Shakespeare – Module 5: The Merchant of Venice – 12 of 20 – Status and Wealth

Objective: To explore the themes of status and wealth in The Merchant of Venice.

The plot is read and understood and now is the time for closer analysis. Typically, we analyse texts through the key themes that appear in them (these can be love/ hate/ desire/ envy/ etc) and shape the play. The first theme that we will be looking at is status and wealth. How are these viewed in the play?

Task 1: Answer the questions below about status and wealth.

What does wealth mean?

Wealth = having valuable possessions or money.

What does status mean?

Status = a person’s position in society. Are they respected or not? Are they well known or not?

Does Bassanio have a higher or lower status than Portia?

Bassanio is lower status because he needs a loan to have a chance at being her husband. Both of their status is based on wealth.

Does Antonio have a higher or lower status than Shylock?

Antonio is of higher status than Shylock because Shylock is a Jew (remember that the society where the story takes place is very antisemitic – hostile towards Jewish people).

Where does Antonio’s wealth come from?

He is a merchant so depends on buying and selling, particularly from other countries.

The Ducats that Portia gives Bassanio, the representation of ...

Therefore, in the play, we see that generally status is tied to wealth. If you’re not wealthy, you won’t be of a high status. However, even though Shylock is very wealthy, he is discriminated against because of his religion. The status of women at the time was generally lower than men and we see this through the way that Portia has to dress up as a man (Balthazar) in order to save Antonio from having a pound of flesh taken from him.

Task 2: Read each of the quotations below and write a translation of what you think they mean.

I never heard a passion so confused,
So strange, outrageous, and so variable
As the dog Jew did utter in the streets.
“My daughter, O my ducats, O my daughter!

The character thinks it is disgusting that Shylock cares more about the money he has lost than his daughter running away.

You take my house when you do that the prop
That doth sustain my house; you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.

Shylock explains that to be able to have anything in life, you first need to have money. He believes you can’t have life, love, happiness, friendship or family if you don’t have money to begin with. By taking money away from someone, you are also taking away all the things that link to it.

All that glisters is not gold— Often have you heard that told. Many a man his life hath sold But my outside to behold. Gilded tombs do worms enfold. Had you been as wise as bold, Young in limbs, in judgment old, Your answer had not been inscrolled. Fare you well . . . 

The scroll in the golden casket tells the Prince of Morocco that values and relationships are more important than money and material wealth. Love and life is worth more than money.

Task 3: Answer the questions below. Express your own opinion about each of them.

  1. Is Bassanio using Antonio for his money? If so, is he aware of it? Is Antonio?
  2. Is Portia a fully realised character or just an object of wealth?  Does she realise that Bassanio pursued her because of his problems with debt? Does it matter to her?
  3. Describe the Christian attitude toward borrowing money in the play. 
  4. How is Shylock’s attitude toward money different from the attitudes of the Christian characters?
MONEY SONG - here comes the money [HQ] - YouTube

Task 4: Write a short description of two people, of differing statuses, meeting each other (300 words). For example, you could describe a beggar and a millionaire meeting on a street or a teacher and a student or a member of royalty and an average person on the street. There are some sentence starters to help you (below).

Sentence Starters

  • As they walked towards each other…
  • The first thing he noticed was…
  • Suddenly…
  • In an instant…