Money is a very big deal in this play. (Big surprise there, right? The plot revolves around a Venetian merchant who can't repay a loan to a hated moneylender.) In much of The Merchant of Venice, the characters' attitudes toward wealth, mercantilism, and usury (lending money with interest) function as a way to differentiate between Christians and Jews.
The Christians in the play are portrayed as generous and even careless with their fortunes. The money-grubbing Shylock, on the other hand, is accused of caring more for his ducats than human relationships. At the same time, there's textual evidence to suggest that Shakespeare calls these stereotypes into question.
Questions About Wealth
Is Bassanio using Antonio for his money? If so, is he aware of it? Is Antonio?
Is Portia a fully realized character or just an object of wealth? Does she realize that Bassanio pursued her because of his problems with debt? Does it matter to her?
Describe the Christian attitude toward usury in the play.
How is Shylock's attitude toward money different from the attitudes of the Christian characters?
Chew on This
Although Shylock is made out to care more about money than human relationships, there's plenty of textual evidence to suggest that this is not true.
Bassanio may feel some affection (or even love) for Portia, but mostly he sees the rich heiress as a meal ticket who can get him out of debt.