Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice is an interesting play when it comes to its characters, motivations, and themes. While there is a love triangle of sorts, the real conflict is between two drastically different characters: Antonio and Shylock. Antonio appears to be a well-respected and loved man by lots of characters in the play. Shylock, on the other hand, seems to be disliked or almost hated by most everyone in the play. Throughout the play, Shylock is even able to make new enemies, such as the duke, in the court scene in Act IV. The most interesting scene of the entire play happens in that court scene, and we see why Shylock is so hated. Having won the contract between him and Antonio, Shylock took it to court to collect what he is owed. No one believes Shylock would take a pound of flesh from Antonio, but Shylock remains very persistent. We are not told why he is so insistent, but he claims, in line 59, that he has lodged hatred and a certain loathing towards Antonio. Shylock’s sheer hatred of Antonio is enough to make him carry out his revenge. When the duke asks Shylock how he expects to receive mercy if he gives none, Shylock responds that he needs no mercy since he has done nothing wrong (4.1.85-102). This is interesting to note since Shylock is a Jewish man. Certainly he, better than most people, would understand the need for mercy since he is a religious man. However, he does compare his unrelenting revenge to the Christians who would refuse to free their human property. As Shylock prepares his knife, he says “I stand here for law” in line 141. This reminds me of the resolve with which the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus Christ. Despite all the good he had done, Jesus was still handed over to the Jewish leaders, and the Jewish people loudly cried out for him to be crucified. The killing of Christ is also an example of how Jews did not believe they needed mercy. Next in the scene Portia enters disguised as Balthasar. She then asks Antonio if he owes Shylock money, and when he answers yes Portia says Shylock must show Antonio mercy. Portia then goes on to say that Shylock must show mercy because it is a blessing to those who provide it and receive it in line 179. She continues that mercy is an attribute of God, and that humans approach God when they practice mercy (4.1.181-202). However, Shylock still demands justice and revenge. The deep desire of Shylock’s revenge is not even that personal, but seems to be a blow for all Jews everywhere. Yet, this does not seem to be a suitable reason, as a man of religion should have forgiveness and show mercy. Conversely, Shylock is so adamant in his ways that he forgoes everything he believes in for this worldly desire. While no one is perfect, Shylock has many opportunities to grant mercy but still refuses to do so, which calls into question his character and beliefs.

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