The Merchant of Venice.  By Shakespeare

Many obvious themes and symbols of character conflict are found in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. There is a theme of a vindictive nature confined in Shylock as a grudgeful Jew with lots of money against Antonio, a struggling merchant, who is down on his luck. There is a theme of friendship and brotherly love in Antonio-Bassanio business relationship. There is also a very apparent theme of family and marriage that is symbolized through Portia and Jessica in their relationships with their fathers respectively: one of dedication to a will after death, and another of theft and betrayal. But one less obvious and rather hidden theme is found in the social class and wealth conflict portrayed implicitly throughout.

In this sixteenth-century Shakespearian drama, the class conflict theme develops around several of the play’s characters. Each character individually is looking for ways to manipulate sources of wealth to climb up the social ladder and compete for a nobility status, some through risky business ventures and others through lines of credit and a promise to pay back with whatever it takes – even with flesh and blood, “let the forfeit /Be nominated for an equal pound / Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken / In what part of your body pleaseth me.” (Shylock, Act I).

Even through the suggested good friendship between Antonio and Bassanio, a conflict over social status is rising between the two: Antonio’s wealthy merchant position, the virtue that he established as “the kindest man, / The best –conditioned and unwearied spirit…/ and one in whom / The ancient Roman honor more appears / Than any that draws breath in Italy, contrasts with Bassanio’s playboy habits whose gentleman status is only identifiable by “the wealth…[that] ran in his veins” (Bassanio, Act III, Scene II). The two might be friends and helping each other out in time of need, but let’s not forget who belongs where socially. Shakespeare is alluding to the idea that this loan maybe Antonio’s way of owning Bassanio’s social rank, but he is doing it all on borrowed money. Antonio borrows money to just lend his friend, a rather foolish stunt just to prove that he is indeed a noble man with such higher caliber and class, a loan he guarantees through a very deadly proposal. But nonetheless, he is “good for it”. Money outranks good and humble character.

Further exploring the class-conscious theme, the true need for this loaned money and all the risks that came within are just to win over Portia, a lady with much inherited wealth and status, which deserves a husband of the same class. Shakespeare re-enforces the idea that people shouldn’t cross these established social lines and they should play in their own lanes of worth.