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The Merchant of Venice - Racism

By KeithAfas Sep 26, 2013 1466 Words
The play, The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, is one that receives a lot of controversy in History. The main storyline of the play is about a Jewish moneylender named Shylock who strikes a deal with the Christian merchant, Antonio. Antonio’s friend, Bassanio, needs money for his wedding and asks Antonio for the money. Unfortunately, Antonio’s money is at sea, stored in boats; However, Antonio agrees to obtain money for Bassanio through Shylock, the moneylender. So, the two merchants strike a deal, which states that Shylock will give Antonio money and in return, Antonio will pay it back or else, Shylock can cut a pound of flesh from Antonio wherever it pleases him. So when Antonio’s ships carrying his money sink, Shylock demands what Antonio thought he was joking about. They then take the trial to the Venetian court, and the rest of the play is about the city of Venice trying to save Antonio from the wrathful Shylock. This has been seen as a controversial play because some people view the play as a Christian society “bullying a Jew” while others view it as a tyrant Jew taking revenge on a poor Christian. Either way, the word usage, atmosphere generated, and conflicts make the play one, which is entertaining to read, and entertaining to analyse. In the play, The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, there is a theme of justice; this is seen by analyzing the characters, the Venetian trial, and the plot of the play. The characters of the play display this theme of justice. One character called Shylock demands justice for the money he lent a Christian named Antonio, money which he never gets back. Shylock’s conviction is shown: “My deeds upon my head! I crave the law, / The penalty and forfeit of my bond” (IV.i.213-214); in the play, however, it is shown that he never gets his bond. Another character called Portia, who dresses up as a male lawyer, displays justice as well. She is eager to bring justice to Shylock whether it be in his favour or not; after all, when she announces herself as a judge, all court occurrences and law interpretations are in her hands; she becomes the authority on justice, indicated by several citizens referring to her as “judge”. Also, According to David Moody, he says “In the trial, [Portia] made herself substitute of justice and mercy” (Moody 48); this is very true because she delivers justice to Shylock initially, then delivers the justice to Antonio and oversees the statement of mercy from Antonio to Shylock. So, Portia really is the administer of justice and mercy. Lastly, the Duke of Venice, alongside Portia, wants justice in the play; this is shown because he desires fairness brought in the case between Shylock and Antonio; he displays distaste at the cruel bond chosen by Shylock. The duke says “Shylock, the world thinks, and I think so too, / That thou but lead'st this fashion of thy malice…thy strange apparent cruelty.” He is evidently ashamed and horrified at the cruelty of Shylock; this may be foreshadowing of the end of the trial in that Shylock does not carry out his bond.

Secondly, in the Venetian Trial, the theme of justice is generated. The first instance of justice is that Shylock is told that he will get what he wants (a pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast); Shylock interprets this as justice: he will get the full value of his bond; his happiness at this version of justice is shown: “A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel! / O wise young judge, how I do honour thee!” (IV.i.230-231); the happiness of Shylock’s is short-lived when he learns that now he himself is in trial. A second example of justice at the Venetian trial is that Antonio is declared that his pound of flesh is safe; he is not in trouble anymore. This happens when Shylock says he will leave the courtroom without anything before he is charged for murder. This can be interpreted as justice for Antonio because he is getting what he deserves (his life). However, this is not justice for Shylock at all especially after he needs to beg on his life to the duke of Venice. Thirdly, the theme of justice is shown when Shylock himself faces the death penalty. This is justice because Shylock himself threatened death to Antonio; he who threatened death is now being threatened by death. This results in Shylock having to give up all he has to the duke of Venice and prostrating himself in front of the duke asking for forgiveness. These turn of events is justice for Antonio and for all of Venice because the tyrant was trying to take advantage of Antonio. This is how in the Venetian Court, regarding the trial of Shylock and Antonio, the theme of justice is generated.

Finally, the Plot of the Play demonstrates justice in several instances. One instance is that the play is about Shylock receiving his part of the broken deal, which was made; this is justice because it is about the Jew getting what is (in Shylock’s mind) rightfully his; he spends the entire boo trying to obtain a pound of flesh from Antonio. He mentions “…By our holy Sabbath have I sworn / To have the due and forfeit of my bond” (IV.i.37-38). This shows his conviction to have his interpretation of justice, which is, getting the pound of flesh that, he says, is dearly bought (IV.i.101). A second instance is seen when one analyzes Antonio’s salvation. The play results in justice; this justice is that Antonio’s life is no longer in the hands of a tyrant; his is one of the strongest instances of justice. That is because everybody (except Shylock) is given what they want; the duke, Gratiano, Antonio, Portia, Nerissa, Bassanio, and Solanio are all happy. In addition, this scene demonstrates that you are rewarded for doing good things; Antonio helped a friend, and for it, he is repaid with his life, and money. Lastly, the final instance of justice is seen when one thinks of the whereabouts of Shylock’s money. Rightly, and justly, now Shylock’s money no longer lies with him, but in the hands of Venice and Antonio; this is just because a person like Shylock is portrayed as absolutely greedy and cruel; by his description, he uses money as leverage over others and a person like that deserves no money. About Shylock, Harrold C. Goddard comments “Oh, but Shylock is a usurer, it will be said…after all, to what has Antonio dedicated his life to? Not indeed to usury” (Goddard 88-89). This shows the despicable quality of Shylock. In addition, He was offered twice his principal (6000 ducats) to which He says, in an enjoyable play-on-words: “If every ducat / Were in six parts and every part a ducat, / I would not draw them; I would have my bond” (IV.i.87-88). This means if one person gave him 12 times his principal (36000 ducats), he would not take it over his pound of flesh. Therefore, this shows how the plot of the play reveals justice. Therefore, through analyzing the various characters involved in the play, the trial that the play revolves around, and the just plot of the play itself, there is definitely an element of justice. The main trouble in the play was the misinterpretations of justice. This is because, Shylock had a definition of justice (getting his pound); Venice had a completely different interpretation of justice (Antonio being saved). These two conflicts were built up in intensity and released in a catharsis of sad and happy emotions at the end of the play after the trial. In the end however, Shylock and Venice learnt what the true meaning of justice was; one can say that true justice emerges as the preservation of human life, which would have surely been taken, under any costs.

Works Cited
Goddard, Harold Clarke. "The Merchant of Venice." The Meaning of Shakespeare. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1960. 88-89. Print. "Merchant of Venice: Entire Play." Merchant of Venice: Entire Play. N.p., Dec.-Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2012. . Moody, Anthony David. "Introduction." Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. Woodbury: E. Arnold, 1964. 16-17. Print.

Bibliography
Goddard, Harold Clarke. "The Merchant of Venice." The Meaning of Shakespeare. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1960. 88-89. Print. "Merchant of Venice: Entire Play." Merchant of Venice: Entire Play. N.p., Dec.-Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2012. . Moody, Anthony David. "Introduction." Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. Woodbury: E. Arnold, 1964. 16-17. Print. "The Free Automatic Bibliography and Citation Maker." EasyBib. N.p., 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2012. . "The Merchant of Venice." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2012. . "The Merchant of Venice Act 1, Scene 1 Summary." Shmoop. N.p., 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2012.

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