Merchant Of Venice

The following sample essay on “Merchant Of Venice”: familiarizes the reader with the topic-related facts, theories and approaches.

Before the middle ages, the Jews left Israel in the Diaspora (a scattering) and spread all over the world, living in the cities in separate communities going forth and carrying out their lifestyle as normal. But not everyone was happy with this. Jews became enormously hated, were seen as aliens in their new communities and had no kind of social status. English people/audiences knew Jews only from legend.

In the popular medieval mystery plays, which lasted until Shakespeare’s youth, Jews featured as a cursed race. It was rumoured that they killed children and drank their blood. It was in 1201 when Jews were expelled from England.

Jews slowly began to return to England in Shakespeare’s time. A way in which people were seen to be anti-Semitic was the time when Fredericko Lopez (Queen Elizabeth’s personal doctor) a Jew, was tried and executed for treason, which was very much questioned to be an anti-Semitic plot.

Jews were considered by Christians to be ‘Christ Killers’. Myths about their rituals and ceremonies were widely talked about and believed, such as in the legend of Little St. Hugh of Lincoln (Chaucer’s prioress’s tale), where Jews murder a Christian child. Jews were forced to live in ghettos (geto) which may have given Jews a persecution complex.

In 2009, we are bound to view any work concerning Jews and persecution through the prism of the Holocaust.

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Our views are almost certainly coloured by this; the Elizabethan audience had no such experience although events of persecution (known as pogroms) were common. Throughout the duration of the play, both Antonio and Shylock show major dislike which if looked at in depth is portrayed more as hatred. The main reason because of this is due to the fact that one is a Christian and the other a Jew. Their revulsion towards each other is shown many times such as when Antonio quotes, I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again and to spurn the  meaning that just because they are doing business it does not mean they are companions. But it is not only Antonio that shows abhorrence.

Shylock also tells of how much he loathes Antonio when he says, “How like a fawning publican he looks. I hate him for he is a Christian” demonstrating his thoughts of Antonio. Shakespeare understands the human suffering that Jews had for centuries been subject to humiliating discrimination towards Jews so allows Shylock to speak for his own and all other persecuted minorities: Hath not a Jews eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? ” If we can appreciate this it makes our decision so much more complex to choose which person to side with. The bond is initially made to Bassanio, Antonio’s dear friend as it is needed to woo a beautiful heiress.

But as all of Antonio’s ships and merchandise are busy at sea, he promises to cover the bond so Bassanio seeks Shylock, a vengeful Jewish money lender whom Antonio truly detests. It is agreed that Shylock would lend 3000 ducats under the condition of, if Antonio is unable to repay the loan at the specified date, he is entitled to take a pound of Antonio’s fair flesh. As Shylock calculates the interest on the loan he remembers the many times that Antonio has cursed him, calling him a “misbeliever, cut-throat, dog and spat upon his Jewish gabardine”.

Antonio responds that he is likely to do so again and insists that Shylock lends him money as an enemy. Bassanio warns Antonio against entering such an agreement under such a condition, but Antonio assures him that he will have no trouble repaying the debt, as his ships will soon bring him wealth that far exceeds the value of the loan. So is surprised by what he sees as the money lenders generosity and signs willingly. With reference to the film, we visually see what a pound of flesh looks like as shylock purchases a pound of lamb. Seeing a pound of flesh looks a very large amount but Antonio still uptakes the agreement.

The words ‘kind’ and ‘kindness’ are repeated several times at the end of this scene. They have a surface meaning – ‘generous’ and ‘generosity’ – which Antonio accepts, and an ironic double meaning. If Shylock ‘grows kind’ in this second sense, he will become even more like himself, true to his nature. And we have already, in his soliloquy, seen what this is. With regards to the elopement of Jessica, we see another side to Shylock, a deeper, more human side. It was unusual on the Elizabethan stage to have Jews portrayed other than one – dimensional characters (often dressed as devils).

But with Shylock we see a father experiencing a confusion of emotions as Tubal imparts various pieces of information in an incoherent manner. He is told of the loss of his daughter, mourning the fact she has eloped with a Christian man, (which in Judaism is said to dilute her blood as Judaism can only be descended from a mother making any children that she has Christian) and is extremely irate that she is recklessly spending his money. He becomes even more enraged when he hears that Jessica has given away the ring that was a token of betrothal from his late wife.

It is later on explained to him that she had exchanged the ring for a pet monkey, which leaves him so heated that he exclaims; “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear: would she were hearsed at my foot and the ducats in her coffin” We the audience should feel pity for him here as the news of the turquoise is agony for him, “I had it of Leah, when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys”. But are we obliged to feel compassion for him as he puts across the thought that he would prefer his money rather than his own flesh and blood back in his arms?

He believes that Antonio is most certainly involved which adds to the atmosphere. Grief and anger conflict with malicious glee when Shylock hears of Antonio’s misfortune away at sea and it is made very clear that he will take revenge for both the loss of his daughter and his ring when he claims the forfeit from Antonio. The trial scene in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is most probably the most famous scene in English drama. It shows the vital difference between a Christian showing mercy, and a Jew’s thought of justice.

The conversation between Shylock and Bassanio before Shylock comes on stage shows the hopeless resignation with which Antonio faces Shylock’s wrath. Shylock is relentless in that he wants his pound of flesh. Shylock admits hatred for Antonio is irrational and emotional. But Antonio is not intimidated, and shows his contempt for Shylocks ‘Jewish Heart’. Bassanio offers to repay twice the amount he had originally borrowed but Shylock would refused to uptake his offer declaring he wants his pound of flesh is by law. But if the Duke refuses to grant this it will appear that ‘There is no force in the decrees of Venice’.

Antonio knows that if the law was not observed, Venice will suffer in its reputation as the centre of international trade. And through all this Shylock is very brave in a sense and unaffected by insults as in the film he is surrounded by Christians with even the duke siding Antonio. The Duke then makes a final attempt to save Antonio legally so calls upon a famous lawyer named Bellario. Shylock knows the strength of his position and insists he will take justice. Bellario urges Shylock to take mercy, but he refuses and says ‘I will have my bond! ).

Bellario (Portia) then puts forward that Shylock can take his pound of flesh but in no way can spill a drop of Antonio’s blood. Shylock then realizes he cannot take is pound of flesh and tries to take the money Bassanio is still offering. But it is then when Bellario begins to be inflexible stating that Shylock will have to pay the penalty of an ‘alien’ trying to murder a Venetian. And this is where we see the key difference between a Christian and a Jew. Antonio shows his generosity. The half of his estate that Shylock is supposed to forfeit to him, he will allow him to keep it under two conditions.

The first being he leaves his wealth to his daughter and her husband Lorenzo and that he becomes a Christian. To an Elizabethan audience this would not be such a bad thing as in the bible it says that a Christian should endeavor in converting ‘non believers’. This I believe is the worst thing that could ever be asked of Shylock as his religion is all he has left. In conclusion, therefore, I believe Shylock to be the party more sinned against than sinning. Centuries of intolerance shown to his people, married to the personal insults he has undergone have combined to make him a steely adversary but ultimately, a victim.

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Merchant Of Venice. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Merchant Of Venice
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