The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare
Summary

What Does the Ending Mean?

Summary What Does the Ending Mean?

The play ends with a joyful and playful reunion that contrasts with the serious themes that dominate much of the play. Bassanio, Antonio, and Gratiano return to Belmont to reunite with Portia and Nerissa, who have just arrived from Venice. Portia and Nerissa pretend to be angry with their husbands for having given away the rings they swore to cherish, but the women eventually reveal that they were the ones who saved Antonio while disguised as men. This ending focuses on playful teasing between lovers and the promise of a happy resolution. The change in location from Venice to Belmont also signals a shift in tone from the tension of the courtroom scenes to idyllic life on a beautiful estate.

Nonetheless, the ending does include some darker thematic connections to earlier portions of the play. The anger and betrayal that Portia and Nerissa pretend to feel when they accuse their husbands of breaking their promises bring to mind the fury Shylock feels toward Antonio and his insistence that Antonio uphold his end of the deal. Antonio, throughout the play, is willing to put his life on the line for Bassanio, and this sacrificial adoration is as evident as ever in the final scene. When Bassanio begs Portia for forgiveness, Antonio yet again offers his whole self to support Bassanio. Antonio tells Portia that he will forfeit his soul if Bassanio ever betrays her again. Antonio’s unwavering, self-giving devotion to Bassanio greatly contrasts with his treatment of Shylock, whom he demands convert to Christianity and bequeath his wealth to Jessica and Lorenzo at the end of the previous scene. All the characters delight in how fully they have stripped Shylock of his selfhood, indicating that the “happy ending” has darker undertones worth examining.