“Thou gaudy gold”: Wealth in The Merchant of Venice


  • Christopher Fairchild


A great deal of scholarship on the Merchant of Venice analyzes the play’s romantic themes and Jewish stereotypes. However, the play’s main theme is wealth. The lack of scholarship on wealth in this play is surprising, especially given that the title indicates the importance of economics. Wealth is central to the characterization, and the historic, and economic contexts presented in the play. This paper analyses the play in these contexts. Wealth is the most important theme of the play since it is connected to most, if not all, of the critical parts within it. The context of Shylock’s wealth should be explained to a modern audience. As such, I explain the modern monetary value of Shylock’s 3000 Ducat loan and his fortune rather than an estimation of the raw gold value of Ducat coins. Shakespeare uses many Greek mythological references, here the golden fleece and King Mydas are used. It is no coincidence that gold is the central object in these myths. Even in the play’s romantic scenes, wealth is still tied to love and is often the motivating factor for the characters. Sometimes love is betrayed for economic power. The paper also includes the historic economic importance of marriage and its pressures on men and women. And lastly Shakespeare often used other settings to comment on England. As such, I analyze the English view of other countries’ wealth under the guise an Italian setting.