The Merchant of Venice

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Love and Friendship Theme Analysis

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.
Love and Friendship Theme Icon

In connection with mercy and generosity, The Merchant of Venice also explores love and friendship between its characters. The central romantic relationship of the play is that between Bassanio and Portia. Their marriage is paralleled by several others: the elopement of Shylock's daughter, Jessica, with the Christian, Lorenzo; and the marriage of Portia's servant, Nerissa, to Bassanio's companion, Gratiano. In addition, numerous critics have suggested that the strongest friendship in the play—between Antonio and Bassanio—also approaches romantic love. In addition, the play shows how strong the amicable ties are that connect all the various Venetian characters.

Given the generosity that they motivate between characters, love and friendship might seem to offer alternatives to the ugly emotions of prejudice, greed, and revenge on display in The Merchant of Venice. However, beginning with Bassanio's borrowing money from his friend Antonio in order to woo Portia, the play also demonstrates that the apparent purity of love and friendship can be tainted by selfish economic concerns. In addition, love and friendship are also at the mercy of the law, as seen in Portia's being subject to the terms of her father's riddle of the caskets.

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Love and Friendship Quotes in The Merchant of Venice

Below you will find the important quotes in The Merchant of Venice related to the theme of Love and Friendship.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.1
Explanation and Analysis:

The merchant Antionio begins this play, just as Portia will begin the following scene, by expressing sadness. Although Portia's sadness is easier to explain -- she is not truly weary of the world in general, but is tired of being pursued by suitors, who must follow her father's test in order to try for her heart -- Antiono's sadness is more inexplicable. He protests, to his friends, that he is not worried about his ships, which are spreading his wealth abroad (and would sink his wealth if they are ruined). He claims that he is not pining for love, either. We might blame other characters of the play -- the villain Skylock or Antonio's friend Bassanio -- for Antonio's sadness, but ultimately Antonio's emotions remain enigmatic as the play continues. They provide a fitting backdrop for this comedy, though; this melancholy opening puts a stale pallor over the action of the play, which can only be removed as characters form new social bonds or receive new material goods (or, occasionally, experience both of these processes together).


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I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano—
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one.
Related Characters: Antonio (speaker), Gratiano
Page Number: 1.1.81-83
Explanation and Analysis:

This is not our famous "All the world's a stage" moment in Shakespeare's "As You Like It;" it only briefly presents the view that men occupy different roles and does not present the seven general stages of a man's life. This statement is, however, an apt method of describing the broader pallor of emptiness which Antonio (who is the titular Merchant of Venice) introduces to the play's opening. According to this personal perspective, every individual "must play a part"; some must win, some must lose. The world is "but as the world," a bland reality that lacks imaginative possibilities, and, every man has "a part." Antonio is an individual, but he is also interpreted in association with other parts and is made up of a combination of various social, racial, ethnic, and religious categories. Tensions between these categories will develop as the play continues.

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.

Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
I dote on his very absence.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Bassanio
Page Number: 1.2.300
Explanation and Analysis:

After detailing her many suitors, and revealing her dislike of their behaviors and appearances, Portia declares to Nerissa that she will remain chaste as the goddess Diana, unless one of her suitors manages to win her in the way her father ordered before his death. Portia claims "I dote on his very absence," in reference to all of her potential suitors. 

Yet, after Portia makes this extravagant claim, Nerissa reminds her of Bassanio; surely Bassanio was deserving, according to Nerissa. Portia does indeed remember Bassanio, and agrees that he was the suitor she preferred most. We thus begin to see a possible relief from the play's current aura of banality and absence.

Act 2, scene 6 Quotes
All things that are,
Are with more spirit chased than enjoy'd.
Related Characters: Gratiano (speaker)
Page Number: 2.6.13-14
Explanation and Analysis:

Gratiano and Salarino converse as they wait for Lorenzo. Although Bassanio initially (in the play's first scene) commented that Gratiano tends to speak "an infinite deal of nothing," here Gratiano seems to arrive at a universal truth: individuals are more attracted to phenomena (or, in Gratiano's words, "all things that are,") while they are still pursuing them. People and objects become less fascinating once they are attained. This certainly applies to lovers -- particularly because the lovers Lorenzo and Jessica are about to appear onto the stage -- but also has relevance for financial and material pursuits. This fleeting comment calls into question all of the striving and seeking (for a lover, for a reputation, for greater material or financial well-being) that occurs throughout The Merchant of Venice.  

But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit.
Related Characters: Jessica (speaker)
Page Number: 2.6.37-38
Explanation and Analysis:

When Lorenzo comes to Jessica, Shylock's daughter and his beloved, they have a brief conversation before Jessica gathers the rest of her belongings and joins him in their elopement. Jessica is disguised as a boy, and she claims she is grateful that Lorenzo does not see her in such a strange costume. During this conversation, she also more abstractly comments that "love is blind" -- a statement that is not literally true in Belmont, where Portia has certainly noticed her suitors' appearances and ethnicities (although it could be argued that this is because she doesn't truly love them). Yet, lovers are, indeed, often unaware of "pretty follies that themselves commit." In this very play we will observe several instances where lovers are unaware of the tricks and devices which their lover plays on them. 

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.
It is engender'd in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.
Related Characters: Portia (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.65-73
Explanation and Analysis:

The song which Portia leads, while Bassanio is pondering and making his voice between the three caskets, is appropriately focused on true love, or "fancy." According to the song's words, love begins with visual cues or  "in the eyes" -- which the Prince of Morocco knew as well, when he urged Portia to refrain from judging him based on his appearance (as he knew she was apt to do). Besides the song's content, the mere fact that Portia is fostering this music confirms that Bassanio is her suitor of choice; we are inclined to compare Portia's reaction to his suit to her earlier reactions to prior suitors, and we can measure the extent of her approval by this comparison.

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
Related Characters: Lorenzo (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.92-97
Explanation and Analysis:

After musicians play for the lovers Jessica and Lorenzo, Lorenzo declares that people who are not moved by music are the worst kind, the kind who deserve the worst that others have to offer them ("treasons, stratagems, and spoils"). This exclamation does more than just continue to reflect on the properties of music, and music's associations with love and goodness; it invites questions about who might deserve violence, and why. Does one deserve violence for being an intrinsically malignant individual, a character such as Shylock who is unmoved by others' pleas? Or, does one deserve such negative consequences for specific actions, for breaking specific agreements? This play raises questions about who should be culpable, and why, but does not answer them -- even the relatively virtuous Bassanio and Gratiano (as well as Portia and Nerissa) break promises to their respective lovers.