Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0618. Friday, 23 August 1996.
Date: Monday, 19 Aug 1996 14:27:58 -0400
Subject: Q; Interpreting Merchant of Venice
A question led to a larger problem in a class discussion of Merchant of Venice,
and I'd appreciate some help.
The question: why does Shakespeare have Antonio say so clearly at the beginning
of the play that his whole estate is not at venture, when clearly it is
(because when his ships are wrecked, he cannot cover his debt). Thinking of
this led to another comment. Antonio tells Bassanio that he expects much more
than 3000 ducats "a month before the bond expires" and repeats this thought at
the end of the scene - "my ships come home a month before the day." Thus we can
assume that, since the wrecking (or apparent wrecking) of his ships must have
happened some time before he expected them home, he had more than a month to
raise the 3000 ducats before his bond fell due. Antonio, the much loved
Merchant of Venice, has six weeks to raise 3000 ducats, and can't do it to save
These comments led to other comments. Perhaps (it was suggested) Antonio is
lying to Salarino and Salanio so that he will appear a better business-man than
he really is, and he is lying to Bassanio to (falsely) reassure him about the
loan and the bond. And, as you can imagine, we plunge into all kinds of
psychological speculations about Antonio.
The larger problem this leads to is how strictly we can hold Shakespeare to
realistic standards. I know in Hamlet, for example, Horatio sometimes talks as
if he knows Old Hamlet quite well, and other times not, and we happily ignore
these discrepancies. However, the debt thing in MV seems more central.
Cheers. A Misseldine