The Merchant of Venice - Trial Scene

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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...
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