On the whole I feel that this is a fairly accurate description of the play’s characters, with the mercantile Venice and Belmont (which trades in a different commodity but is trade none the less) mirroring their inhabitants. However to say that money was their only reason would be missing vital elements of the play.
The most obviously money orientated character is Shylock. His main priority seems to be his money over everything else including his only family: his daughter Jessica, which can be shown by his reported action on her elopement “My ducats and my daughter! A sealed bad, two sealed bags of ducats, of double ducats,”. In the speech references to money and wealth outweigh those of concern for his daughter.
Shylock’s desire for accumulated wealth and status works against him as he is ostracises from society as much for his practice of money lending as his Jewishness. However there is hypocrisy from Antonio who is against usury on principal as a Christian but he himself makes a living by buying goods on a large scale and then selling them on for a profit. Which begs the question of how much difference is there from profit from wheat and profiting from lending money? These prejudices against him from the community leaves Shylock full of anger and hate which leads to a deep seated desire for revenge – “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spet upon my Jewish gabardine” and also further betrayal as Jessica ran off with a Christian “Oh my daughter! Fled with a Christian!” – Which leads him to cease the opportunity to reap his revenge on the Christians in the form of the “merry bond” upon Antonio and so then uses his money for power and justice(at least in his mind), “I’ll plague him, I’ll torture him – I am glad of it”.
Shylock uses money for control and as a substitute for affection which was indicated by Shylock’s upset over the frivolous spending of a ring “It was my turquoise, I had it of Leah”. There is a possibility that the ring was a wedding or engagement ring as turquoise is a stone symbolising fidelity. As a significant other is not mentioned in the play and Jessica must have had a mother, and it may be assumed that she died or left him. This kind of loss may have lead Shylock to see his money as all he has left and so fixate on it.
Antonio’s motivations do not seem to be money based but more out of a desire for Bassanio. He does whatever he can to help his friend, “My purse, my person, my extremist means lie all unlock’d to your occasion” the use of the superlative and repletion, shows that Antonio is truly willing to give his all to Bassanio. His motivations behind this may be scene as questionable as Antonio is evidently much older than Bassanio and does not seem to be gaining much from the friendship as Bassanio has paid his previous debt to Antonio when asking for money to court Portia. This may be scene as Antonio enjoying that he has power over Bassanio as Bassanio is in his debt, he truly loves Bassanio (in a homosexual way or not) or it is the right and proper Christian thing to do, to ‘lend money gratis’.
However later in the play when he faces loosing Bassanio to Portia Antonio chooses to play the martyr and sends guilt to Bassanio in the form of a letter, “all debts are clear’d between you and I, if I might but see you at my death” the tone is subservient and self pitying, If he truly wanted to serve a martyr and spare Bassanio he would not have sent a letter and let Bassanio be happy. He does not however so this might be scene as Antonio trying to reassert his dominance or regain his once dear friend.
Antonio is similar to Shylock as he asserts his revenge at the end of the court scene for Shylock’s attempted murder of him by taking away all his money and making him convert to Christianity, which is possibly one of the cruellest things he could have done, and made worse as it was in the name of justice and mercy.
Although Antonio is ‘the merchant of Venice’ his motives in the play are more to do with his near desperate need to be loved and his anti-Semitism (though typical of the time) than a desire for money.
Bassanio seems to be motivated my love and money in equal parts. He sets out to win Portia’s love but also to solve his money problems “in Belmont is a Lady richly left, and she is fair”. Bassanio loves Portia and in choosing one of the caskets he “give and hazard all he hath” but whether his motivation was out of love as opposed to Portia’s beauty, which is evident as she is coveted by many men, and her wealth left to her by her farther. We are to assume that it is true love due to the classical comedy structure of the play and his reluctance to give his wedding ring away in payment for the services of the ‘lawyer’ as ‘the dearest ring in Venice will I give you’ than that of his wife. However he is easily persuaded by Antonio so Bassanio’s true loyalties and priorities are still blurred at the end of the play.
Portia seems to be the least motivated by money of the leading characters as she is very well off and so has no need for the pursuit of wealth. She does however desire love, desires to be free of her father’s bond and most of all she desires Bassanio.
Portia could be played as an xenophobe and an elitist, but however in keeping with the themes of appearance and reality within the play, also the requirement of a comedic heroine to be noble and virtuous, Shakespeare may have gone beyond the obvious, clichï¿½d implications of the theme and hit on a deeper reality – even a beautiful, desirable woman deserves to be loved for her inner self, not just collected like a work of art. Whether this is achieved with Bassanio is debatable as there are no concrete reasons mentioned other than her money and wealth for his interest.
Portia however possibly has the same prejudices as the rest of the court. In the court scene she is portrayed like blind justice or a nemesis figure, dealing out judgment and justice, but she may be motivated with revenge and hate against Shylock like the rest of the Venetian court. Portia would not want to see Antonio die and the guilt that Bassanio would suffer as a result would ruin their marriage, and on a less self centred note she would feel it was her duty to help Antonio as he is Bassanio’s friend and as the married couple are supposed to be half of the same whole, he is her friend too.
Many Literary works try to deal with the concepts of love and money as conflicting concepts; however Shakespeare seems to take a more unusual approach by making the two not mutually exclusive, treating love as just another form of wealth. He seems to say that they are blessing to those who pursue them in the right intent. Those who are too possessive, too greedy, will never get pleasure from neither the pursuit of love not from the accumulation of wealth.
Bassanio who seeks Portia’s love and happens to solve his money problems is in contrast with Shylock who is a miser who hordes both his gold and his love and so looses his daughter and his riches simultaneously.