Like all of us, Shakespeare’s characters are vulnerable to temptation, which, as in life, may lead to corruption. One of the most powerful enticements is money, which can become the object of such fixation that it overwhelms the rest of a person’s character. True, as Shakespeare dramatizes this preoccupation, it is not always strong enough to take exclusive hold of someone, but several of Shakespeare’s plays remind us that the desire for money, like the desire for power, has the capacity to contaminate an individual or a society.
The lighter side of greed is apparent in some of Shakespeare’s comedies. In The Taming of the Shrew, Baptista clarifies to several young men of Padua how he will reward the successful suitor of his younger daughter, Bianca: “I will be very kind, and liberal” (I, i, 98). He regards her as a commodity, as he later clarifies:
That can assure my daughter’s greatest dower
Shall have my Bianca’s love.
(II, i, 342–344)
The shallow suitor Gremio, along with the servant Tranio, who is disguised as his master, Lucentio, another suitor, follows this directive by boasting of his own wealth; not surprisingly, Baptista concedes to the more promising claims of Tranio. Even then, however, Baptista adds a stipulation:
And let your father make her the assurance,
She is your own, else you must pardon me;
If you should die before him, where’s her dower?
(II, i, 386–389)