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A Theme of Deception in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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Words: 1641 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 1641|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Deception in The Merchant of Venice
  3. Conclusion

Introduction

William Shakespeare attained literary immortality through his exposition of the various qualities of human nature in his works. Such works include the romantic comedy, “The Merchant of Venice”, which displays the deliberate use of deception. This human quality is a tool utilised for many purposes in which can be harmful, protective or used for personal gain. However, although this quality is generally associated with a heart of malice, imposture differs in its motives as greatly as its practitioners, exhibited by the obdurate characters of Shylock and Portia.

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Deception in The Merchant of Venice

Shylock, represented as a Jewish merchant, relies on the practice of usury and deception to earn an income. He utilises this technique to cover up the intent of greed and selfishness by the words and face of virtue. He utilises deception as a tool when Antonio had asked to borrow money from him. Shylock resorts to citing scripture after being confronted about his apathetic trade. In doing so, he compares his selfish trade to actions of holy men. Antonio, at first, sees right through the falsehood of Shylock’s justification and asks the merchant “was this inserted to make interest good? Or is your gold and silver ewes and rams?”. Shylocks rejoinder to this “I cannot tell; I make it breed as fast” reveals a glimpse of his true meaning; it is a pretentious declaration of his wealth rather than a righteous rationalization, to which Antonio can only turn to his friend and say “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing a holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart. O what a goodly outside falsehood hath”. However, Antonio begins to reconsider accepting three thousand ducats from the merchant, however, in return, he must sign a bond permitting Shylock to “an equal pound of his fair flesh”. Shylock presents these terms as an attempt to display that “he would be friends with Antonio and have his love”, however, Antonio is fully aware of Shylocks friendly pretence, but due to his willingness to aid his friends, he ultimately accepts the “merry bond”. The stipulations of his bond seemingly appear as if he has no foul intentions, however, the audience is aware that in actuality, his true intent is to both harm and humiliate Antionio. The ‘kindness’ Shylock had presented when proposing the terms of his loan not only illustrates the necessity for the characters to detect deception, it additionally identifies the dangers that are inherent in a superficial assessment of motives and temperament. It is also evident that one’s naivety of believing another’s hypocrisy can result in them facing the reverberations of their decision at a later date.

This thematic concern is also demonstrated through the character Portia. Portia, the heiress of Belmont, is bound by the lottery determined by her father’s will, which allows any potential suitor the chance to choose among three caskets to win her hand in marriage. As a result of this, she concludes that it is imperative she utilises her appearance in order to deceive her suitors as well as the people of Venice. She does this by the utilisation of her appearance to lead her suitors into believing that she is interested in them. She acts graciously towards them and even goes to the extent to inviting the Prince of Morocco for supper before he selects a casket. “Yourself, renown prince, then stood as fair / As any comer I have looked on yet / For my affection” reveals that she deceives the Prince into believing that he has a reasonable probability of winning her over. Her deceptiveness is so plausible, it ultimately results in the Prince to believe she is truly a kind, truthful person. Moreover, the notion of deception is further demonstrated in the play, evidential by the close of the play as it is dependent on a benevolent form of deception which the characters fail to detect. The pleasant harmony of the final act is only made feasible due to the artfulness of Portia regarding her disguise as the doctor of law. Her pretence is entirely constructive, similar to the artifice Shakespeare, who utilises the devices available in a romantic comedy to save Antonio from the knife, and his friends from experiencing the heartbreak. Through her disguise, it is made feasible to display her intellect whilst she acts skillfully, like a real civil doctor, portrayed by her statement; “therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh. / Shed thou no blood, nor cut less nor more / But just a pound of flesh: if thou tak’st more or less than a just pound, be it but so much / As makes it light or heavy in the substance, / Or the division of the twentieth part / Of one poor scrumple, nay, if the scale do turn/ But in the estimation of a hair, / Thou diest and all thy goods are confiscate.” In the scene regarding the ring, it preserves Gratiano as well as Bassanio from disloyalty, as they ignorantly hand over the symbols of their fidelity to their own wives in disguise. The ring given to Bassanio is a trap which further illustrates Portia’s sly and deceptive side “which when you part from, lose, or give away, let is presage the ruin of your love”. although the characters are swayed by Portia’s deception, the audience is not. The viewers are fully aware of the outrageous disguise and scheming behind the contrived outcome of the trial. This is evident when the audience can recognise the love and social feeling embodied in Portia beneath the appearances of her pedantic legal quibbling and attire, just as Bassanio has seen through the dull casing of the lead casing, ultimately allowing him to find his heart’s desire. Additionally, Shakespeare apprises his audience to not take the play’s comedic, jovial ending literally, and not to take into consideration that the distractions created in the play are intended to create a strict and practical code of ethics.

The notions of deception and deceptive appearances are central themes in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy The Merchant of Venice and are prevalent throughout the various intertwined plots. This thematic concern is also illustrated through the language, via the utilisation of puns and malapropisms. This theme is significant in the plot of the caskets, wherein their outward appearance is deliberately designed in a manner that will test Portia’s suitors. Morocco, the first suitor, falls prey to the golden casket that claims, “who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire”. He interprets this in its literal sense, perceiving the answer to be Portia, however, his failure to look beyond the surface misguides him into choosing the incorrect casket. This imparts a philosophical message to the audience; “all that glisters is not gold”, reflecting the perception of society, wherein superficial and materialistic aspects like wealth, beauty and lust shape one’s judgement, blinding them to the deeper truth. Although the prince of Arragon displays a degree of depth in his perception, unwilling to be one from the “fool multitude who choose by show”, he still “chooses amiss”. Ultimately, it is Bassanio who picks the lead casket- the least appealing of them all, for it reads; “who chooseth me shall give hazard all he hath”. He looks beneath the facade and delves deeper into the true meaning of what the casket states. The casket is composed of a humble metal, symbolising inner beauty and modesty as opposed to a shallow idea pertaining solely to exterior appearances. Hence, the caskets signify the lesion of choosing by appearances. However, Bassanio’s character is also a representative of deceptive appearances as he has “disabled his estate/ by something showing of a more swelling port”. Bassanio’s habit is seemingly to expend in opulent good of ostentatious nature, even if it results in him spending beyond his means. Additionally, his courtship with Portia may not be as genuine as it is perceived to be, for although he states that she is “fairer than that word of wondrous virtues”, he is highly attracted to her due to her being “richly left”.

The theme of deceptive appearances is also made apparent in the law of Venice itself. Shylock is to be subjected to ill fate, for he “craves the law”, without fully understanding it. He is misguided in his judgement, believing that he is finally able to obtain revenge from Antonio. However, he is so blinded by his eagerness to emerge victorious, that he fails to read the finer print, and because of this, he becomes the victim of the same law that he had truly believed would give him justice.

Moreover, Shakespeare incorporates puns and malapropisms to further allude to the thematic concern of deception subtly. Malapropisms are a central component of Gobbo and Launcelot’s slapstick comedy, highlighting their illiteracy. In the courtroom, wherein Gratiano tells Shylock to sharpen his knife “not on the sole, but thy sole”, Shakespeare employs a pun in order to highlight the double meaning of his words. In addition to this, he utilises a metaphor to delineate how “ornament is but the guiled shore/ To most a dangerous sea”, revealing that when one sees beyond the appealing surface, the outcome could be the complete opposite.

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Conclusion

Shakespeare utilises this play as an opportunity to comment on society as a whole, due to the fact that one often gets carried away by physical appearances. However, by obtaining a more holistic understanding and experiences, one can have a more informed and well-rounded idea of the same, which may change one’s perception and perspective. Moreover, beauty is fickle in nature; hence, once it begins to deteriorate, our infatuation with the person or object begins to subside, however, by learning to appreciate something/ someone for who/what they are at their core, and for their true values, one’s admiration for them will not dissipate.

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A Theme Of Deception In The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-theme-of-deception-in-the-merchant-of-venice-by-william-shakespeare/
“A Theme Of Deception In The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-theme-of-deception-in-the-merchant-of-venice-by-william-shakespeare/
A Theme Of Deception In The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-theme-of-deception-in-the-merchant-of-venice-by-william-shakespeare/> [Accessed 16 Jul. 2024].
A Theme Of Deception In The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2024 Jul 16]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-theme-of-deception-in-the-merchant-of-venice-by-william-shakespeare/
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