Shakespeare Society: The Merchant of Venice

West End Library

Shakespeare Society: The Merchant of Venice

How do you define The Good? Portia, from The Merchant of Venice, takes a gander at this question that has preoccupied, and has arguably eluded, philosophers for millennia:

“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do," she observes, "chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces.” 

Knowing good vs. doing good -- and if you're able to apply this knowledge into action, why on earth would there ever be a disconnect? (That is a rhetorical question, by the way.)

Indeed, Aristotle states in the opening lines of his Nicomachean Ethics that "Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim."

But please pardon the reference. The Merchant of Venice is certainly not an Aristotelian thought exercise, the sun neither rises nor sets on Aristotle's theories, and this blog entry is obviously not a philosophy paper. Still, the question persists: is it wise or foolish to posit that the central conflict in The Merchant of Venice is the individual characters' misunderstanding of goodness? And is this lack of understanding why Antonio, one of the characters in this play, begins the work by declaring

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad?

On Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, 11 Shakespeare Society participants gathered together via Webex for two hours to discuss these and several other ideas in The Merchant of Venice.

Learn more about the Shakespeare Society here.
-- My Nguyen