The Merchant of Venice — An Alternative Ending
Is an alternative ending justified?
Shylock, though brought down by the law for the evil he intended Antonio, nevertheless, might be seen as a fairy god-father to them all. It was his money that made possible the happy marriage of Bassanio to Portia and, because of that event, the marriage of Gratiano to Nerissa. Also, it is Shylock's wealth that is about to save Antonio from bankruptcy. He will have the use of Shylock's property, and Shylock is very wealthy with his wealth in liquid assets, and so it will provide the cash to enable Antonio to pay off all of his many creditors. The future prosperity of Lorenzo and Jessica is also assured because Shylock was forced to name them as inheritors of his entire estate. And they have already benefitted from Shylock because of his ducats and jewels that they stole and wasted. Despite what they may think of Shylock, without him and his fortune, they have nothing!
Shakespeare may have realised this point and that Shylock might gain favour in the public eye if the effects of his wealth were not negated or neutralised. That potential problem was avoided by Antonio's ships coming in. The cheap trick of Portia's surprise announcement "You shall find three of your argosies are richly come to harbour suddenly." was cheapened further by adding "You shall not know by what strange accident I chanced on this letter."
Thus, Antonio is not seen as surviving through Shylock's wealth but through his own, and it wasn't really Shylock's money that enabled the marriages, but his. Even that, though, doesn't alter the fact that Shakespeare has used a pretty cheap trick.
Did Shakespeare cook the books? Antonio's ships, thought to be lost or wrecked, suddenly
come in, right on cue at the very end of the play to give us a dime a dozen, B movie, fairy
tale, happy ending. If Antonio's ships had remained lost, a far more serious ending was possible.