic concerns. In addition, love and
friendship are also at the mercy of the law, as seen in Portia's being subject to the terms of
her father's riddle of the caskets.
Characters
Shylock - A Jewish moneylender in Venice who has been embittered by years of abuse at the hands of Venetian Christians
and Antonio, the merchant, in particular. Shylock's anger and bitterness lead him to sign a contract with Antonio, in which Antonio
puts up a pound of his own flesh as collateral for a loan. When Antonio can't cover his loan, Shylock refuses to show any mercy and
insists that the law be upheld and that he get to take his pound of flesh. The other characters, including Shylock's own
daughter, Jessica, consider him inhumanbestial or demonic. However, their treatment of Shylock helps illuminate the prejudice
and hypocrisy that lies behind many of their stated ideals of human brotherhood and Christian fellowship.

Antonio - A prosperous Venetian merchant, liked and admired by his fellow citizens. To help his friend Bassanio woo Portia, Antonio
signs a contract with Shylock, guaranteeing a loan with one pound of his own flesh as collateral. Many critics argue that Antonio
harbors an unrequited erotic desire for Bassanio. In contrast to the benevolence that he shows others, Antonio expresses an
intense hatred of Shylock and the Jews, though at the end of the play he does argue that Shylock should be shown mercy and not
be condemned to death.

Portia - A beautiful, clever, and wealthy noblewoman who lives in the country estate of Belmont, outside Venice. Portia is bound by
a clause in her father's will, which obligates her to marry whoever solves the so-called riddle of the caskets, by choosing the correct
chest from one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. After despairing over a parade of suitors whom she finds distasteful, Portia
does get to marry her true love, Bassanio, who happily makes the correct choice. She also savesAntonio's life, during his trial with
Shylock, dressed up as a lawyer named Balthazar. For centuries, Portia was admired as an ideal of feminine virtue. However, many
modern critics have pointed out that Portia, though seemingly a genius and a perfect wife, regularly displays a vicious prejudice
toward non-Christians and foreigners.

Bassanio - A nobleman from Venice, who is a kinsman, close friend, and longtime debtor of the merchant, Antonio. Because he
wants to woo the noble Portia, but cannot himself afford to do so, Bassanio borrows 3000 ducats from Shylock, with Antonio as his
guarantor. His status as Portia's suitor and, later, her husband, makes Bassanio the romantic hero of the play. However, his
character is deeply flawed. At best clueless, and at worst consciously selfish and manipulative, he always manages to avoid earning
his own way: first, he exploits the generosity of his friend Antonio, and then he freely passes on the money and gifts that Portia gives
him.

Gratiano - A notoriously vulgar Venetian and friend of Bassanio. While Bassanio courts Portia, Gratiano falls in love with and
eventually marries her servant, Nerissa.

Jessica - Shylock's daughter, who moves from merely disdaining her father to actually robbing him, eloping with a Christian
Venetian, Lorenzo, and converting to Christianity.

Lorenzo - A Venetian and friend of Bassanio and Antonio, who is in love with Shylock's daughterJessica. Lorenzo elopes with
Jessica, taking money and precious items that she has stolen from her father.

Nerissa - Portia's servant and confidante, Nerissa ultimately marries Bassanio's companion,Gratiano.

Launcelot Gobbo - A clownish servant, who leaves Shylock in order to work for Bassanio.

Salerio - A Venetian nobleman, friendly with Antonio, Bassanio, Gratiano, and Lorenzo.

Solanio - A Venetian nobleman and good friend of Salerio.

Prince of Morocco - A Moorish prince who comes to woo Portia at Belmont. He asks Portia not to judge him by the color of his
skin, but incorrectly picks the gold casket.

Prince of Aragon - A Spanish nobleman who woos Portia at Belmont. He incorrectly picks the silver casket.

Duke of Venice - Presides over the trial of Antonio. Although the Duke attempts to persuadeShylock to show Antonio mercy, he
knows that Venice's commercial interests depend on a consistent application of its laws, so he can't make an exception to help
Antonio.

Old Gobbo - Launcelot's blind father.

Tubal - A Jew in Venice, and Shylock's sole friend and confidante during the course of the play.

Doctor Bellario - Portia's cousin and a well-respected lawyer in Padua. He never appears on stage.

Balthazar - The servant Portia sends to obtain her letters of introduction and costume from Bellario. Balthazar is also the name
Portia takes when she impersonates a lawyer at court.

Shylock is a victim or a villain?As your question suggest, he's both. Hes disgracefully treated by the Christians:
they mock his religion, refuse to trade with him, spit on him in the street, and - even in the trial scene - mock him
and taunt him to his face. Throughout the play he's referred to as "Jew" rather than "Shylock", and you can see why
he longs to "feed fat" his grudge against the Christians.He is devastated when his daughter leaves him, without any
warning, and without any evidence of negative behaviour towards her from him (she says "this house is hell",
though the scene doesn't make it clear exactly why she feels like that). Shylock is, I think Shakespeare makes it very
clear, a victim. He is also a villain. He deliberately opts for the "pound of flesh" because he has a grudge against
Antonio, and, when the chance comes to get his revenge, he behaves in an extremely undignified and certainly
unmerciful way. He gloats in front of Antonio, even attending the gaolers who arrest him, and openly proclaims
his right to the flesh, against any sense of common humanity, in a public court. He also values his money extremely
highly - not negative in itself - but, when he seems to value his ducats more than his daughter, you have to be
suspicious. He's undoubtedly also a villain.You can make a case either way. For me, I'd argue that he's both at once:
though like the Wittgenstein duck/rabbit, at any one moment he seems one or the other.
Justice vs mercy
When discussing the matters of the law, one must accept what is written in the law books which are accepted by
thepeople or rulers of the country. Laws are written in order to protect people from harm or unfairness. "Justice" is a
word that connotes strength and fairness while "Mercy" seems to present itself as a weak idea reserved for victims.
Justice is an idea that people call for when they feel they have been treated unfairly and want the law to fix the
problems between two factions. Mercy is a gift of forgiveness not truly understood or given easily. Along these lines
of thinking enters Shylock who demands justice but is asked to give mercy. Christianity and Judaism also clash in
the debate as to what should hold stronger under Antonio's unfortunate circumstances. The irony comes in when a
person who thinks that the law is on his side forgets mercy and demands justice. Justice systems would lose the trust
of the people if it handed out mercy all of the time. Thus, when Shylock refuses to accept anything other than
Antonio's pound of flesh, Portia says, "A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine;/ The court awards it, and the
law doth give it"he only way that justice can be satisfied is if payment for any contract is paid. Luckily, Justice
doesn't care who pays the debt, only that the contract is fulfilled. This is why Portia gave Bassanio permission to
offer 6,000 ducats! She thought that any man would be willing to accept double the contract and release Antonio
from the contract. Only if Shylock had dropped the case could the law back away from executing itself.Sadly,
Shylock was blind-sided by a law that he didn't know about which turns the tide against him and forces him into a
position of asking for mercy. If Venitian law had not demanded that no blood should be shed, then Shylock would
have had his justified way. The only two ways that Justice can be satisfied is if the contract is paid or if the petitioner
drops the charges. Justice is blind for equality's sake, but Mercy is subjective and dependant upon the choice of one
who would sacrifice something valuable for someone else who is trapped or has nothing of value. Mercy can only
overcome Justice when it is freely given by a person's choice. Justice has claim over all who must obey the law.