Kimberley Williamson “The Merchant of Venice” Analyse how ONE main character’s attempts to solve a problem were important to the text as a whole. In the text, “The Merchant of Venice,” written and performed by Shakespeare, Antonio, the merchant, borrows money from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, to send his friend Bassanio overseas to woo and marry Portia. However, failing to pay back the money in time, Shylock takes Antonio to court demanding a pound of his flesh in payment.
Portia, one of the main characters, disguised as a lawyer, attempts (and succeeds) to rescue Antonio using the law to her advantage. This scene is important to the text as a whole, as it brings into question and explains some of the main themes used in the play, these being, mercy, law, justice and religion. Mercy When Portia first arrives in the court and is assessing the situation, she appeals to Shylock to show mercy to Antonio, and to let the case go.
She says, “Then must the Jew be merciful,” however, when Shylock asks why he must, she adds, “The quality of mercy is not strained… It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes,” meaning that he does not have to show mercy, but that he should as he is morally obliged. She tries to sway him to do so by making it seem honourable and that he, also, will be rewarded for his troubles. Shylock does not agree, and is intent on getting revenge on Antonio by taking the pound of flesh, which will also be taking his life. At Portia’s insistence that it would be a mistake, he firmly states, “My deeds upon my head.
I crave the law, the penalty, and forfeit of my bond. ” A bitter resentment and hatred of Antonio fuels this response from Shylock and he cannot be persuaded otherwise. However, once Portia has won the case and Antonio is free, Shylock is sentenced to death for aspiring to take the life of a Venetian. Here, mercy comes into play again, for the Duke of Venice says, “That thou shalt see the difference of our spirit, I pardon thee thy life before thou ask it,” and gives an alternate punishment. Then, Antonio further displays mercy, by lessening the punishment the Duke has just dealt.
The strong contrast that these two men display when compared to Shylock, and the speech that Portia tries to convince Shylock with, explain to us the importance of mercy. As Shylock was not willing to show mercy to Antonio, neither the Duke nor Antonio were obliged to show him any, however, they did so anyway, and this then saved his life. Therefore, Portia’s attempts to save Antonio were important as mercy was introduced and this is showed in the way that where the deaths of two characters were inevitable, they did not occur against all odds. Law and Justice
The laws and rules of Venice were depended on very heavily in the text, and Portia’s attempts at rescuing Antonio from Shylock’s bond show how these can be manipulated for both right and wrong purposes. This in turn shows the importance of justice, and how it comes about. While Shylock has the bond, the court and all of those involved can see no way for Antonio to escape the repercussions of his money lending. The bond is forfeit, the city’s laws state that it must be adhered to and it seems as if Shylock will get the justice he asks for until Portia arrives disguised as a lawyer.
At first, she agrees with Shylock that the bond is forfeit, “There is no power in Venice can alter a degree established,” and grants him the right to the pound of Antonio’s flesh, “A pound of that same merchant’s flesh is thine. The court awards it, and the law doth give it. ” But just as Shylock is about to take what is his, and all hope is gone, Portia skillfully manipulates the situation and states that no blood can be shed in the taking of the flesh, which is impossible.
Shylock is then trapped by the law with which he had only moments ago controlled to his advantage. When asking if that is truly what the law stated, Portia replies to him, “Thyself shalt see the act. For as thou urgest justice, be assured thou shalt have justice more than thou desirest. ” Then, true justice is given to Shylock, however not of the sort he wanted. While the Duke and Antonio save him from the penalty of death, he still must give all his property and fortune to his daughter and son-in-law, and he also must become a Christian.
The importance of the law and in turn justice, are shown through Portia’s attempts to save Antonio, as she is able to manipulate the laws to produce good. However, it also shows how it can be equally used for wrong purposes by the wrong people and the repercussions that could evolve from this. Justice was in the end served rightly, but also could have been given to Shylock had events not happened as they did, and this shows the importance of these two themes to the text as a whole. Religion
The conflict of the Christian population of Venice against the Jewish beliefs of Shylock, introduces a religious aspect in this text, which climaxes in the scene where Portia saves Antonio in court. All along, Shylock mocks Christians with a bitter hatred and rage fueled by Antonio’s previous racist comments, and his daughter’s elopement with a Christian youth only intensifies this. The ironic twist ensues when after being set free from the bond, Antonio states that as part of his punishment, Shylock must “presently become a Christian. The punishment is first and foremost a personal insult to Shylock, as it ‘hits him where it hurts the most. ’ He is very happy with and dedicated to his faith, and believes that he is superior to Christians. However, being forced into a conversion makes him realize that he cannot continue to hate and slag Christians anymore as it would now be hypocritical. Furthermore, as an “alien” to Venice, (resulting from his non-Venetian status and Jewish religion,) he has a certain amount of freedom because he doesn’t have to abide by all of the laws etc, and he can not be forced to do anything his religion forbids.
He can, and usually does, rebel and is very vocal with his opinions. Now that he is a Christian, it allows Venice to have more control over him. Also, once the punishment is dealt, Gratiano, a friend of Bassanio and Antonio, says, “In christening shalt thou have two godfathers,” which means that once converted, Shylock will have two men watching over him that he will be accountable to, and who will report him.
Having to convert to Christianity is a harsh punishment for Shylock, and subdues him to the extent where all his pride has been taken from him and he begs to go home. Through Portia’s attempts to rescue Antonio, the conflict between Christianity and Judaism comes to a climax and Shylock is right in the middle, and receives the brunt of the punishment, therefore is important. Through the actions of Portia in “The Merchant of Venice,” we learn how important the themes of mercy, law, justice and religion are to the text as a whole.
While saving Antonio, she explains that mercy is not an obligation, but that it is the right thing to do, and also shows how the law can be manipulated to either harm or help depending on the intentions of the manipulator, which then in turn explains how justice is dependant on the law. We also begin to understand of the impact resulting from the conflict between two religions. These are all important lessons that through one scene, and one character’s actions we have begun to learn and understand, and if we in turn can apply these lessons to our lives we will begin to spread tolerance and understanding through our world.