Hwa-Seon Kim, "The Geography of Difference in The Merchant of Venice"


The location of Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice is based on the Venetian myth which expressed the Elizabethan ambition for London. The Renaissance imperial myth of Venice seems just as alluring as the classical imperial myth of Rome. The image of the maritime world in The Merchant of Venice is not the Venetian reality but Elizabethan ambitions for London. Shakespeare projects such ambitions in a Venetian fantasy because Venice represented the idea of a world maritime capital which leading Elizabethan merchants had in mind for London. In this context, The Merchant of Venice seems to inscribe and affirm an ideological calculus that fused the interests of the state and the assertions of a providentialist Christianity with the prerogatives of an increasingly capitalist marketplace. Interestingly, London like Venice is expected to profit from barbarous people without compromising its integrity as a civilized and Christian state. However, the representation of Shylock and his usury in the play reveals to us the contradictory state and the treatment of Shylock appear to blur the distinctions on which the polarities depend, leading us, in effect, to ask with Portia, “Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew?”
In addition, the efforts to categorize the female body as a territory by Bassanio and Morocco are examined in this cultural context. In the play, there are contradictory feelings about the value of education and the forwardness of female articulateness. Portia acts with authority, and she retains full control of her financial affairs. Yet it is the husbands ownership and control of his wife’s ‘ring’ that closes the play. This consummation foregrounds the cultural context of the period which inscribes the ideology that the female body is territory which should be safely contained and subordinated to the male ownership.

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice