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‘The Merchant of Venice’ tittle has been carefully chosen and it is apt and suggested. There has been some controversy among the critics that the tittle belong to Shylock or Antonio. This controversy arose because in the first entry the play had been named ‘The Merchant of Venice’ or ‘The Jew of Venice’. Later on the double tittle disappeared and it was named ‘The Merchant of Venice’. So critics supposed that it is Shylock who is real merchant of Venice and the play is slightly named after him. They pointed out that Antonio is passive and has a colorless personality in the play and remains in the background with very little appearance on the stage, whereas Shylock has a dominant role in the play. Therefore it is said that Shakespeare must have had the Jew in his mind and not Antonio while naming the play.
However a superficial reading of the play makes it clear that Antonio is the real merchant of Venice. His name is referred repeatedly as the royal merchant and good Antonio and also in the main trail scene Portia asked pointedly “which is the merchant which is the Jew”. From the beginning of the play Antonio is presented as a rich merchant and a world trader who sent argosies to various countries. On the other hand Shylock is never referred to as a merchant but sketched as an usurer and a cruel money lender.
Though Antonio is a passive figure we can say that the play is rightly named after him. It was Antonio’s action that gave rise to the plot of the drama and indirectly he is related to the casket story, the second main plot of the drama. The bond story rises directly out of his execution of the bond. The casket story is indirectly but vitally related to him as he is the person who enters into the bond, borrows money from Shylock and helps Bassanio to reach Belmont as a suitor. In the final scene the battle is fought over his fate and every incident of the play converges this scene. Hence the play can be aptly be called ‘The Merchant of Venice’ after him.