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Compare and contrast the different worlds and different values of Venice and Belmont as presented in Act 1 of 'The Merchant of Venice'

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Introduction

Compare and contrast the different worlds and different values of Venice and Belmont as presented in Act 1 of 'The Merchant of Venice' Venice and Belmont are cities of contrast. Using examples of language, style of expression and characters I shall compare and contrast Venice as the centre of trade and wealth to the fictional Belmont, a fairytale place where love and happiness are the main concerns. I shall also consider the society that is depicted in each location and look at how this links to views of the audience both in Shakespeare's time and in present day. The audience is introduced to the world of Venice in the first scene. Venice is concerned almost solely with wealth and trade, which mirrors the view the Shakespearean audience would have had of it at the time. The language used by Antonio, Salarino and Solanio is dominated with the subject of trade. "Your mind is tossing on the ocean There where your argosies with portly sail..." The style of language Shakespeare uses varies between Venice and Belmont. The characters in Venice talk in verse using elaborate conceits to show their intelligence as was fashionable at the time. ...read more.

Middle

"But what warmth is there in your affection towards any of these princely suitors" This emphasis on love rather than riches contrasts with the leading concern of Venice. Even when Bassanio and Antonio are discussing Portia as a potential wife they do so in terms of wealth. The first words that Bassanio uses to describe Portia are 'a lady richly left'. He describes her worth in terms of merchandise, referring to her as the 'golden fleece', a risky venture but one that if he succeeds, will make him very wealthy. This attitude of love being reliant on wealth is mirrored in the loan that Antonio gives to Bassanio. In Venice it is only through lending him money that Antonio can express his depth of friendship with Bassanio while in Belmont love is discussed openly. A rather unpleasant comparison between Venice and Belmont is the racism apparent in both societies. The scene between Antonio and Shylock demonstrates the prejudice against Jews in the 16th Century. 'You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine' This prejudice towards others of a different culture is continued in Belmont. Portia dismisses the Prince of Morocco before even meeting him saying she would never marry him if his skin were black. ...read more.

Conclusion

Present day audiences would probably view this very much as an anti-Semitic play because they have been influenced by changing attitudes to religion and by the plays use as a propaganda tool in the Second World War. "Mark you this, Bassanio The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose" A Shakespearean audience would have found this treatment of Jews as customary and would have been much more aware of the central theme of the play being love versus greed rather than just a display of anti-Semitism. The differences between the world of the Venice and Belmont are subtle but numerous. Through Shakespeare's use of language and characters Venice is quickly established as the seat of the wealthy trading world. Belmont is seen much more as a fictional location more concerned with love and happiness then ships and trade. The varying styles in which Shakespeare writes emphasises these differences. The context in which the play is performed has greatly changed since the 16th Century. A present day audience would view this s a much more anti-Semitic play then a Shakespearean audience would have done. Likewise 16th Century spectators would have been much more aware of the differences between the two locations. Attitudes continue to change and Shakespeare's plays continue to be performed. Undoubtedly interpretations and attitudes towards this play will continue to evolve. Jessica Two ...read more.

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