Il Mercante di Venezia

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By William Shakespeare
Bassanio asks Antonio, a Venetian merchant, some money to court Portia, a wealthy heiress who lives in the city of Belmont. Antonio agrees, but is unable to give him the sum of money because his own money is all invested in a number of trade ships that are still at sea. To please Bassanio, Antonio decide to ask money to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. Shylock nurses a long-standing grudge against Antonio, who has made a habit of berating Shylock and other Jews for their usury, the practice of loaning
money at exorbitant rates of interest, and who undermines their business by offering interest-free loans. Although Antonio refuses to apologize for his behavior, Shylock acts agreeably and offers to lend Bassanio three thousand ducats with no interest.
Shylock adds, however, that should the loan go unpaid, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s own flesh. Despite Bassanio’s warnings, Antonio agrees. Than Bassanio and his friend Graziano leave for Belmont, where Bassanio intends to win Portia’s hand.
Portia can’t marry anybody, apart from the corageus one that will exceed the test of the three caskets. In Venice, Shylock is furious to find that his daughter has run away, but rejoices in the fact that Antonio’s ships are rumored to have been wrecked and that he will soon be able to claim his debt. Bassanio immediately picks the correct casket, which is made of lead. Shylock ignores the many pleas to spare Antonio’s life, and a trial is called to decide the matter. The duke of Venice, who presides over the trial, announces that he has sent for a legal expert, who turns out to be Portia disguised as a young man of law. Portia asks Shylock to show mercy, but he remains inflexible and insists the pound of flesh is rightfully his. Bassanio offers Shylock twice the money due him, but Shylock insists on collecting the bond as it is written. Portia examines the contract and, finding it legally binding, declares that Shylock is entitled to the merchant’s flesh. Shylock ecstatically praises her wisdom, but as he is on the verge of collecting his due, Portia reminds him that he must do so without causing Antonio to bleed, as the contract does not entitle him to any blood. Trapped by this logic, Shylock hastily agrees to take Bassanio’s money instead, but Portia insists that Shylock take his bond as written, or nothing at all. Portia informs Shylock that he is guilty of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen, which means he must turn over half of his property to the state and the other half to Antonio.
ANTONIO: Antonio is kind and available when Bassanio asks to lend him 3000
Ducats. Doing this he risks his life. If he can’t return the money to Shylock, he will pay with a pound of his flesh. But it accepts this strange term, because he considers Bassanio as a son or as a brother. He, like a lot of Venicians, scorns all the jewishes.
BASSANIO: Bassanio is a handsome young-man who wants to conquer Portia’s heart. since he hasn’t got enough money, and since he wants to make a good impression on Portia, Bassanio asks Antonio to lend him 3000 ducates. He’s also clever and lucky, because during the “three casket’s test” he succeds to guessing where Portia’s portrait is.
SHYLOCK: Shylock is an jewish usurer rich and avaricious, with a thracherous and a cupid look. But in spite of this, he merit paty because his people are maltreated by Christians. Shylock is very vindictive, and for his thirst for revenge, at the end he losts all his goods. Shylock is the stereotype of usurer dominant in the vision of the epoch, in fact Shakespeare puts him in his opera.
PORTIA: She is very beautiful, kind and clever. She is in love with Bassanio, but she must attend the response of the response of the “three caskets’s test”; fortunately Bassanio choosed the correst casket, so at last they can marry. During Antonio’s trial, she is dressed up as a young judge, Balthasar : so she defends Antonio (fortunately for him!), saying that Shyklock can take a found of flesh from Antonio’s body, but without shedding hos blood. With this ingenious harangue, she succeeds to helping and staggering Antonio.
GRAZIANO: Graziano is Bassanio’s best friend. He is handsome and daring; he decides to follow Bassanio to Belmonte, at Portia’s court. There he falls in love with Nerissa, Portia’s servant and friend.
NERISSA: Nerissa is beautiful and sweet and she is also Portia’s best friend; she falls in love with Graziano, and at last they can marry. In the end there is a double – marriage ceremony: between Bassanio and Portia and between Graziano and Nerissa.
The most immediate and complete source of Shakespeare for this drama is the Italian short-story writing. “The merchant of Venice” is inspired by the I novella of the IV day of the “Pecorone” written by Sir Giovanni Fiorentino (1558), derived from one of the stories of the “Gesta Romanorum”.
Shakespeare found here the setting in Venice, the town of Belmont, the central theme of the Jewish usurer, the idea of the pound of meat and the plot of the three boxes, typical of the oriental short-story writing.
The “Zelauto”, written by Anthony Munday (1580), and the “Decameron”, by Boccaccio, were probably other works that the author held in consideration.
Many reviewers have often noticed that the “necessity” for Bassanio of those three thousand ducats which change the comedy in tragedy, isn’t real (contrary to the complementary short-story written by Sir Giovanni Fiorentino) because the character need only to go from Venice to Belmont and it seems difficult that this involves so vast expenses.
The most reliable hypothesis is to consider this “Shakespearean inconsistency” as the recourse to a theatrical convention, which the Elizabethan public certainly accepted as a part of that pact between author and spectator, typical of the classical and Renaissance theatre.
Moreover, a great and not expected knowledge of the classical studies, of the Greek and Latin mythology appears in Shakespeare since the first cues.

In this opera the fulcrum is the anti-semitism and we can see it in the scene of the spit. Anti-semitism raged in the Venice and in the rest of the European continent because jewishes were considered the murdered of Christ and because they lent money on interest. In fact Shylock correspond in the vision of the epoch. From him come the hymn of tolerance and reciprocal acceptance.
In the opera the jewish usurer merits also a bit of paty in spite of he is avarious and this is what Antonio reserves to him.