Sacrifice and Mercy in the Merchant of Venice

Lee Murphy
Elizabeth Meadows
English 102w
30 January
The words sacrifice and mercy are often given   selfless connotations.   If a person commits a sacrificial or merciful act, they are thought to have done it out of the goodness of their heart or the concern for the welfare of a particular person, group, idea or cause and not out of personal gain.   These two ideas of sacrifice and mercy are very central themes to The Merchant of Venice.   The characters Antonio and Portia are especially entwined in both of these themes as they are constantly sacrificing themselves for the sake of Bassanio throughout the play and then are each given the opportunity to show mercy towards their adversaries at the play’s close.   Every time they commit an act of either sacrifice or mercy, though, it is because they have something to gain by doing so.   Antonio and Portia’s behaviors are the essential pieces of evidence in The Merchant of Venice which show that in a human world, selfless sacrifice cannot exist.
As early as the first time that Antonio and Bassanio meet at the play’s opening, Antonio is making sacrifices for Bassanio. Although Antonio is trying to help his friend by giving his own wealth as collateral on Bassanio’s loan, he is thinking of more than Bassanio’s love life. He has in mind this debt that Bassanio will owe him.   He assures Bassanio that although “Thou know'st that all my fortunes are at sea…my credit… shall be rack'd, even to the uttermost, to furnish thee to Belmont to fair Portia” (I.i.180-185). He is hardly concerned with Bassanio falling in love with Portia, but in fact desires that Bassanio think of him before her. If Bassanio is always in his debt, then he must always be in Bassanio’s thoughts.     It is the trial scene where the reader realizes this more fully.   Here, Antonio first grants Bassanio mercy by telling him to “Greive not that I have fallen to this for herein Fortune shows herself more kind” (IV.i.274-275         ).   By saying that Fortune...