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Wealth and Value in The Merchant of Venice

Two of the most troublesome concepts in The Merchant of Venice are the concepts of wealth and value. Several of the characters possess great material wealth, while others (Bassanio included) confess to possessing things of greater intangible wealth. Value is linked to wealth, and characters make decisions based these things. Generally if our opinions of value and wealth connect with the characters, we will see their actions in a positive light. If they don’t connect, we see their actions in a negative light. For example, if we value Christianity above Judaism and money above family, we view Jessica’s treatment of her father as a good thing (perhaps a little cheeky). If we don’t value money above family, we see her in a negative light. In exploring these ideas, Shakespeare begins to question not only what the audience considers of value, but also the audience’s values.

Find quotations that show the following:

Antonio values his relationship with Bassanio above material wealth.

Bassanio professes Portia to be desirable

Shylock professes Antonio’s flesh to be less valuable than other form of meat.

Morocco tries to convince himself to be modest and impartial in his valuing of himself.

Bassanio professes to possess all his wealth in his breeding, not in his purse.

When Shylock discovers his daughter and his ducats, he laments his financial loss. (Note that nowhere in the play does Shylock express affection for his daughter.)

Shylock is more concerned about the sentimental value of the ring Jessica swapped for a monkey. (What does this do to our understanding of his character?)

Antonio welcomes the opportunity to die rather than live in poverty through old age.

The Christian value of mercy

Bassanio values his friendship with Antonio more highly than his oath to his wife.