Appropriateness of the Title of The Merchant of Venice

Appropriateness of the Title of The Merchant of Venice

Appropriateness of the Title: 

There are two merchants in the play in the city of Venice. They are Antonio and Shylock. There is another contender in Bassanio, since he marries the heroine, the exquisitely pretty, intelligent and witty Portia. Antonio and Shylock are the leading but contraposed character. As in the case of a few other plays, Shakespeare left the title of this play open to the reader and that is why he named it The Merchant of Venice so that the reader may take Antonio or Shylock as The Merchant of Venice. The alternative titles suggested for The Merchant of Venice are The Jew of Venice and The Lady of Belmont. So far as The Jew of Venice is concerned it can be more suitable title than The Lady of Belmont. But then if we accept this title, we shall have to accept also Shylock as the hero of the play. But can Shylock be the hero when he is so greedy, mean, malicious, and when he is so much humiliated and penalised at the close of the play?

If, by the hero' of the play is to be understood the character that dominates the action by his personality is more necessary to it and absorbs our attention sand interest, then unquestionable the title of the play goes to Shylock, although it is named after Antonio, who is so to say to titular hero- more dead than alive-gloomy and melancholy in treatment and constitutionally predisposed to be unhappy-one whose passive virtues of devotion and self-sacrifice for the sake of friendship, are the only heroic elements which pale into insignificance by the side of the towering personality of Shylock. If the two were placed side by side surely the main centre of interest would be Shylock whereas Antonio would be lost in crowd- it would be somewhat like a titanic personality standing by the side of a pigmy. Though Antonio is not the chief actor, he is still the source and centre of the action. The battle of the Bond-Story is fought round him and it is his generosity that stars the Casket-Story. It should not be forgotten that the play is chiefly concerned with the fortunes of Antonio-and it is his hair- breadth escape from a fearful fate which forms the central and striking incident of the story. It is against Antonio that Shylock's plot's directed. The great fact of the Bond-Story is Antonio's escape from Shylock's revenge. In this way to whichever direction we, turn the focus is always fixed on Antonio. who is the real protagonist of the play and the main spring of the action.

Weakness and Insignificance of Antonio as Hero of the Play: 

Antonio is generous and extremely helpful to his friends. He is also obviously extremely prosperous and rich. Yet, the generosity is towards only his male companions and there is something very defeatist about his help. There is a latent homosexuality about the man, and his buying of men's affection by giving them money, makes his generosity considerably tainted. His all consuming love for his male friend, Bassanio, does not carry much appeal, and in fact is prone to repulse us, as all homosexuals do. He has no interest in women as any heterosexual, and does not even have a wife or any family. He is meek and timid in a crisis as all bullies invariably are. There is no doubt that he is a bully. He calls Shylock a cur, spits on him and constantly ridicules his Jewish race. He does this because Shylock is constantly outnumbered by Antonio's cronies. The moment Shylock outmaneuvers him, all his brashness vanishes. He is singularly devoid of any energy in the trial scene. This does not make Antonio by any standards heroic, and his claims to be a hero of the play are at best weak and insignificant.


Want of Heroic Qualities in Bassanio: 

Bassanio who is considered the second contender, is pretty, which may be the quality in a woman, but is hardly an asset in man. He may be appealing to Antonio but we gather a rather effeminate picture of the man. He is extravagant and lives beyond his means. It may have been a sign of nobility to live beyond one's means during Shakespeare's Venice, but it is hardly pleasing to the mental faculties of the author or the readers. He is a fortune-hunting playboy, and his intention to marry Portia is as much for her wealth as it is for his love for her. It is surprising that the supremely intelligent Portia actually reciprocates the love of someone so worthless. Bassanio is a parasite. He sponges on his friend Antonio, puts his life in danger for three thousand ducats, and then leaves bim in the cold. We do not get any hint of what Bassanio does for a living. It is fair to presume that he does nothing. He first inherits a small fortune from his ancestors, then repeatedly borrows money from Antonio, and subsequently marries Portia for her wealth. He also lacks enterprise like Antonia. When Antonio is in trouble all he can do is to stay by his side. Had it not been for the creative brilliance of Portia, Antonio would have died without Bassanio even considering ways and means of saving him.

Shylock's Not Being the Hero of the Play: 

Shylock is certainly the most towering personality in the play even though in the court scene he is eclipsed and vanquished by Portia. Portia undoubtedly defeats him, thwarts him, and renders him absolutely helpless; but till this point in the play is reached it was Shylock who had impressed us as the most dynamic and the most formidable person in the play. And yet he cannot be designated as the hero of the play because hero must have a certain degree of moral goodness in him while Shylock is a malicious and revengeful man. Shylock is a usurer and usury is definitely a stigma on the name of a man. Besides, Shylock is a fanatical Jew who is intolerant of Christians; he is a miser in whose service Launcelot is famished; he is a tyrannical cunning, crafty, heartless, merciless and vindictive man. Such an individual cannot be called the hero of the play or a novel. Antonio on the other hand does possess certain specific virtues and is morally far superior to Shylock even though he suffers from a couple of faults and failings such as a melancholy and sullen nature and religious fanaticism. Antonio is kind-hearted and generous to needy persons; and he is a very devoted friend of Bassanio. He enjoys an excellent reputation in Venice and the Duke has a high opinion about him. It was therefore only the right course for Shakespeare to have named the play for Antonio. 

Appropriateness in Calling the Play the Jew of Venice: 

Some readers might even think more appropriate to call this play "The Jew of Venice" but our own opinion in the matter is that the present title is preferable. Antonio is dramatically as important as Shylock. If Antonio mere eliminated from the play, the whole story would collapse. Neither the Bond story nor the caskets story can come into existence without Antonio. Actually he is the pivot round which the action of the play revolves. Round him are all the characters grouped. Bassanio is his friend; Shylock is his enemy and Portia proves to be his savior. Antonio's moral superiority to Shylock and his enormous importance in the play's structure an design impart him a stature much higher than that of Shylock; and so find the title The Merchant of Venice fully acceptable.

 A Very Close Observation Regarding the Hero of the Play: 

It is argued and analyzed that Antonio who is the Merchant of Venice plays a minor and subordinate part in the drama and cannot be regarded as the hero. The point pressed is that the title should have indicated the most dominant character of the play; and a superficial examination of the play might lead one to regard Shylock as the hero. It is true that Shylock is the strongest, most graceful and dominating character of the play and yet he also cannot be regarded as the hero of the play; in fact he is the villain of the piece. Hence a title from the name of Shylock would be as much inconsistent as that from the name of Antonio, for to regard Shylock as the principal character of the play is to miss the real meaning of it.

Justification of the Title and the Hero of the Play: 

If it is looked closely into the play, we find that the title of the play is justified. It may be said that the word Merchant stands for Antonio and that Shakespeare named his play after Antonio because he looked upon Antonio as the hero. After all, Antonio is the pivot of the whole drama. He forms a centre around which all the characters are grouped-Bassanio, his friend; Shylock his enemy and would be murderer; Portia his saviour. There is no doubt that little is to be done by him, but much is to be done against him and for him in the play. In fact without Antonio, the play would fall to pieces.  

Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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