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TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. In this play music and musical imagery
B. signal abrupt switches in emotional tone
C. emphasize the value of harmony
B. unrefined gold
C. musical instruments
B. that loyalty in spirit is more important than vows and sworn oaths
C. that Bassanio will eventually have to choose between his best friend and his wife
B. he's in love with his horse
C. he's a vile coward
B. both last forever
C. both are determined by fate
B. the Prince of Morocco's complexion
C. Shylock's hoarded gold
B. his choice was too obvious
C. his choice was dictated by logic, not love
B. good breeding always shows in the end
C. love at first sight is the best kind of love
II. he has insulted him
III. he deals in merchandise
IV. he lends money without charging interest
B. I and III only
C. all of these
D. I, II and IV only
11. What does The Merchant of Venice have to say about the relationship between love and wealth?
12. Most of the Italian cities mentioned in Shakespeare's plays are so vaguely described that they are virtually interchangeable. Venice is an exception. What does this play tell us about Venice and its people?
13. Is Shylock a comic character or a tragic one? Discuss.
14. Discuss the role of humor in The Merchant of Venice.
_____ 1. In The Merchant of Venice, love and money are
B. two forms of wealth
C. in constant conflict
B. mercy should be given only when it puts no strain on the giver
C. the good and bad aspects of mercy are hard to separate
B. Jessica's disguise
C. Bassanio's failure to recognize Portia when she is dressed as a man
B. to find true love you have to be willing to take risks
C. great beauty and inner worth never go together
B. that Antonio's ships were coming safely to port
C. that the Duke would not honor his contract
B. hasty marriage to Nerissa
C. fondness for dirty puns
B. he wanted his daughter to have a wise husband
C. never told to us in the play
B. he refuses to pay usury
C. he knows the law will never allow Shylock to collect
11. Is Bassanio's speech about appearance versus inner worth at the time he chooses the lead casket consistent with what we know about his character? Why or why not?
12. How are music and musical imagery used throughout the play?
13. What is the significance of the episode of the rings?
14. What does the play have to say about the relationship between friendship and love?
11. Love and money are closely intertwined in this play. By winning Portia, Bassanio solves his romantic problems and his financial ones simultaneously. Shylock, on the other hand, loses both his daughter Jessica and his ducats. Antonio demonstrates his friendship by lending money freely- even to the point of pledging his own flesh to guarantee the loan that Shylock extends to Bassanio. The very language that is used to describe human relationship underlines the theme of love as a form of wealth. Portia, declaring her love for Bassanio, describes herself in terms that recall a financial balance sheet- for example, she tells Bassanio that she wishes to stand high in his "account." Salerio and Solanio also use language which compares the progress of a person's life to the quest for profit through trade on the high seas. Other connections between love and wealth include the use of the gold rings which symbolize the vows exchanged by Portia and Bassanio, Nerissa and Gratiano. Finally, the test of the three caskets turns on a contrast between outward appearances and inner worth.
12. Venice is portrayed as a rich and cosmopolitan city, a busy seaport engaged in trade with exotic foreign lands. Although there is very little physical description of Venice, the behavior of Antonio and his friends tell us a good deal about Venetian life- or, at least, about Shakespeare's conception of it. These young men cheerfully live beyond their means, confident that money will come their way sooner or later. Bassanio, although he has just borrowed a large sum of money on his friend's credit, is not at all worried about keeping his expenses down- he plans to celebrate his departure for Belmont by holding a dinner party and a masque. Note, also, that most of the Venetian scenes take place in the street or in public places; the choice of settings emphasizes the importance of business and civic activities in the lives of the Venetians. Shylock is the only character we see at home, and his attachment to his house is offered as evidence of his gloomy, miserly personality. The trial scene further emphasizes that the Venetians' respect for law is related to their desire to assure foreigners that they will be treated fairly in business.
13. The part of Shylock has been played both ways over the centuries. Most Shakespeare scholars agree that the part of Shylock was written as a comic villain; however, modern actors are more likely to stress the serious side to Shylock's character. Whichever way you choose to answer this question, you should keep in mind that calling Shylock a comic character does not necessarily mean that his actions constantly provoke laughter. If you believe, for example, that sheer greed is the most important motivation for Shylock's plotting- and that he learns his lesson during the trial scene and has reason to accept the verdict against him as basically merciful, then you can justify seeing Shylock as the villain in a comedy. If you believe that Shylock suffers largely because he is an outsider and that his final line in the play is bitterly ironic, then you cannot help seeing him as a tragic figure.
14. In answering this question, you might choose to concentrate on the role of Launcelot, the clown. Launcelot's humor is based on his mangled vocabulary- a mixture of mispronounced words and silly puns- as well as on broad physical comedy. You might note, also, that while Launcelot's speeches are sheer silliness, they do echo some of the serious issues raised in the play- particularly Jessica's relationship to her father Shylock. Another form of humor is the more literate, though sometimes off-color, kind of pun which Gratiano specializes in. Gratiano's character provides an excuse for Shakespeare to indulge in this form of humor, while at the same time having other characters in the play gently reprove Gratiano for his bad taste. The protagonists of the play enjoy humor- Bassanio even hires Launcelot as a servant. But we are given to believe that extreme levity is a fault. The truly happy person does not have to be constantly cracking jokes.
11. Many readers feel that Bassanio's speech is out of character. Suddenly this charming spendthrift comes out with a philosophical meditation on the superficial nature of external wealth and beauty! On the other hand, if you think of the mottos inscribed on the various caskets- which are mentioned earlier during the scene with the Prince of Morocco- then Bassanio's choice is not out of character. It would be just like him to choose "hazard"- or chance- over a sure thing. In considering this question further, you might also ask yourself whether readers who find Bassanio frivolous in the early scenes of the play do him an injustice. After all, Bassanio does express concern for Antonio and wants to pay back the money he owes. Depending on your interpretations of Bassanio's speeches- and on your own views of friendship and financial responsibility- it is possible to defend differing opinions of Bassanio's character.
12. In discussing the role of music in the play, you should be sure to mention Portia's comments on music in Act III, Scene II as well as what she and Lorenzo say about music as the bringer of harmony in Act V. In the latter section of the play, you will recall, Lorenzo says that the man who has no feeling for music is not to be trusted- a comment that recalls Shylock's desire to shut the music of the masque out of his house. Lorenzo also says that music exists not so much to make us carefree and happy as to induce contemplation and thoughtfulness- and this is certainly the effect that the song "Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred" has on Bassanio in Act III, Scene II.
13. Readers who stress that the action of the play is circular tend to see the episode of the rings as symbolizing this circularity. Portia gives her ring to Bassanio, who gives it back to her thinking she is the lawyer Balthasar; she later gives the ring to Antonio who hands it back to Bassanio again. All of these exchanges together might be seen as emphasizing the play's theme that love only increases in power if it is given freely. Another way of looking at the rings is that they represent a gentle, loving bond between human beings- as opposed to the cruel bond (or promise) imposed on Antonio by Shylock. Either way, the important feature of the episode of the rings is that Bassanio is not punished for breaking his vow never to part with the token of Portia's love. In a tragedy, breaking such a promise would surely have terrible consequences. In this play, it becomes an occasion for some playful teasing but no serious repercussions.
14. The Merchant of Venice tells us that love and friendship are thoroughly compatible. Far from being jealous of her husband's friendship with Antonio, Portia says that "the bosom lover of my lord / must needs be like my lord." Portia not only saves Antonio's life, but at the end of the play Antonio is brought back to Belmont to share in the happy final scene. This, at least, is what the play says on its surface. Some readers, however, feel that there is a conflict between love and friendship expressed on a deeper level. These readers stress that Antonio, despite his brief visit to Belmont, cannot stay there long; he is shut out, without a bride of his own, and must return almost immediately to Venice.
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