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The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice

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[pic] Facts full title  ·  The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the Jew of Venice author  · William Shakespeare type of work  · Play genre  · Comedy language  · English time and place written  ·  1598; London, England date of first publication  · First published in the Quarto of 1600 publisher  · I. R. for Thomas Heys tone  · Comic, romantic, tragic setting (time)  · Sixteenth century setting (place)  · Venice and Belmont, Italy protagonist  · There is no clear protagonist.

Antonio is the merchant of the play’s title, but he plays a relatively passive role.

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The major struggles of the play are Bassanio’s quest to marry Portia and his attempt to free Antonio from Shylock, so Bassanio is the likeliest candidate. major conflict  · Antonio defaults on a loan he borrowed from Shylock, wherein he promises to sacrifice a pound of flesh. rising action  · Antonio’s ships, the only means by which he can pay off his debt to Shylock, are reported lost at sea. climax  · Portia, disguised as a man of law, intervenes on Antonio’s behalf.

alling action  · Shylock is ordered to convert to Christianity and bequeath his possessions to Lorenzo and Jessica; Portia and Nerissa persuade their husbands to give up their rings themes  · Self-interest versus love; the divine quality of mercy; hatred as a cyclical phenomenon motifs  · The law; cross-dressing; filial piety symbols  · The pound of flesh; Leah’s ring; the three caskets foreshadowing  · In the play’s opening scene, Shakespeare foreshadows Antonio’s grim future by suggesting both his indebtedness to a creditor and the loss of his valuable ships. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) pic] In the mid-sixteenth century, William Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, moved to the idyllic town of Stratford-upon-Avon. There, he became a successful landowner, moneylender, glove-maker, and dealer of wool and agricultural goods. In 1557, he married Mary Arden. [pic] John Shakespeare lived during a time when the middle class was expanding in both size and wealth, allowing its members more freedoms and luxuries as well as a louder voice in local government. He took advantage of the change in times and in 1557 became a member of the Stratford Council.

This event marked the beginning of his illustrious political career. By 1561, he was elected one of the town’s fourteen burgesses and subsequently served successively as constable, one of two chamberlains, and alderman. In these positions, he administered borough property and revenues. In 1567, he became bailiff—the highest elected office in Stratford and the equivalent of a modern-day mayor. Town records indicate that William Shakespeare was John and Mary’s third child. His birth is unregistered, but legend pins it on April 23, 1564, possibly because it is known that April 23 is the day on which he died 52 years later.

In any event, his baptism was registered with the town on April 26, 1564. Little is known about his childhood, although it is generally assumed that he attended the local grammar school, the King’s New School. The school was staffed by Oxford-educated faculty who taught the students mathematics, natural sciences, logic, Christian ethics, and classical language and literature. Shakespeare did not attend university, which was not at all unusual for the time. University education was reserved for wealthy sons of the elite, mostly those who wanted to become clergymen.

The numerous classical and literary references in Shakespeare’s plays are a testament, however, to the excellent education he received in grammar school (and to his ability as an autodidact). His early plays in particular draw on the works of Seneca and Plautus. Even more impressive than his formal education is the wealth of general knowledge exhibited in his works. His vocabulary exceeds that of any other English writer by a wide margin. In 1582, at the age of eighteen, William Shakespeare married the twenty-six-year-old Anne Hathaway.

Their first daughter, Susanna, was baptized only six months later—a fact that has given rise to speculation concerning the circumstances surrounding their marriage. In 1585, Anne bore twins, baptized Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare. Hamnet died at the age of eleven, by which time Shakespeare was already a successful playwright. Around 1589, Shakespeare wrote his supposed first play, Henry VI, Part 1. Sometime between his marriage and writing this play, he moved to London, where he pursued a career as a playwright and actor.

Although many records of Shakespeare’s life as a citizen of Stratford—including marriage and birth certificates—have survived, very little information exists about his life as a young playwright. Legend characterizes Shakespeare as a roguish young man who was once forced to flee London under suspect circumstances perhaps having to do with his love life. But the little written information we have of his early years does not necessarily confirm this characterization. In any case, young Will was not an immediate and universal success.

The earliest written record of Shakespeare’s life in London comes from a statement by the rival playwright Robert Greene. In his Groatsworth of Witte (1592), Greene calls Shakespeare an “upstart crow… [who] supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you. ” While this is hardly high praise, it does suggest that Shakespeare rattled the London theatrical hierarchy even at the beginning of his career. It is natural, in retrospect, to attribute Greene’s complaint to jealousy of Shakespeare’s ability, but of course we can’t be sure.

With Richard III, Henry VI, The Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus under his belt, Shakespeare was a popular playwright by 1590. * The year 1593, however, marked a major leap forward in his career. By the end of that year, he secured a prominent patron in the Earl of Southampton and his Venus and Adonis was published. It remains one of the first of his known works to be printed and was a huge success. Next came The Rape of Lucrece. Shakespeare had also made his mark as a poet and most scholars agree that the majority of Shakespeare’s sonnets were probably written in the 1590s.

In 1594, Shakespeare returned to the theater and became a charter member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men—a group of actors who changed their name to the King’s Men when James I ascended to the throne. By 1598, he was the “principal comedian” for the troupe; by 1603, he was “principal tragedian. ” He remained associated with the organization until his death. Although acting and playwriting were not considered noble professions at the time, successful and prosperous actors were relatively well respected.

Shakespeare’s success left him with a fair amount of money, which he invested in Stratford real estate. In 1597, he purchased the second largest house in Stratford—the New Place—for his parents. In 1596, Shakespeare applied for a coat of arms for his family, in effect making himself a gentleman. Consequently, his daughters made “good matches,” marrying wealthy men. The same year that he joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, along with Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, and several other plays.

Two of his greatest tragedies, Hamlet and Julius Caesar, followed around 1600. Hamlet is widely considered the first modern play for its multi-faceted main character and unprecedented depiction of his psyche. The first decade of the seventeenth century witnessed the debut performances of many of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works, including many of his so-called history plays:Othello in 1604 or 1605, Antony and Cleopatra in 1606 or 1607, and King Lear in 1608. The last play of his to be performed was probably King Henry VIII in either 1612 or 1613.

William Shakespeare lived until 1616. His wife Anna died in 1623 at the age of 67. He was buried in the chancel of his church at Stratford. The lines above his tomb—allegedly written by Shakespeare himself—read: Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones And cursed be he that moves my bones. About Merchant of Venice The Merchant of Venice was first printed in 1600 in quarto, of which nineteen copies survive. This was followed by a 1619 printing, and later an inclusion in the First Folio in 1623.

The play was written shortly after Christopher Marlowe’s immensely popular Jew of Malta (1589), a play wherein a Jew named Barabas plays a greatly exaggerated villain. The portrayal of Shakespeare’s Jew was and remained comic until the late 1700s at which time he was first played as a true villain. In 1814 Shylock’s role was depicted as a character to be pitied, and in 1879 he was first portrayed as a tragic character. Subsequent interpretations have varied greatly over the years, but since World War II he has most often been conceived of as tragic. [pic]

The Merchant of Venice has been described as a great commentary on the nature of racial and religious interactions. The title itself is misleading, and is often misconstrued as a reference to Shylock, the Jew. However, in reality it describes the merchant Antonio. This ambiguity and misinterpretation has not surprisingly led scholars to continue hotly debating whether Shakespeare meant to be anti-Semitic or critical of anti-Semitism. His depiction of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, causes the audience to both hate and pity the man, and has left critics wondering what Shakespeare was really trying to achieve.

The choice of Venice can hardly have been arbitrary. The Venice of Shakespeare’s day was renowned for its wealth and diversity of cultures, for it was a cosmopolitan market where Eastern goods made their way into the West. Since Shakespeare’s interactions with Jews in England would have been limited, if at all, Venice provided him with the example of tolerance and heterogeneity that he needed. It is interesting to note that the Christians are portrayed as being an incredibly tight, commonly bound group. Antonio rushes to grant Bassanio a loan, even though it will bankrupt him.

A similar example occurs later when Graziano asks Bassanio for a favor, which is granted before Bassanio even knows exactly what Graziano is asking for. However, this central community of Christians, with all of its virtue and decency, is immediately subverted by the prodigal loss of the money by Bassanio. While it may be virtuous for Antonio to give all he has to his friend, it is clear to the audience that it is foolish for him to give to a friend who will gamble it away. In addition, the Christian’s generosity and friendship is further undermined by the racism so apparent in their actions.

Antonio is proud of the fact that he kicks and spits upon Shylock, while Portia is overjoyed when the black Prince of Morocco fails to choose the correct casket, saying, “Let all of his complexion choose me so” (2. 7. 79). The Christian ideals are not only undermined by this racism, this inherent distaste for anyone different from themselves, but also by their hypocrisy with respect to slavery. When the Christians exhort Shylock to release Antonio, he asks them why Antonio should be treated differently from their slaves, considering that he was bought by Shylock via the contract.

Shakespeare thus plants doubt as to whether the Christians’ kindness to each other is in fact as great a virtue as it would at first appear. The nature of the religious differences has a profound impact on the way the Christians and the Jews live their lives. For Shylock, absolute adherence to the law is necessary, as evidenced by his reliance on contracts. In addition, money and possessions are things which he feels he must defend. Rather than try to increase his wealth, he struggles merely to maintain it. This economic conservatism contrasts starkly with the aristocratic, gambling nature of Bassanio and the others.

The characteristic generosity of the Christians is a very aristocratic trait, based on an ideology which forces gentlemen to ignore practical monetary concerns. Thus Bassanio can truly say, “all the wealth I had ran in my veins” (3. 2. 253-254). Perhaps the moment of strongest contrast between Shylock and the Christians’ ideals concerns the contract of a pound of flesh. Shylock directly links money and flesh as being equal, something which any Christian would consider taboo. Antonio is unable to see this link, thinking instead that the contract is some form of game for Shylock.

He makes the crucial mistake of believing that the contract cannot be for real, and that Shylock must somehow have grown “kind. ” There is a division between the Christian portrayal of Shylock and the words and actions of Shylock himself which cannot be overlooked. The Christians are convinced that he can only think of money, whereas Shylock actually presents a very different, even sentimental outlook. Solanio claims that Shylock ran through the street crying out for his daughter and ducats in the same breath, yet there is no evidence of this when Shylock himself appears.

Later, when his daughter, Jessica, exchanges a turquoise ring for a monkey, Shylock is not upset about the monetary loss of the ring, but rather the sentimental value it held for him. Most of Shakespeare’s comedies return to the first city in which they are set. However, this type of ending is uniquely absent in The Merchant of Venice. The final scene moves away from the abandonment of Shylock in Venice, shifting instead to Belmont. Belmont, however, is not nearly as idyllic as it appears throughout the play.

Indeed, it represents wealth derived from inheritance, built on the merchandising of Venice, and is therefore a paradise founded on the despised trade it claims to hate. Ending the play in Belmont serves to remind the audience that the play can be viewed as anything but a comedy, and that in fact it is in many ways a tragedy. Character List Shylock –  A Jewish moneylender in Venice. Angered by his mistreatment at the hands of Venice’s Christians, particularly Antonio, Shylock schemes to eke out his revenge by ruthlessly demanding as payment a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

Although seen by the rest of the play’s characters as an inhuman monster, Shylock at times diverges from stereotype and reveals himself to be quite human. These contradictions, and his eloquent expressions of hatred, have earned Shylock a place as one of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters. [pic] Portia –  A wealthy heiress from Belmont. Portia’s beauty is matched only by her intelligence. Bound by a clause in her father’s will that forces her to marry whichever suitor chooses correctly among three caskets, Portia is nonetheless able to marry her true love, Bassanio.

Far and away the most clever of the play’s characters, it is Portia, in the disguise of a young law clerk, who saves Antonio from Shylock’s knife. Antonio –  The merchant whose love for his friend Bassanio prompts him to sign Shylock’s contract and almost lose his life. Antonio is something of a mercurial figure, often inexplicably melancholy and, as Shylock points out, possessed of an incorrigible dislike of Jews. Nonetheless, Antonio is beloved of his friends and proves merciful to Shylock, albeit with conditions. Bassanio –  A gentleman of Venice, and a kinsman and dear friend to Antonio.

Bassanio’s love for the wealthy Portia leads him to borrow money from Shylock with Antonio as his guarantor. An ineffectual businessman, Bassanio proves himself a worthy suitor, correctly identifying the casket that contains Portia’s portrait. Gratiano –  A friend of Bassanio’s who accompanies him to Belmont. A coarse and garrulous young man, Gratiano is Shylock’s most vocal and insulting critic during the trial. While Bassanio courts Portia, Gratiano falls in love with and eventually weds Portia’s lady-in-waiting, Nerissa.

Jessica –  Although she is Shylock’s daughter, Jessica hates life in her father’s house, and elopes with the young Christian gentleman, Lorenzo. The fate of her soul is often in doubt: the play’s characters wonder if her marriage can overcome the fact that she was born a Jew, and we wonder if her sale of a ring given to her father by her mother is excessively callous. [pic] Lorenzo –  A friend of Bassanio and Antonio, Lorenzo is in love with Shylock’s daughter, Jessica. He schemes to help Jessica escape from her father’s house, and he eventually elopes with her to Belmont. Nerissa –  Portia’s lady-in-waiting and confidante.

She marries Gratiano and escorts Portia on Portia’s trip to Venice by disguising herself as her law clerk. Launcelot Gobbo –  Bassanio’s servant. A comical, clownish figure who is especially adept at making puns, Launcelot leaves Shylock’s service in order to work for Bassanio. The prince of Morocco –  A Moorish prince who seeks Portia’s hand in marriage. The prince of Morocco asks Portia to ignore his dark countenance and seeks to win her by picking one of the three caskets. Certain that the caskets reflect Portia’s beauty and stature, the prince of Morocco picks the gold chest, which proves to be incorrect.

The prince of Arragon –  An arrogant Spanish nobleman who also attempts to win Portia’s hand by picking a casket. Like the prince of Morocco, however, the prince of Arragon chooses unwisely. He picks the silver casket, which gives him a message calling him an idiot instead of Portia’s hand. Salarino –  A Venetian gentleman, and friend to Antonio, Bassanio, and Lorenzo. Salarino escorts the newlyweds Jessica and Lorenzo to Belmont, and returns with Bassanio and Gratiano for Antonio’s trial. He is often almost indistinguishable from his companion Solanio. Solanio –  A Venetian gentleman, and frequent counterpart to Salarino.

The duke of Venice –  The ruler of Venice, who presides over Antonio’s trial. Although a powerful man, the duke’s state is built on respect for the law, and he is unable to help Antonio. Old Gobbo –  Launcelot’s father, also a servant in Venice. Tubal –  A Jew in Venice, and one of Shylock’s friends. Doctor Bellario –  A wealthy Paduan lawyer and Portia’s cousin. Doctor Bellario never appears in the play, but he gives Portia’s servant the letters of introduction needed for her to make her appearance in court. Balthasar –  Portia’s servant, whom she dispatches to get the appropriate materials from Doctor Bellario.

Short Summary The Merchant of Venice opens with Antonio, a Christian merchant, in a depressed state. His friends try to cheer him up, but nothing works to make him feel better. Finally his friend Bassanio, an aristocrat who has lost all of his money, comes and asks Antonio to loan him some money. [pic] Antonio, who has tied up all of his money is seafaring ventures, is unable to give Bassanio a direct loan. Instead he offers to use his good credit to get a loan for Bassanio. Bassanio finds Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, and convinces him to give a loan of three thousand ducats as long as Antonio will sign the contract.

In a rather unusual twist, instead of charging the Christian men interest, Shylock agrees to waive it as long as Antonio promises him a pound of his flesh as collateral. Antonio, thinking this is a “merry sport,” accepts the condition of the bond (contract) and signs it. Bassanio takes the money and prepares to go visit Portia, a wealthy heiress living in Belmont. She is unmarried because her father has decreed that all suitors must first select one of three caskets in order to marry her. The caskets, one made of gold, one of silver, and one of base lead, all contain different messages. Only one of these caskets contains a picture of Portia.

The suitor who picks that casket will be granted permission to marry her. Prior to Bassanio’s arrival the Prince of Morocco tries his luck in choosing among the caskets. He picks the gold casket because it contains an inscription reading “what every man desires. ” Instead of Portia’s picture, he finds a skull which symbolizes the fact that gold hides corruption. As part of losing the suit, he is further sworn to never propose marriage to any other woman, and must return to Morocco immediately. The next suitor, the Prince of Aragon, selects the silver casket which bears an inscription stating that it will give a man what he deserves.

Inside is a picture of an idiot, indicating that his self-centered approach was foolish. He too leaves in shame. Back in Venice, Jessica, the daughter of Shylock, has fallen in love with Lorenzo. They plan to escape one night when Shylock is invited to eat at Bassanio’s house. After Shylock leaves Lorenzo goes to his house with two friends. Jessica appears at a window dressed as a boy and tosses a chest of money and jewels down to them. She then emerges from the house and runs away with Lorenzo. Shylock, upon discovering that his daughter has run away with a lot of his money, blames Antonio for helping her escape.

At the same time there are rumors developing in Venice that many of Antonio’s ships, with which he expected to repay Shylock for the loan, have sunk or been lost at sea. Shylock begins to revel in the news that Antonio is losing everything because he wants to exact his pound of flesh in revenge for the many insults Antonio has dealt him throughout the years. Bassanio arrives in Belmont and meets Portia. She remembers him as the dashing soldier with whom she fell in love several years earlier. Portia begs Bassanio to wait before choosing among the caskets, but he demands the right to start immediately.

Without even properly reading the inscriptions, Bassanio selects the lead one because he considers it a threatening casket. Portia is overjoyed when he finds her portrait inside. She gives him a ring to seal their engagement and they prepare to get married the next day. Graziano, who has accompanied Bassanio to Belmont, tells him that he and Nerissa(Portia’s friend) wish to be married as well. A messenger arrives and hands Bassanio a letter from Antonio in which he informs Bassanio that he has lost all his money and must forfeit a pound of flesh to Shylock. Bassanio immediately tells Portia what has happened.

She orders him to take six thousand ducats and return to Venice where he can pay Shylock and cancel the contract. After Bassanio and Graziano have left, Nerissa and Portia depart for Venice disguised as men. Shylock has Antonio arrested and brought before the Duke of Venice, who presides over a court of justice. The Duke pleads with Shylock to forgive the contract and let Antonio go free. When he refuses, the Duke asks him how he expects any mercy if he is unable to offer it. The Duke then tells the gathered men that he is waiting for a doctor of the law to arrive.

Nerissa enters the court and hands a letter to the Duke which notifies him that a Doctor Bellario has sent an educated young doctor in his place. Portia arrives disguised as the Doctor Balthasar. She informs the Duke that she has studied the case and will preside over it. She first asks Shylock for the contract and looks it over. Bassanio offers to pay Shylock the six thousand ducats, but he refuses to accept the money, preferring instead the revenge of killing Antonio. Unable to find any loopholes, Portia grants Shylock his pound of flesh. Shylock, overjoyed at winning his case, holds a knife ready to cut into Antonio’s breast.

Portia stops him by asking if he has a surgeon present to suppress the flow of blood. Shylock tells her that the bond said nothing about providing a doctor. She informs him that he may have his pound of flesh, but that if he sheds a single drop of blood then Venice can take away his lands and wealth according to the law. Shylock, clearly unable to comply with this law, asks instead that he be given the six thousand ducats. Portia refuses his request, explaining that she has already ruled according to the contract, and that it must be carried out.

Portia then starts to read the contract literally, reaffirming that Shylock must take exactly one pound of flesh, no more and no less, or he will violate the contract and die. Shylock tells the court that he wishes to completely drop his case and forgive Antonio the entire three thousand ducats. Portia again refuses his request, explaining that the law in Venice states that if any foreigner conspires against the life of a Venetian, half his wealth is to be given to the man against whom he conspired, and half is taken as a fine by the state.

In addition, the Duke is granted the power of life and death over him. When Shylock is pardoned by the Duke, he informs the court that he would prefer death rather than lose everything he owns. Antonio asks the court to return the fine of half of Shylock’s wealth provided Shylock converts to Christianity. In addition, Antonio declares he will keep his share in a trust for Jessica and Lorenzo. Portia agrees to this, and also makes Shylock promise to give all his money to Lorenzo upon his death. After the trial Bassanio thanks “Dr.

Balthasar” (Portia) for “his” good work and offers “him” anything “he” desires. Portia asks him for the ring she had given him earlier as a token of their love. He is upset about giving it to her since he thinks she is “Balthasar. ” However, after Antonio points out that he nearly lost his life for Bassanio, Bassanio pulls off the ring and hands it to her. Portia and Nerissa return to Belmont dressed normally. Lorenzo and Jessica have been living there, enjoying the comfortable life Belmont offers. Soon after the two women arrive, Bassanio and Graziano also return from Venice.

The happy reunion is destroyed when Portia asks Bassanio about the ring (which he gave away). She forgives him only after Antonio vouches for Bassanio’s fidelity. Portia then gives Antonio the ring and has him hand it to Bassanio. He is shocked to see it is the same ring he gave “Balthasar”. Portia finally tells him the truth about Balthasar. The play ends with three happy couples: namely Lorenzo and Jessica, Nerissa and Graziano, as well as Portia and Bassanio. However, Antonio and Shylock remain outcasts, separated from the happy ending. Themes, Motifs & Symbols Themes

Self-Interest Versus Love On the surface, the main difference between the Christian characters and Shylock appears to be that the Christian characters value human relationships over business ones, whereas Shylock is only interested in money. The Christian characters certainly view the matter this way. Merchants like Antonio lend money free of interest and put themselves at risk for those they love, whereas Shylock agonizes over the loss of his money and is reported to run through the streets crying, “O, my ducats! O, my daughter! ” (II. viii. 15). With these words, he apparently values his money t least as much as his daughter, suggesting that his greed outweighs his love. However, upon closer inspection, this supposed difference between Christian and Jew breaks down. When we see Shylock in Act III, scene i, he seems more hurt by the fact that his daughter sold a ring that was given to him by his dead wife before they were married than he is by the loss of the ring’s monetary value. Some human relationships do indeed matter to Shylock more than money. Moreover, his insistence that he have a pound of flesh rather than any amount of money shows that his resentment is much stronger than his greed. pic] Just as Shylock’s character seems hard to pin down, the Christian characters also present an inconsistent picture. Though Portia and Bassanio come to love one another, Bassanio seeks her hand in the first place because he is monstrously in debt and needs her money. Bassanio even asks Antonio to look at the money he lends Bassanio as an investment, though Antonio insists that he lends him the money solely out of love. In other words, Bassanio is anxious to view his relationship with Antonio as a matter of business rather than of love.

Finally, Shylock eloquently argues that Jews are human beings just as Christians are, but Christians such as Antonio hate Jews simply because they are Jews. Thus, while the Christian characters may talk more about mercy, love, and charity, they are not always consistent in how they display these qualities. The Divine Quality of Mercy The conflict between Shylock and the Christian characters comes to a head over the issue of mercy. The other characters acknowledge that the law is on Shylock’s side, but they all expect him to show mercy, which he refuses to do.

When, during the trial, Shylock asks Portia what could possibly compel him to be merciful, Portia’s long reply, beginning with the words, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” clarifies what is at stake in the argument (IV. i. 179). Human beings should be merciful because God is merciful: mercy is an attribute of God himself and therefore greater than power, majesty, or law. Portia’s understanding of mercy is based on the way Christians in Shakespeare’s time understood the difference between the Old and New Testaments. According to the writings of St.

Paul in the New Testament, the Old Testament depicts God as requiring strict adherence to rules and exacting harsh punishments for those who stray. The New Testament, in contrast, emphasizes adherence to the spirit rather than the letter of the law, portraying a God who forgives rather than punishes and offers salvation to those followers who forgive others. Thus, when Portia warns Shylock against pursuing the law without regard for mercy, she is promoting what Elizabethan Christians would have seen as a pro-Christian, anti-Jewish agenda.

The strictures of Renaissance drama demanded that Shylock be a villain, and, as such, patently unable to show even a drop of compassion for his enemy. A sixteenth-century audience would not expect Shylock to exercise mercy—therefore, it is up to the Christians to do so. Once she has turned Shylock’s greatest weapon—the law—against him, Portia has the opportunity to give freely of the mercy for which she so beautifully advocates. Instead, she backs Shylock into a corner, where she strips him of his bond, his estate, and his dignity, forcing him to kneel and beg for mercy.

Given that Antonio decides not to seize Shylock’s goods as punishment for conspiring against him, we might consider Antonio to be merciful. But we may also question whether it is merciful to return to Shylock half of his goods, only to take away his religion and his profession. By forcing Shylock to convert, Antonio disables him from practicing usury, which, according to Shylock’s reports, was Antonio’s primary reason for berating and spitting on him in public. Antonio’s compassion, then, seems to stem as much from self-interest as from concern for his fellow man.

Mercy, as delivered in The Merchant of Venice, never manages to be as sweet, selfless, or full of grace as Portia presents it. Hatred as a Cyclical Phenomenon Throughout the play, Shylock claims that he is simply applying the lessons taught to him by his Christian neighbors; this claim becomes an integral part of both his character and his argument in court. In Shylock’s very first appearance, as he conspires to harm Antonio, his entire plan seems to be born of the insults and injuries Antonio has inflicted upon him in the past.

As the play continues, and Shylock unveils more of his reasoning, the same idea rears its head over and over—he is simply applying what years of abuse have taught him. Responding to Salarino’s query of what good the pound of flesh will do him, Shylock responds, “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction” (III. i. 60–61). Not all of Shylock’s actions can be blamed on poor teachings, and one could argue that Antonio understands his own culpability in his near execution.

With the trial’s conclusion, Antonio demands that Shylock convert to Christianity, but inflicts no other punishment, despite the threats of fellow Christians like Gratiano. Antonio does not, as he has in the past, kick or spit on Shylock. Antonio, as well as the duke, effectively ends the conflict by starving it of the injustices it needs to continue. Motifs The Law The Merchant of Venice depends heavily upon laws and rules—the laws of the state of Venice and the rules stipulated in contracts and wills.

Laws and rules can be manipulated for cruel or wanton purposes, but they are also capable of producing good when executed by the right people. Portia’s virtual imprisonment by the game of caskets seems, at first, like a questionable rule at best, but her likening of the game to a lottery system is belied by the fact that, in the end, it works perfectly. The game keeps a host of suitors at bay, and of the three who try to choose the correct casket to win Portia’s hand, only the man of Portia’s desires succeeds.

By the time Bassanio picks the correct chest, the choice seems like a more efficient indicator of human nature than any person could ever provide. A similar phenomenon occurs with Venetian law. Until Portia’s arrival, Shylock is the law’s strictest adherent, and it seems as if the city’s adherence to contracts will result in tragedy. However, when Portia arrives and manipulates the law most skillfully of all, the outcome is the happiest ending of all, at least to an Elizabethan audience: Antonio is rescued and Shylock forced to abandon his religion.

The fact that the trial is such a close call does, however, raise the fearful specter of how the law can be misused. Without the proper guidance, the law can be wielded to do horrible things. Cross-dressing [pic] Twice in the play, daring escapes are executed with the help of cross-dressing. Jessica escapes the tedium of Shylock’s house by dressing as a page, while Portia and Nerissa rescue Antonio by posing as officers of the Venetian court. This device was not only familiar to Renaissance drama, but essential to its performance: women were banned from the stage and their parts were performed by prepubescent boys.

Shakespeare was a great fan of the potentials of cross-dressing and used the device often, especially in his comedies. But Portia reveals that the donning of men’s clothes is more than mere comedy. She says that she has studied a “thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks,” implying that male authority is a kind of performance that can be imitated successfully (III. iv. 77). She feels confident that she can outwit any male competitor, declaring, “I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two, / And wear my dagger with the braver grace” (III. v. 64–65). In short, by assuming the clothes of the opposite sex, Portia enables herself to assume the power and position denied to her as a woman. Filial Piety Like Shakespeare’s other comedies, The Merchant of Venice seems to endorse the behavior of characters who treat filial piety lightly, even though the heroine, Portia, sets the opposite example by obeying her father’s will. Launcelot greets his blind, long lost father by giving the old man confusing directions and telling the old man that his beloved son Launcelot is dead.

This moment of impertinence can be excused as essential to the comedy of the play, but it sets the stage for Jessica’s far more complex hatred of her father. Jessica can list no specific complaints when she explains her desire to leave Shylock’s house, and in the one scene in which she appears with Shylock, he fusses over her in a way that some might see as tender. Jessica’s desire to leave is made clearer when the other characters note how separate she has become from her father, but her behavior after departing seems questionable at best.

Most notably, she trades her father’s ring, given to him by her dead mother, for a monkey. The frivolity of this exchange, in which an heirloom is tossed away for the silliest of objects, makes for quite a disturbing image of the esteem in which The Merchant of Venice’s children hold their parents, and puts us, at least temporarily, in Shylock’s corner. Symbols The Three Caskets The contest for Portia’s hand, in which suitors from various countries choose among a gold, a silver, and a lead casket, resembles the cultural and legal system of Venice in some respects.

Like the Venice of the play, the casket contest presents the same opportunities and the same rules to men of various nations, ethnicities, and religions. Also like Venice, the hidden bias of the casket test is fundamentally Christian. To win Portia, Bassanio must ignore the gold casket, which bears the inscription, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (II. vii. 5), and the silver casket, which says, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves” (II. vii. 7). The correct casket is lead and warns that the person who chooses it must give and risk everything he has.

The contest combines a number of Christian teachings, such as the idea that desire is an unreliable guide and should be resisted, and the idea that human beings do not deserve God’s grace but receive it in spite of themselves. Christianity teaches that appearances are often deceiving, and that people should not trust the evidence provided by the senses—hence the humble appearance of the lead casket. Faith and charity are the central values of Christianity, and these values are evoked by the lead casket’s injunction to give all and risk all, as one does in making a leap of faith.

Portia’s father has presented marriage as one in which the proper suitor risks and gives everything for the spouse, in the hope of a divine recompense he can never truly deserve. The contest certainly suits Bassanio, who knows he does not deserve his good fortune but is willing to risk everything on a gamble. The Pound of Flesh The pound of flesh that Shylock seeks lends itself to multiple interpretations: it emerges most as a metaphor for two of the play’s closest relationships, but also calls attention to Shylock’s inflexible adherence to the law.

The fact that Bassanio’s debt is to be paid with Antonio’s flesh is significant, showing how their friendship is so binding it has made them almost one. Shylock’s determination is strengthened by Jessica’s departure, as if he were seeking recompense for the loss of his own flesh and blood by collecting it from his enemy. Lastly, the pound of flesh is a constant reminder of the rigidity of Shylock’s world, where numerical calculations are used to evaluate even the most serious of situations.

Shylock never explicitly demands that Antonio die, but asks instead, in his numerical mind, for a pound in exchange for his three thousand ducats. Where the other characters measure their emotions with long metaphors and words, Shylock measures everything in far more prosaic and numerical quantities. Leah’s Ring The ring given to Shylock in his bachelor days by a woman named Leah, who is most likely Shylock’s wife and Jessica’s mother, gets only a brief mention in the play, but is still an object of great importance.

When told that Jessica has stolen it and traded it for a monkey, Shylock very poignantly laments its loss: “I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (III. i. 101–102). The lost ring allows us to see Shylock in an uncharacteristically vulnerable position and to view him as a human being capable of feeling something more than anger. Although Shylock and Tubal discuss the ring for no more than five lines, the ring stands as an important symbol of Shylock’s humanity, his ability to love, and his ability to grieve. Some Quotes by William Shakespeare Action is eloquence.

Assume a virtue, if you have it not. Be great in act, as you have been in thought. Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood. God bless thee; and put meekness in thy mind, love, charity, obedience, and true duty! He who has injured thee was either stronger or weaker than thee. If weaker, spare him; if stronger, spare thyself. I am not bound to please thee with my answers. I must be cruel only to be kind; Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind. I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. **********

Cite this The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice

The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice. (2018, May 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-merchant-of-venice-essay/

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