The Merchant of Venice is a comedy written by William Shakespeare at around 1597. This play is considered as Shakespeare’s darkest comedies. The comedy is about a bitter and angry Jewish moneylender named Antonio, who seeks revenge against his defaulter, a Christian merchant. The young man Bassanio had borrowed money from the merchant to romance a rich woman he was in love with.
In the time the play was written, there were few Jews in England, because they had been banished under the Edict of Expulsion in 1290. The Jews were treated badly in England, since they were a target of hatred. This is because of the trial of poisoning Queen Elizabeth, whereby Rodrigo Lopez, a converted Portuguese Jew; Queen Elizabeth’s personal physician was convicted of plotting to poison the queen. He was later executed by being hanged, cut down while still alive before a vengeful crowd. Since then, there were no Jews in England, as they were accused of every crime, including kidnapping, and plotting to kill Christians during the Passover rituals. This is the time the Merchant of Venice was written.
Gender and sexual identity play a central role in The Merchant of Venice. Portia takes power as Bassanio follows his desire and a marriage is formed. Portia disguised herself as a lawyer in order to save Antonio during the prosecution. Portia dresses in men’s clothing just to save the people she loves, her husband Bassanio and Antonio, his love. During the big trial, Portia had no otherwise, but to play his tricks in order to save her husband’s friend.
The merchant of Venice is an example of a problem play, which continues to raise a number of questions, even after more than 400 years when it was staged. One of the perplexing issues is that, the play was written as a comedy. The shylock is depicted as a complex, and pitiable villain in the play. The Shylock is characterized as evil, and merciless and at the same time as sympathetic. He was a vengeful man on the Christians for what he believed that they were the cause of his misfortunes. On the other hand, is represented as a sympathetic character. He sympathizes with the Christians who always revenged against the Jews. In his speech, he sympathetically says, "If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" Because the characters who rebuked him for dishonesty resorted to trickery by making Portia the judge in order to win the case. The revenge the Shylock had against Christians was from the Christian themselves, he learned from them. Shakespeare used his writing style to create a multi-faceted character from the Shylock.
In the The Merchant of Venice, Jews and Christians are portrayed in binary opposition. Christianity and Judaism are not considered as religions, but as racial identities. The Jewish bloodthirsty moneylender wants his money at all costs from the Christian debtor. The shylock says, "How like a fawning publican he looks, I hate him for he is a Christian." He expresses his hatred for Christians publicly with no fear. However, the shylock knew that Christians and Jewish people were the same. Portia is a Christian daughter who is depicted as a rich Christian daughter with a perfect life. On the other hand, Jessica is the Shylocks daughter who runs away from his father, and gets married to a Christian. She was a traitor because, despite the fact that she knew her father never liked the Christians, she went ahead marrying one. She converted to Christianity abandoning his father. Portia valued his father even after his death, but Jessica disliked his father and being a Jewish. The Shylock was a Jew who had a desire for revenge against Christians. He wanted revenge for the maltreatment he received from the Christians.
"He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew 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 means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. " This is Shylock talking in Act II, scene I, the Shylock was angry with Antonio for not paying up as agreed and he wanted to take revenge against the Christians for the harsh treatment on the Jews, with Antonio’s body. He was making it very clear that, he was not interested in the repayment of Bassanio’s debt of three thousand ducats. The shylock was acting like a villain because, he preferred Antonio’s flesh according to the deal if the ducats were not paid. He blamed Antonio for his miseries, and his only desire was to make Antonio pay for what he was done through with his flesh. The Shylock was not ready to show Antonio any mercy.
"The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. It is mightiest in the mightiest, it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, an attribute to awe and majesty. Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings. However, mercy is above this sceptred sway, It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, it is an attribute to God himself, and earthly power dost the become likest God's, Where mercy seasons justice. Therefore Jew, though justice be thy plea, consider this, that in the course of justice we all must see salvation, we all do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much to mitigate the justice of thy plea, which if thou dost follow. This strict court of Venice must needs give a sentence against the merchant there. "
This is Act IV, scene I where Portia was speaking about Antonio’s prosecution. She was talking of how mercy is strained and wanted justice to be served to all the parties. According to Portia, the merchant of Venice was on the wrong to refuse payment and wanting to use Antonio’s body as payment and so, she wanted the court to be merciful upon Antonio and give a fair judgment. Portia’s claims were that, the Shylock should have mercy upon Antonio and not make him bleed, as the quality of mercy is blessed twice (Lines 186-187).
In conclusion, the Merchant of Venice is an outstanding play, which reflects Shakespeare’s true strength in writing. He incorporates countless rhetorical devices in the play and an amazing writing style to make it more interesting, and comical. The Merchant of Venice has contributed greatly to literature and the theater.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. New York: Sully and Kleinteich,1597. Print.