“The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is a play that explores various themes, including love, justice, and greed. One of the most prominent themes of the play is the theme of friendship. This influential theme is explored through the relationships between the characters. Here are some key points to consider in a discussion of the theme of friendship in “The Merchant of Venice”.
The friendship between Antonio and Bassanio:
The play opens with Antonio, a wealthy merchant. He expresses his love and devotion to his friend Bassanio. Antonio is willing to do anything to help Bassanio, even if it means putting his own life and business at risk. Antonio selflessly agrees to borrow money from Shylock, putting himself in a dangerous position, in order to help Bassanio win Portia’s hand in marriage:
“But life itself, my wife, and all the world, Are not esteemed above thy life”
Bassanio, in turn, is deeply grateful to Antonio and shows his appreciation by seeking out ways to help him.
More Notes: The Merchant of Venice
True Friendship vs. Superficiality:
The play also contrasts true friendship with superficial friendships. The character of Antonio is shown to have many friends who borrow money from him when he is wealthy but abandon him when he faces financial troubles. This highlights the fickle nature of superficial friendships based on material wealth, in contrast to the enduring bond of true friendship that transcends material possessions.
The friendship between Portia and Nerissa:
Portia, the wealthy heiress, and Nerissa, her loyal maid, share a close bond. Their friendship is based on mutual respect and admiration. Nerissa is willing to go to great lengths to help Portia, even disguising herself as a lawyer’s clerk to assist her in court.
The betrayal of friendship by Shylock:
Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, has a long-standing envy against Antonio. He is eager to take revenge on him. In doing so, he betrays the friendship that had previously existed between them. It shows that his desire for revenge is stronger than any loyalty he might have felt towards Antonio. Shylock pretends to be friendly towards Antonio, but his ultimate motive is to seek revenge. He says,
“I hate him for he is a Christian; But more for that in low simplicity He lends out money gratis and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice”
The theme of forgiveness and reconciliation:
Despite the betrayal of friendship by Shylock, the play ultimately ends on a note of forgiveness and reconciliation. Antonio and Bassanio are reunited, and Portia and Nerissa reveal their true identities and forgive their husbands for the deception they had perpetrated.
The role of friendship in the larger society:
The play suggests that friendship can be a powerful force for good, both in personal relationships and in the larger society. Through the actions of Antonio, Bassanio, Portia, and Nerissa, the play shows how friendship can overcome greed, prejudice, and even the law itself.
Sacrifices for Friendship:
The character of Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, portrays the dark side of friendship. He demands a pound of flesh as for the loan given to Antonio. However, it is Antonio’s friend Bassanio who ultimately agrees to make a great sacrifice for their friendship. But at the end with the clear discovery of Portia, Antonio gets relief and Shylock is sentenced to be converted to Christianity to save his life.
The theme of friendship is an important and complex one in “The Merchant of Venice,”. It offers many points of discussion for a deeper exploration of the play’s meaning and significance.