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Deception and disguise in William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice

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Deception and disguise in William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice The difference between appearance and reality is a constant theme in Shakespearean drama. In The Merchant of Venice it is an important aspect of the development of the plot and character both in the story of the bond, which unfolds in Venice, and in the tale of caskets, set in Belmont. Shylock's affected 'kindness' (I, iii, 140) in proposing the terms of his loan immediately illustrates the necessity for the characters to detect deception, and the dangers inherent in a superficial assessment of temperament and motives. Earlier in the scene, Antonio has shown that he is aware of the need for incisive judgement: 'O what a goodly outside falsehood hath! ...read more.


'Supposed fairness', then, is (III, ii.100-101): The sseming truth which cunning times put on To entrap the wisest Bassanio is successful simply because he refuses to judge by appearances (III, ii, 131-2): You that choose not by the view Chance as fair, and choose as true This idea is illuminated many times in the course of the play. For instance, Lorenzo perceives the qualities he associates with Christians in his Jewish lover, for as Jessica points out: 'though I am a daughter to his [Shylock's blood/ I am not to his manners'. (II, iii, 18-19). Again, Launcelot's comic discourse (II, ii, 1-28 touches on the same theme: his conscience should offer the best advice, but, on close examination, the fiend is really offering 'the more friendly counsel'. ...read more.


However, it is important to realize that while the characters are completely taken in by Portia's deception, the audience is not. We are fully aware of outrageous disguise and scheming which lie behind the contrived outcome of the trial. So, just as Bassantio has seen through the dull casing of the lead casket to find his heart's desire, so the audience can perceive the love and social feeling embodied in Portia beneath the appearances of her legal attire and her pedantic legal quibbling. Moreover, by highlighting the disguise and artifice involved in averting disaster for Antonio and his friends, Shakespeare warns his audience not to take the play's comic, happy ending to literally, and not to consider that the distinctions made in the play are intended to form a strict and practical code of ethics. ...read more.

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