Mercy vs Justice

Topics: The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, Portia Pages: 5 (756 words) Published: April 9, 2013
In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice the theme mercy vs justice is

shown throughout the play from many characters in the play such as Shylock, Antonio

and Portia. This shows the characters personalities and different attitudes towards the

giving and taking of mercy and justice to provide a great deal of conflict throughout the


The first time we see the theme mercy vs justice is when Shylock lends Antonio money

after accepting the bond in hope that Antonio will not pay him back on time, therefore

getting a pound of Antonio’s flesh. “If you repay me not on such a day,/In such a

place,such sum or sums as are/Express’d in the condition,let the forfeit/Be nominated

for an equal pound/Of your fair flesh,to be cut off and taken/In what part of your body

pleaseth me.”(I,iii,142-147). This shows that Shylock does not show any compassion for

Antonio for if he does not get the money back on time, he will surely die from a pound of

flesh being cut from his body. Shylock shows no mercy towards Antonio when he does

not pay him back on time, and Shylock insists on a pound of Antonio’s flesh because it

in is validity with the law and he thinks Antonio should get what he deserves. Shylock

also shows no mercy towards his daughter Jessica when she wants to make her own

choices and decisions. When Jessica wants to be with a Christian named Lorenzo,

Shylock immediately disagrees with her choice and forbids her to see him. Shylock

thinks this is best for his daughter because he does not want her to marry a Christian

since they are Jewish. He thinks Jessica should only marry a Jew and shows no

forgiveness towards his daughter when she runs off with Lorenzo and her fathers


Another time we see the theme of mercy vs justice in the play is from Antonio. When

Antonio see’s that his friend Bassanio is in need of money after spending a great deal of

it himself, Antonio is quick to lend Bassanio the money he needs to woo the girl of his

dreams, Portia. Antonio puts his own life at risk when he takes the money from Shylock

to give to his friend Bassanio. When Antonio does not pay Shylock back on time, he

almost loses a pound of his flesh and his life, but is saved by Portia who is disguised as

the doctor when she finds a loophole that gets Antonio out of it. Antonio is quick to

forgive Bassanio for getting him into this and is very merciful throughout the play

towards the other characters. “I pray you, good Bassanio, let me know it/And if it stand,

as you yourself still do,/Within the eye of honour, be assur’d/My purse,my person,my

extremest means/Lie all unlock’d to your occasions”(I,i,135-139) This shows that

Antonio is willing to do anything for his friend, and is saying that everything he owns is

unlocked for Bassanio, so he can have anything he owns to make him happy.

Portia also plays a part in the theme of mercy vs justice, when she tries to convince

Shylock that he should have mercy over Antonio instead of taking a pound of his flesh

like they agreed on. Since Shylock is all about the law he disagrees since he wants

revenge on Antonio and thinks that he is just getting what he deserves. Once Portia has

turned Shylocks greatest weapon, the law, against him when she points out that one

drop of Christians blood will make Shylock lose everything that he has. “But, in the

cutting it, if thou dost shed/One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods/Are, by the

laws of Venice,confiscate/Unto the state of Venice”(IV,i,307-310). In the end Shylock is

stripped of his bond, his estate and his dignity all because he showed no mercy towards

Antonio. Portia also shows mercy towards Bassanio in the play because she forgave

him even though he lied about getting in trouble with the law and giving away the ring

that Portia gave him.

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