Bassiano's Reversal Of Religious Roles In "The Merchant Of Venice"

856 words - 3 pages

A central theme in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice involves the delineation of Jewish and Christian ideals. The claim that Christians thrive on spirituality and "bonds of brotherhood" rather than on materialism is expressly conveyed throughout the play by Christian characters. However, there are several instances where this claim proves false. Bassanio can be interpreted as one such character that strays from the established ideals of his religion on several occasions. The language he uses may be interpreted as having materialistic (rather than spiritual) undertones.A notable instance that implies Bassanio's reversal of religious roles occurs when he opens the lead casket (Act III, scene ii, lines 114-130). Upon discovering he has chosen correctly and has won Portia, he promptly begins to describe the beauty of his bride's likeness painted inside. He proclaims, "Here in her hairs the painter plays the spider, and hath woven a golden mesh t'untrap the hearts of men faster than gnats in cobwebs" (Act III, scene ii, lines 120-123). This implies that Bassanio regards Portia's beauty as something that, alone, could make men fall in love with her. By Christian standards, a woman's outward appearance is second to the beauty of her spirit, as evidenced by the Christian characters' insistence that the condition of a person's spirit is all that is important (exemplified in one instance by Portia's offer to spare Shylock's life during the trial). Bassanio continues to dwell on the beauty of the portrait as he says, "But her eyes - how could [the artist] see to do them? Having made one, methinks it should have power to steal both his and leave itself unfurnished" (Act III, scene ii, lines 123-126). The fact that Bassanio is dwelling so much on Portia's outward appearance suggests that he puts materialism ahead of spirituality, whether he realizes it or not. One would imagine that, if he really did live up to the ideals of his religion, his initial reaction to choosing the correct casket (and thus winning the hand of the woman he loves) would be to thank God for guiding him. He never makes any reference to his accuracy having any kind of spiritual significance; never once does he speak of a spiritual bond existing between Portia and himself that may have led him to choose the lead casket. This idea of spiritual connectedness is central to what the play describes as "Christian," yet Bassanio chooses to speak of outward beauty instead.After reading the scroll inside the casket, Bassanio states, "Fair lady, by your...

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