Four Stories in The Merchant of Venice

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Plot: Four Separate but Intertwined Stories

      There are four different stories going on in The Merchant of Venice. First, there is the most serious one, that of Antonio, Bassanio, and Shylock's connection with the borrowed money and the bond. This story gives the play its tragic structure. The Scenes involved in this story are tense because of the anti-Semitism that is portrayed and because of the threat to Antonio's loss of money and the threat to his life, as well as Shylock's losses. Many critics view this as the major plot of the drama.

      The next story of importance is that of the three caskets. This story has a little tension but it is light-hearted and often quite humorous, especially when the extravagant suitors, Arragon and Morocco, try to decipher the messages and choose the correct casket. This story reflects some of the elements in the bond story in that it involves the glitter of gold and the weight of making decisions.

      A third story is that of Lorenzo and Jessica's love, deception, and elopement. This story is used to compare the two daughter's relationships with their fathers: Jessica and Shylock; and Portia and her deceased father. By Jessica leaving and taking her father's money, this story adds tension and depth to Shylock's losses at the trial in the bond story. Finally, this story demonstrates a reconciliation between Jews and Christians that is lacking in the bond story.

      Finally, as if tacked on to the end of the play to lighten the tension of the courtroom scene, there is the story of the rings. Portia and Nerissa trick their husbands, testing their husbands' loyalty by asking for their rings (while disguised as young male lawyers). Bassanio and Gratiano, indebted to the young lawyers for saving Antonio's lives, give the rings away. In the final scene, the husbands are shamed and ask forgiveness. They are given a second chance, thus ending the play on a happy note, rather than ending with the trial scene, which would make this play resonate with tragedy.

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