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The Merchant of Venice | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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What is surprising about Gratiano's decision to marry Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2?

Throughout the previous scenes of the play, Gratiano has presented himself as a happy-go-lucky character who enjoys parties, socializing, and drink. He has not directly called himself a confirmed bachelor but has not presented himself as someone interested in settling down. He is seldom serious, always ready with a joke. Bassanio was afraid to bring Gratiano on this trip for fear Gratiano might embarrass him, so his decision to settle down comes as something of a surprise to Bassanio. Even after Gratiano explains how he "beheld" Nerissa and was taken with nervous sweat and a dry mouth, Bassanio questions him, "And do you, Gratiano, mean good faith?" His choice of words—"good faith"—implies Bassanio believes there is a chance Gratiano might not be serious, that he might be acting out of self-interest or making a joke. Yet Bassanio doesn't belabor the point, accepting Gratiano's affirmation of his good faith without further question.

In The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2, what indicates Gratiano and Nerissa are well suited for one another?

Gratiano and Nerissa play similar roles for Bassanio and Portia respectively, providing constant companionship. They offer frank advice to the people they care about, as Gratiano does with Antonio in Act 1, Scene 1 to break Antonio out of his bad mood. Nerissa does the same for Portia in Act 1, Scene 2. They are both forces of good cheer, humor, and common sense. Nerissa also appears to understand, or at least tolerate, Gratiano's bawdy sense of humor. After the very serious and heartfelt moment of confessing their intent to marry and receiving congratulations, Gratiano offers to make a bet with Bassanio and Portia as to which couple will have a son first. Nerissa says, "What, and stake down?" Gratiano replies, "No, we shall ne'er win at that sport and stake down." His joke equates the stake with sexual arousal, necessary for having a son. The scene ends without a specific reaction from Nerissa, but she has spent sufficient time with Gratiano to know this is the kind of humor she can expect from him.

In The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 2, what does Portia's reaction to the news about Antonio reveal about her personality?

Portia has never met Antonio, but his predicament allows her an opportunity to demonstrate her devotion to Bassanio and her generosity of spirit. She shrugs off the 3,000-ducat sum of Antonio's debt and offers to pay Shylock twice or even four times the original value of the bond. Portia is exceedingly wealthy, so such an offer is easy for her to make. But since wealth can bring with it stinginess just as easily, this is still a very generous offer to make for a stranger. More importantly, Portia is generous with Bassanio himself. In Act 4, Scene 1 Bassanio will refer to Portia as his wife, and he and Portia will treat one another as spouses in Act 5 Scene 1, but the details of this scene reveal Portia's willingness to postpone her actual wedding for Antonio. She first asks Bassanio to "go with [her] to church and call [her] wife" before he leaves for Venice. After Bassanio reads Antonio's plea for Bassanio to come to Venice, Portia seems to drop this idea and urges Bassanio to "dispatch all business and begone!" The couple are married in the sense that they have made promises to one another and a ring has been given, but the ceremony will have to wait until Bassanio's return. She is patient and trusting, filled only with concern for the welfare of a man she does not yet know.

Why does Shylock repeat the word bond so frequently in his lines in The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 3?

Shylock speaks a total of 16 lines in the first part of Act 3, Scene 3. In those lines he repeats the phrase, "I will have my bond" five times and says "Speak not against my bond" once. This repetition shows the single-mindedness of Shylock's thinking and action now. He refuses to talk with Antonio or consider yielding to "Christian intercessors." His thinking and speech border on the obsessive with this repetition. He cares for nothing except his bond, and he may feel the bond is all he has left in the world to care about. Shylock's household is empty. His wife is long dead. His daughter has fled the city. Even his servant Launcelot has moved on to a more appealing master. The word bond itself is also evocative of the situation Shylock and Antonio find themselves in. Antonio is literally bound in prison now, a state it doubtless makes Shylock happy to see since he mocks Antonio as "the fool who lent out money gratis." But the bond also connects Shylock to Antonio; his own fortunes are tied to what happens to Antonio next.

In The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 3, why does Antonio believe even the Duke of Venice can't stop Shylock?

The Duke of Venice is the highest authority in the city. In other cities rulers may govern like tyrants and issue edicts, but Venice is reputed to be a progressive society. Therefore, the duke is not above the law any more than his citizens are. Venice's progressive reputation has made it a center of trade, as Antonio points out when he says "the trade and profit of the city consisteth of all nations." The outcome of this case places the city's international reputation on the line. If the duke intercedes in this case and unilaterally nullifies Shylock's bond, it sets a dangerous precedent for the rule of law and the validity of all contracts in Venice. There will be nothing to stop other unsatisfied traders and merchants from bringing their own cases before the duke expecting their contracts to be nullified when an investment doesn't turn out as expected. Once contracts cannot be relied upon to be honored, the business that sustains the city will evaporate, and the entire society will suffer. For the good of his people, the duke must uphold Shylock's contract.

Why doesn't Antonio care that he's about to die in The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 3?

Antonio's attitude in Act 3, Scene 3 is one of a man resigned to his fate. He knows it is pointless to try to reason with Shylock, who is driven by a hatred of years, perhaps decades, in the making. He knows the duke cannot intercede on his behalf without undermining the rule of law that ensures Venice's prosperity. Bassanio, the person Antonio cares for most in the world, is about to marry and move to Belmont. Whatever the precise nature of Antonio's love for Bassanio, their close relationship will be irrevocably changed, which creates deep sadness for Antonio. He says he only wants to see Bassanio once more before he dies, then he does not care what happens to him. Finally, Shylock's badgering, the loss of his ships, the loss of his friend, and the stress of the bond have taken a physical toll on Antonio. He acknowledges he has lost so much weight through worrying about this ordeal, he doubts he has a pound of flesh to spare. In this context Antonio will find in death a release from worries about his business and freedom from Shylock's harassment.

In The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 4, what is Portia's opinion of Antonio even though they have never met?

Portia believes Antonio must be the soul of honor and goodness. She tells Lorenzo she believes people who establish long-term friendships—"whose souls bear an equal yoke of love"—either have or develop "a like proportion of lineaments, of manner, and of spirit." She concludes that Antonio must be very much like Bassanio in personality to sustain such a long friendship with him. In this respect Portia's assessment of Antonio is mostly correct. The prejudice evident in his relationship with Shylock aside, Antonio is an extremely devoted and loyal friend. He has made an enormous sacrifice to help Bassanio find a wife; he has placed his life on the line to help Bassanio be happy. He has not risked his life to save Bassanio's life or provide him with something truly essential to survival, only to help Bassanio become more comfortable. For his part Bassanio has taken many previous loans from Antonio and has professed his love and gratitude, but there is no evidence to indicate that he might be willing to make a similar sacrifice for a friend. When Portia says she believes Antonio is a good man because of his association with her husband, she might more accurately say Bassanio is a better man because of his association with Antonio.

How does Portia feel about posing as a man in The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 4?

Portia's description of her plan, thus far, to disguise herself and Nerissa as men reflects excitement at the prospect. She makes an off-color joke about the disguise that references the differences between male and female genitalia when she says, "They shall think we are accomplished with what we lack." Portia has not made such references before, which indicates she is already embracing the freedom a masculine appearance will afford her. She speaks fondly of turning "mincing steps into a manly stride, and speak of frays like a fine bragging youth, and tell quaint lies how honorable ladies sought my love." The evidence present in Act 4 shows Portia doing none of these things—except walking with a manly stride. She is a serious and focused student of the law when she comes to court to defend Antonio. Her description of what she will do and say while in disguise reflects how she views adopting a different persona as an adventure and how she thinks men spend most of their time getting into fights and pursuing women, or at least saying they do.

In The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 5, what do the jokes Jessica and Launcelot Gobbo share reveal about the nature of their relationship?

Launcelot makes a number of jokes in Act 3, Scene 5 that reflect deep prejudice against Jews and those who associate with them, and his ability to say such things without offending Jessica reflects how close and casual their friendship is. They have known one another for a long time, and Jessica has called him a "merry devil" in the past. Launcelot takes his humor to an extreme level, making jokes about both of Jessica's parents and implying she might be better off if she were an illegitimate child. He goes on to tease her about her husband for "making of Christians," a reference to Jessica's conversion to Christianity and her later production of Christian children. Jessica tells Lorenzo that Lancelot has said "there's no mercy for [her] in heaven" and that Lorenzo is "no good member of the commonwealth." If these were not statements made by a man well known as a fool and a clown, they must certainly offend because the words are insulting on their own merits. Lancelot's lower social status in this case protects him because fools are often allowed to say things in jest that others cannot.

In The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1, how does Antonio's professed patience at Shylock's rage reflect his own prejudice against Shylock?

In Act 1, Scene 3 Shylock claims to have borne Antonio's insults with patience over the years. Now the situation is reversed, and Antonio claims before the court that he is the one who endures Shylock's abuse with patience. This is true, but Antonio's position denies that he has ever done Shylock any wrong. Antonio has "a quietness of spirit" in response to Shylock now, but not long ago he threatened to continue calling Shylock dog and spitting on him in the street with little second thought. Antonio did not show this patience toward Shylock when he was engaging in the loan of 3,000 ducats that has brought them to court. Shylock previously described himself as the victim and Antonio as the aggressor, but now Antonio reverses that order. Neither man can see that each has victimized the other, and their mutual animosity and prejudice have brought them both here to court, to the edge of ruin.

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