The Merchant of Venice

by

William Shakespeare

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The Merchant of Venice: Imagery 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Act 4, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Heavenly Language:

While the play as a whole focuses on humankind's aggression and limitations, Shakespeare does imbue several scenes with aspirational imagery. Both Portia and Lorenzo, who embody the irony of Christian kindness, speak of divine grace as attainable.

Disguised as Balthazar in Act 4, Scene 1, Portia implores Shylock to show Antonio mercy when he cannot repay his bond:

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. [...]

It is an attribute to God Himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

Portia immerses her audience in ethereal language, seemingly transporting them to an equally divine state. In these words, a new possibility emerges—albeit one that no character has yet manifested. Suddenly, there is a visceral idea that the characters—and audience—can access that which is closest to the divine and offer it as a gift to those around them. The sensation that Portia paints is overflowing with comfort and grace, promising a heaven on earth if people can fully mimic God’s attributes.

Lorenzo conjures a similar image as he speaks to Jessica in Act 5, Scene 1:

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

Such harmony is in immortal souls,

But whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. 

Lorenzo creates sensory imagery by discussing the "music of the spheres": the beautiful sounds that the planets and stars make, and that only angels can hear. He is more realistic than Portia, acknowledging that humans' mortal shortcomings make it nearly impossible to access the realm of God—but in doing so, he still immerses Jessica, and the audience, in heavenly language. Through his and Portia's imagery, the audience is thus reminded that—though they may not see it from the characters—a more kindhearted existence may be possible beyond the play.

Act 5, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Heavenly Language:

While the play as a whole focuses on humankind's aggression and limitations, Shakespeare does imbue several scenes with aspirational imagery. Both Portia and Lorenzo, who embody the irony of Christian kindness, speak of divine grace as attainable.

Disguised as Balthazar in Act 4, Scene 1, Portia implores Shylock to show Antonio mercy when he cannot repay his bond:

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. [...]

It is an attribute to God Himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

Portia immerses her audience in ethereal language, seemingly transporting them to an equally divine state. In these words, a new possibility emerges—albeit one that no character has yet manifested. Suddenly, there is a visceral idea that the characters—and audience—can access that which is closest to the divine and offer it as a gift to those around them. The sensation that Portia paints is overflowing with comfort and grace, promising a heaven on earth if people can fully mimic God’s attributes.

Lorenzo conjures a similar image as he speaks to Jessica in Act 5, Scene 1:

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

Such harmony is in immortal souls,

But whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. 

Lorenzo creates sensory imagery by discussing the "music of the spheres": the beautiful sounds that the planets and stars make, and that only angels can hear. He is more realistic than Portia, acknowledging that humans' mortal shortcomings make it nearly impossible to access the realm of God—but in doing so, he still immerses Jessica, and the audience, in heavenly language. Through his and Portia's imagery, the audience is thus reminded that—though they may not see it from the characters—a more kindhearted existence may be possible beyond the play.

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