The Merchant of Venice

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Themes and Colors
Prejudice and Intolerance Theme Icon
Human and Animal Theme Icon
Law, Mercy, and Revenge Theme Icon
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon
Reading and Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Merchant of Venice, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Greed vs. Generosity Theme Icon

The primary grievance that Antonio has against Shylock is that he is greedy—for charging interest to those who borrow money from him when they are in need. The Venetians implicitly contrast Shylock's greed with the generosity that they show one another. For instance, Antonio is willing to place his whole "purse and person" at Bassanio's disposal and regularly saves other Christians from having to pay interest to Shylock by paying off their debts for them.

It seems that, like love or mercy, generosity is limitless, unbounded. However, The Merchant of Venice also frequently begs the question of whether friends aren't using friends, or lovers their lovers, for materialistic reasons. For instance, why is the perpetually indebted Bassanio so intent on wooing the rich Portia? And as Portia's and Nerissa's anger over the rings that their husbands give away in the final scene reflects, even the freest gift-giving comes with strings attached, like the rules governing Shylock's more frankly capitalistic contracts.

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Greed vs. Generosity Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

Below you will find the important quotes in The Merchant of Venice related to the theme of Greed vs. Generosity.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
In my school-days, when I had lost one shaft,
I shot his fellow of the selfsame flight
The selfsame way, with more advised watch,
To find the other forth; and by adventuring both,
I oft found both.
Related Characters: Bassanio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.140-144
Explanation and Analysis:

Before Bassanio explains his desire to pursue Portia as a suitor, he discusses his pre-existing debts to his friend Antonio. Bassanio already owes Antonio (and others) a fair sum of money and gratitude, but he is about to ask for additional monetary assistance. Although Antonio will not withhold his money, and will be quite generous because of his friendship, Bassanio still provides an analogy that might convince Antonio to lend him money. Bassanio references how, once he lost an arrow, he would often shoot another arrow and more carefully watch the second arrow's flight, in order to find both arrows at once. Bassanio suggests that he will do the same with money; by paying more attention to the way he spends new loans, he will be able to repay his old and new debts to Antonio.


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Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
They are as sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing.
Related Characters: Nerissa (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.5-6
Explanation and Analysis:

Nerissa, Portia's servant and companion, provides this saying while she is discussing Portia's downcast emotions. After Nerissa mentions that Portia is blessed with an abundance of gifts, she gives this adage and reminder that too much material wealth can be as unfortunate as too little. This also serves as a warning against greed; the lust to accumulate more wealth and possessions can be as damaging as these possessions themselves, as the character Skylock will demonstrate through his avarice.

With these blunt words, Nerissa seems to offer her lady a similar sort of "economic" friendship as Antonio's friends have provided him. This underscores the importance of such fraternal bonds in The Merchant of Venice, which only develops its plot because a merchant is willing to share his wealth with another, in friendship.

Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.3.35-38
Explanation and Analysis:
Shylock utters these words during his first interaction with Antonio and Bassanio in the play, an interaction which reveals how complicated a figure Shylock will become in The Merchant of Venice. He will have more pitiful moments like this, despite his more general role as antagonist who seems to literally seek Antonio's flesh and blood. Here, as Shylock describes the rules he follows as he interacts with society, he also expresses the categorical isolation he feels as a member of the Jewish community, who is largely excluded from social aspects within the Christian Venice. He can participate in the public space of the marketplace and engage in commerce (and "buy," "sell," and "walk" with others), but he cannot (or will not) enter the more intimate spaces (to engage in worship or participate in meals). Here, though, Shylock is delivering these words in a public street; we cannot be sure whether he is accurately describing his own feelings of isolation, or merely harnessing this social reality to suit his needs in this conversation. 
Let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker), Antonio
Page Number: 1.3.160-163
Explanation and Analysis:

While Shylock is bartering with Antonio and Bassanio in order to arrange their new loan, he decides to ask for an unusual form of repayment, should Antonio default on the loan: a pound of Antonio's flesh. This strange request captures the way that human actors are intrinsically associated with their financial means in this play, but it also provides a platform for subsequent reflections on honesty (would Antonio truly allow his blood to be spilt over a legal agreement?), mercy (might Shylock be overcome with mercy shortly before he would witness Antonio become injured), and violence (would this act of violence be enough to satiate Shylock's lust for revenge)? 

Act 2, scene 7 Quotes
All that glisters is not gold.
Related Characters: Prince of Morocco (speaker)
Related Symbols: Stones, Rings, and Caskets
Page Number: 2.7.73
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Prince of Morocco opens the golden casket during his pursuit of Portia's hand in marriage, he uncovers the already common saying "All that glisters is not gold" (which was earlier expressed by Chaucer, among other writers). This trite warning against greed seems out of place at Belmont, where Portia's wealthy father has left her an expansive and an incredible quantity of money. It reminds us of this play's tension between love and the ownership of property -- a tension which Antonio faced in the first scene, when he decided to forsake his own property out of love for Bassanio (and to let his friend Bassanio hopefully win Portia's love and Portia's property, through Antonio's love and property). 

This warning against greed is written on a scroll within the casket, and this casket is the first of many objects to be associated with writing. Though the casket itself is a golden expression of wealth, the words written within it also make it an expression of love. Portia's father likely included the golden casket to prevent suitors from winning over Portia out of their desire for her inheritance. Gy forbidding suitors who chose the golden casket from attaining Portia through marriage, Portia's father protects his daughter through his writing. 

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
Nay, take my life and all; pardon not that:
You take my house when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.
Related Characters: Shylock (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.390-393
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the Duke has declared that half of Shylock's wealth will go to Antonio and the other half will go to the state, Shylock, in his dismay, provides a powerful description of the connection between one's life and one's wealth. He claims that his property sustains his life, so taking his property is the same as taking his life. Similarly, for Shylock, his wealth sustains his property, so an individual takes his property by taking his wealth. Here, Shylock articulates an indirect but powerful link between his life and his wealth, a direct correspondence which is not surprising given Shylock's generally greedy nature and concern with material possessions. Yet, after Shylock utters this statement, Portia immediately asks Antonio what "mercy" he might render Shylock, continuing to insert the notion of mercy into the courtroom even while simultaneously doling out arguably cruel, unmerciful punishments to Shylock.