Dr. Lois Sherlow
Oct. 23, 2012
Justice and Mercy in The Merchant of Venice
In the court room scene of The Merchant of Venice, justice is handed back and forth between the Christians and Shylock, unlike mercy. Shylock is unable to feel any remorse for Antonio and the Christians because of the hate he has for them. Stubbornness and hatred can cause misfortune; the morally superior have a right to justice.
As the trial scene begins, the Duke speaks about Shylock as an inhuman wretch, incapable of mercy (4.1 3-6). The Christians think of Shylock as stubborn and cruel and will only refer to him as “the Jew”. Shylock does not receive respect and has never received respect from the Christians, so therefore, Shylock is not merciful toward the Christians. Despite what the Duke had just said about Shylock, when Shylock enters the court the Duke tells him that everyone expects Shylock to show mercy and not take Antonio’s flesh (15-34). But, Shylock went to court ready to take Antonio’s flesh that he is entitled to according to the contract. Shylock does not want to be paid with ducats, not even three times as much as what he lent to Antonio. Shylock just wants from the Christians what was promised to him by law.
Bassanio offers Shylock six thousand ducats on top of the three thousand ducats, so that Shylock does not go through with taking a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Bassanio is trying to protect Antonio and bring him to justice because Antonio had no control over the crashing of his ships. Bassanio said that he is willing to pay ten times what he already offered and put his hand, head and heart on the line as collateral (204-07). Although the Christians do not speak Wheadon 2
respectfully to Shylock, they are vulnerable and completely at his mercy. But Shylock does not feel any reason to show mercy.
In response to Shylock’s refusal of Bassanio’s offer, The Duke asks Shylock “How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none” (87)? Shylock does not think he is doing anything wrong. He is just taking what is rightfully his, what is legal. Shylock compares defending his contract with the Christians defending their right to treat slaves however way they feel. Shylock said: what if he were to tell the Christians not to work their slaves so hard and let them marry their daughters and let them eat the same food, what would the Christians say? Shylock said that they would say “the slaves are ours”, meaning that the Christians believe that they are free to treat the slaves however way they feel because they own them. Shylock feels as though he has the same right to have his contract with Antonio and said that if he is refused his right then the laws of Venice have no authority (88-102).
The Duke sends for a judge from Padua for further insight on the case of this contract. Stepping in for that judge is a recent visitor of his, Balthazar, who is actually Portia disguised as a man to try to help Antonio. However, even though she is on Antonio’s side, it appears as though she is being fair to Shylock. When Bassanio asks the Duke to bend the law so that Shylock does not get his way, Portia interjects, saying that that is not possible because a decree cannot be changed because that would lead to many bad legal decisions. To this Shylock responds “A Daniel come to judgement, yea, a Daniel! O wise young judge, how I do honour thee” (218-19)! Shylock is referring to a wise judge named Daniel from the Bible and he means that the judge comes with justice.
Portia also entitles Shylock to the pound of Antonio’s flesh because the money was not payed back in time but she insists that Shylock show mercy and to take the money instead. Wheadon 3
Shylock will not show mercy, he only wants his contract to be fulfilled, “By my soul I swear there is no power in the tongue of man to alter me. I stay here on my bond” (235-37). In response to Shylock’s stubbornness, Portia...
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