The Critique for Bassanio’s speech

In the play, “The Merchant of Venice” a Shakespearean comedy by William Shakespeare, the author expresses the idea of appearances versus the intentions in reality through Bassanio’s speech (3.2.73-107). This speech takes place when Bassanio is deciding which of the three caskets: contains the portrait of Portia but more importantly the grant to marry Portia and to be given all her inheritance. Bassanio reveals that the gold and silver caskets are too threatening based on the caskets’ looks and picks the lead casket which as we know did have the portrait of Portia. Through the use of literary devices such as figurative language, symbols, imagery, tone, form of the passage, and narrative voice, Shakespeare reveals the idea of appearance versus the intensions behind the characters and significant objects in The Merchant of Venice. He also discusses that first impressions can be deceiving by covering up the truth or intentions behind the people or objects.

Shakespeare uses imagery, tone, and symbols: throughout the passage to suggest the intentions of objects are not what they are appeared to be. “The world” really hasn’t change based on the idea that it “is still deceived by ornament”. People still have different intentions that they appear to have, and they still try to trick others into getting their own way. The world is “so tainted and corrupt” that “the outward shows be least themselves.” Even “in law”, there are things that are “seasoned with a gracious voice [that] obscures the show of evil” which is referring to the government that is covering up its selfish behavior from the public for the leader’s self interests of money and riches. Shakespeare also uses “religion” as an object that is “hiding the grossness with fair ornament” which is their god Jesus and all its followers: hiding the true about Christianity and its evil doings from the rest of the world and the youth. Shakespeare compares and contrast ‘cowards” to different objects and people. Their “hearts are as false as stair of sand”, hearts usually represent love, bravery and are the color red but to compare it to something like sand which have no life, either very hot or cold and which is yellow shows that Shakespeare is showing that these cowards may look the same in “the outward show” but what is inside is a whole different object. Shakespeare mentions “the beards of Hercules and Mars” to be “upon [the cowards’] chins” to show how the cowards are wearing something to be seen as wise but when ‘inward search’d, [they] have livers white as milk.” Shakespeare says their livers are white: livers are usually red and refer to the seed of courage, so Shakespeare brings forth the idea that these cowards have no courage as their livers are milk and that they don’t have a hint of red or courage in them. Shakespeare uses “beauty” as something that can appearance fake by “purchased by the weight” through products like makeup which “work a miracle in nature” since there is basically no difference in real or fake beauty in today’s times but “the woman who wear it the most are respected the least” (line 19 of passage) this refers to the women who are prostitutes and hooker in the past as they dress up themselves and are not respected. Makeup is similar to a “beauteous scarf” that is “veiling an Indian beauty” as it covers the face of the person inside, but it may have the intentions to fool as it could be used to hide an inconvenient truth about them. “Crisp snaky golden locks, which make such wanton gambols with the wind,” create an image of beauty “upon supposed fairness” but it is soon broken when Shakespeare reveals that the golden locks of hair may have been fake and that they are from a “dowry of a second head, the skull that bred [the golden hairs is in] the sepulchre” or tomb. The skull is linked to the gold casket so here the golden casket is compared to a tomb to represent the life entrapment to the rules that Portia’s suitors had to accept. “The guiled shore” may seem nice to sailor in a “dangerous sea” but it avoid the fact that the cunning shore may have greater danger than the stormy sea itself. Gold is used as a symbol of “ornament” that is existent “to entrap the wisest” like how there was “hard food for Midas,” but lead is “pale and common” “which rather threatenest that dost promise aught.” Bassanio feels the gold and silver casket are threatening and the lead casket though it is common will promise the most. Bassanio last phrase “joy be the consequence” leaves his faith upon god but it is unclear if he has realized Portia’s hints about which casket containing her portrait. Shakespeare further develops the idea of appearances may not be the same as the intentions of the objects or people in this play as it could be used to fool.

Shakespeare applies figurative language like similes, and allusions in Bassanio’s speech to state the misconception between the intentions of what is real and what is not. He uses an allusion when describing “in religion…hiding the grossness with fair ornament”, refers to how Christianity is the eyes of Christians is non threatening but the truth is covered up by the elders which is that Christians “approve with a text” says that you must believe in Christianity or you will go to hell. The imposing of religion onto non Christians believers is the evil that is ornament by the force of the people believing in that religion. Allusions referring to “Hercules…and Mars”, are contrasted to “cowards, whose hearts are all as false”. Hercules is the son of Zeus and Mars is the god of war. He compares Hercules’s and Mars’s beards to the beards of cowards that “are as false as stairs of sand, {that they} wear yet upon their chins.” These cowards are wearing a noble beard on their chins to disguise themselves to appear as mature and brave men. It is ironic that Bassanio is saying that appearances and the intentions of a person or object don’t some reflect upon each other, because Bassanio had borrowed money from Antonio to impress Portia and become a suitor for her: so he had used appearance to deceive and cover up the truth about himself. The theme also reflects on the irony how the objects used in the speech relate to Portia some way or another who is seen as an innocent little girl but as we find out later in the play is actually very clever and smart like how she used the ring as a certain control over Bassanio and how she saved Antonio of his bond with Shylock. “[Every sin in the world manages to make itself look good somehow]” (lines 8-9) is a hyperbole since not are sins are covered up and people know the truth of some but certainly not all. “ The hearts [of cowards] are all as false as stairs of sand” since cowards have fake intentions and are not true at heart this also raises up the question if Bassanio is a coward since at first his intentions were Portia’s wealth but throughout the story is unclear if Bassanio loves Portia or her wealth. Shakespeare uses religion as in the allusion “veiling an Indian beauty” which refers to the Indian customs that a woman must cover her face during her marriage, Shakespeare uses this to describe the scarf that cover the face as an ornament to cover what is inside. “Midas” is a god who had an ability to turn anything to gold with a single touch but the first impressions of this ability overlooked the long term effects which were that Midas had issues eating food because it turned to gold. There irony when Bassanio says “skull” which we known was in the golden casket but how did he know. Shakespeare uses figurative language to express the idea of first appearances can be deceiving based on the person’s or object’s intentions.

Shakespeare utilizes narrative voice, form and structure of Bassanio’s passage, to further reflect upon the uncertainty of what is real or fake. The speech Bassanio says before he makes a decision about which casket he will choose, is 35 lines. Certainly, the passage’s length is relative to the time Bassanio is taking his time to choose the casket since his future is determined by the outcome of his choice. He wants to be seen as a very wise man like “Hercules and mars”, which is why he is taking his time and explaining his decision. Since Portia has been giving hints to Bassanio about which casket contains her portrait, it is questionable if he is really thinking about his choice or just improvising to present himself as a wise man and it is questionable if he does or doesn’t realize the hints that Portia is giving. This uncertainty where Bassanio is either fake or true goes back to the theme of appearance versus reality where Bassanio has either realized Portia’s hints and improvising for time or if he is really thinking about his decision. The purpose of Bassanio saying “the world is still deceived with ornament… [and]seasoned with a gracious voice” refers to how he thinks the gold and silver caskets are “so tainted and corrupt” as they are disguised with golden and silver ornament to hide their evil intentions “to entrap the wisest”. Explaining that the golden and silver caskets are deceiving as they “[hide their] grossness with fair ornament” which he says “obscures the show of evil”. He likes the “paleness” of the lead casket, chooses it based on it unthreatening appearance and because the lead casket “rather [than threatening, it] promise you” fortune which later on we find the Bassanio was right and the lead casket had all the fortune. Certainly as all the other suitors had explained their choices of casket, Bassanio had to with this passage. There are many uncertainties about why Bassanio said his passage. There are some ideas about his purpose. First, Portia is related to these symbols in some way, so it is strange that Bassanio is saying these things to Portia and her followers. He could being saying something about Portia or is a just a coincidence. Secondly, Bassanio could be referring to himself since he uses appearance to impress Portia by showing other people’s wealth and how he could be a coward wearing a noble beard by him saying this wise speech about the casket. Furthermore, Bassanio may have realized Portia’s hints and expressed this speech as a cover up of his truth like the theme of the passage. Shakespeare uses form, structure of the passage and the narrative voice to further develop the concept of appearances covering up the intentions of the person or object.

In the play, “Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare, Shakespeare presents an idea of the appearance of objects and characters versus the truth or reality behind them and their true intentions. By the use of symbols, imagery, tone, figurative language, narrative voice and form of Bassanio’s passage, Shakespeare develops the character of Bassanio and talks about many key objects and people in the play. Times haven’t really changed from Shakespearean times based on people and objects, now more than ever, try to deceive people since the assumed intentions based on first appearance are almost never the same as the intentions of that object or person in reality. Today, society is stilled fooled and baffled from shocking incidences and we still haven’t learned from the past.

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