'My Flame to qualify' : the friendship tradition and The Merchant of Venice



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Friendship is of major thematic importance in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Classical friendship theories are the antecedents upon which the devoted ideal friendship of Antonio and Bassanio is based. This study examines the language, imagery, and precepts of amity doctrine from its Greek and Roman origins to its peak embellishment in the sixteenth century. Full understanding and appreciation of MV requires such background knowledge. The critics, reflecting their times, have promulgated new emphases and illuminations of the play, and the friendship theme has recently been obscured by critical disenchantment with or ignorance of amity tenets. Psychoanalytic interpretations, holding the friendship to be a homosexual liaison, have distorted the play's meaning. This study examines representative criticism of all schools pertinent to the play's friendship theme, from Shakespeare's time to the present. A close analysis of all of the friendship passages and elements of the text of MV is made with emphasis grounded in the classical amity ideas. The conclusion reached is that friendship is a still- viable intellectual and artistic concept and ideal. In MV, as in the modern world, friendship is a valuable and essential facet of the comic festive celebration of the full life.