“The Problem of More-than-one”

In the article, “The Problem of More-than-one: Friendship, Calculation, and Political Association in the Merchant of Venice” by Henry S. Turner, Turner discusses the political perspective of the play in terms of friendship, calculation and decision, and justice. He discusses the question of the relationship between friendship and democracy, and how “The Merchant of Venice” may show slight traces of modern democracy throughout the play. One point that I found particularly interesting is the idea of the quantum of friendship and how that relates to value in terms of numbers and the blurred lines from which that value comes about. This lack of clarity can be seen in the play in the recurring issues of self-interest versus love and friendship.

The character of Shylock particularly exemplifies a lack of value for love or for other people, and his greediness shows that he cares more about money than he does for his relationships of love and friendship. On the other hand, Antonio portrays a more selfless manner in which he risks himself for the people that he cares about and lends out money to others. However, as the play develops it becomes clear that these qualities of Antonio and Shylock are not necessarily consistent, and that at times Shylock’s passion can overpower his greed. The clash between Shylock and the Christian characters of the play lies in their difference in religion and values and is rooted in the law. The law at this time dictates exactly how they should behave and the great amount of rules and boundaries involved are extremely restricting and are manipulated by the people in power. In this way, as mentioned in Turner’s article, the question of numbers and value is important. In a democracy, majority rules and therefore the outcome in most situations is more fair and universally accepted and welcomed. On the other hand, the law in this play is often twisted and taken advantage of by the people in power. This puts a lot of control into the hands of just a few people, and eventually forces Shylock to convert to Christianity and abandon his religion. This brings to light the comparison between the value of numbers in the law and the value of numbers in friendship. The fact that Shylock falls victim to the law and is eventually forced into converting raises the question of may have happened if he was not subject to such higher power. Had he had a say in the law or had some more people on his side, he could have maybe worked out a better solution and been able to stay true to himself and to his beliefs. The small number of people in power outweighed Shylock’s amount of allies and friends, and therefore proved more valuable in terms of his fate and ultimate conversion.


Shakespeare, William, and H. M. Percival. The merchant of Venice. Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press, 1912.

Turner, Henry S. “The Problem of the More-than-One: Friendship, Calculation, and Political Association in The Merchant of Venice.” Shakespeare Quarterly57.4 (2006): 413-442.