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The Merchant of Venice Essay

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How is your prescribed text made memorable through the interaction of ideas and the ways these ideas are represented?
“The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare contains many memorable themes. Through the use of techniques ideas are represented. These ideas are the power of money, conflict/prejudice between Jews and Christians and the role of women. The memorable ideas represented throughout the play are extremely important to “The Merchant of Venice” and is the reason why it is called a ‘problem play’.
Shylock is often classed as the stereotypical miserably Jew, and some use his repetition of “Three thousand ducats” to show how his life is dominated and ruled by money. Shylock is obsessed with money this becomes clear in Act 2, Scene 8 as Solanio mimics Shylock’s anguished cries of repetition “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter”. In Act 3 Scene 1 as Tubal notifies Shylock of Jessica spending “fourscore ducats” in one night, Shylocks reaction supports the fact that he is obsessed with money, “I shall never see my gold again”.
Christians and anti-Semitism are extremely important to “The Merchant of Venice”. Shylock who is constantly vilified and ridiculed by the Christians throughout the play portrays the Elizabethan era of which the play was written, and it is no coincidence that the heroes in the play are Christians and the villain is Jewish. The society, which is mostly Christians, degrades and ostracises the Jews because of the different ways of life and beliefs. Hence, the idea of anti-Semitism is brought into the play. Shylock is frequently called “the devil” (Lancelot 2:2) or linked with dehumanising imagery “cut-throat dog, this is evident in Act 1 Scene 3 as Shylock is in conversation with Antonio. Antonio thinks of the Jew when he calls Shylock a “misbeliever” and “spat upon his Jewish gabardine”. Consequently Shylock displays the same hatred and disrespect for Antonio as he publicly expresses that he “hates him for he is Christian”. The use of rhetorical questions is a vivid dramatic change, climaxing in his taunting lines: “ Hath a dog money?”
In this play, we can see that religious prejudices outweigh justice. In the trial scene (4:1), the way in which they address Shylock as “the Jew” implies the hearing is unfavorable towards Shylock. Portia argues that there must be "no jot of blood...in the cutting it". Though this reasoning is flawed in the actual context, it is done to save a fellow Christian from a Jew. The Duke also tries to defend Antonio and ask Shylock to "forgive a moiety of the principal". However, when Shylock is undone by Portia's interpretation of the law, none of them show "mercy" to the losses he suffers. He loses "one half of his good" to the state "the other half" to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death and most significantly he loses his religion. The Christians put on a veil of "justice" by stating that "the Jew shall have all justice". However, for the state of Venice to take away one's religion unwillingly to be christened shows that the rule of law is in fact, one-sided and does not serve justice for the Jews. Conclusively, it seems evident that prejudice prevails over justice.
The role of women is also explored in the trial scene (4:1). The traditional idea of men and women has been subverted as Portia dresses as a man. Portia’s intellectual qualities are highlighted in the trial scene, where she illustrates her ability to reason with a legal approach “this bond is forfeit”. Portia also shows her wit and intellect as she comments on Bassanio’s will to sacrifice his wife to save Antonio, “ your wife would give you little thanks for that, if she were by to hear you make the offer.” Thus Portia can be regarded as the ideal compound of intellect and romance, who blots her copybook only once, and that is in her catlike playing with Shylock.
Based on the play, Shakespeare exploits the themes of power of money; the role of women and the prejudice between Christians and Jew. These memorable ideas are represented primarily through the characters of Shylock and Portia, whom give us an accurate idea of Christians and Jews during the Elizabethan era.

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