“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.
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...
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