Although The Merchant of Venice is meant to be a comedy, there are aspects of it which are very serious and are meant to evoke a somewhat, sympathetic response from both Elizabethan and modern day audiences. The 3 characters; Jessica, Shylock and Antonio each had many moral dilemmas. These dilemmas vary from each character. Antonio’s 1st moral dilemma was agreeing to the bond with Shylock. This could have been classed as arrogance, in thinking Shylock would not stick to the bond after all Antonio had said to him in the past about his religion. His second dilemma was being so certain that his ships would come back.
This is partly what made him agree to the bond with Shylock, even though it was benefiting Bassanio and not himself. Antonio had invested a lot of time and effort into his friendship with Bassanio and some modern day directors may portray this behaviour as homosexuality, whereas in Elizabethan times men could have a very close relationships and it could be no more than just good friends. Jessica’s dilemmas mainly relate to the fact that her farther (Shylock) did not show her any affection, whether he felt it or not. Her 1st dilemma was the fact Shylock cared much more about his money than he did for her.
Before Shylock leaves the house in act 2 scene 5 he tells her to lock it up. He does this not out of love, but because he is worried about his money. He also wants to keep the anti-Semitic behaviour of the outside world away from her and his house. Jessica also has the problem of having no motherly figure around to love her, or more to the point to teach her father to love again. Jessica’s last dilemma is knowing whether to leave her father for a Christian (Lorenzo) or not, especially when she already felt bad about being a dutiful daughter to Shylock.
An Elizabethan audience would have thought it was good of her to change her religion on her own accord because they were very anti-Semitic. A modern day audience would have seen her leaving home as good because her father cared more about money than her, but they would not like the fact she changed her religion because in today’s society people are not brought up to be anti-Semitic. Shylock’s 1st dilemma is whether he should be merciful on Antonio in court when he thought he had won his case against him.
An Elizabethan audience would have expected Shylock to be Merciful on Antonio because Christians expect mercy. When the table turns and Shylock is guilty as it were, the Elizabethans would have agreed to the changing of religion. His second dilemma was whether he should change the way he treats people after Jessica leaves. This should have been and eye opener to Shylock that he should learn to love and not have money at the top of his priorities list. Both audiences would have seen Jessica’s departure as a good thing. This is because of the way she was treated.
However the point of Shylock changing his behaviour is a more modern point of view and we would see it as a good thing because Christians are meant to treat each other with respect. Apart from the moral dilemmas above, they each had other problems. Antonio’s first problem is introduced at the beginning of the play. In act 1 scene 1 he says: “in sooth, I know not why I am so sad….. what stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born I am to learn” This shows he is sad, but he, himself does not know why. This is a common occurrence throughout the play.
His friends all assume it is because his mind is on the fact that him ships are out at ocean, however Antonio soon sets them straight and says to them: “Believe me, no: I thank my fortune for it, My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate Upon the fortune of this present year: Therefore, my merchandise makes me not sad. ” Although he says this, it is a slight contradiction to what he says to Bassaino in lines 177-179 act1 scene 1. Here, he explains that all his fortunes are at sea and he does not have any goods to even secure a loan.
To over come this problem, Antonio says he will go to Shylock the Jew to get a loan because he knows that he will be able to pay the money back when his ships come in. Even though Shylock hates Antonio because Antonio is very anti-Semitic he agrees to give Bassanio the loan of 3000 Ducats, however the bond that Shylock says to Antonio: “If you repay me not on such a day, In such a place, such sum or sums as are Express’d in the condition, let it forfeit Be nominated for an equal pound Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken In what part of your body pleaseth me. ”
Shylock is telling Antonio that if the debt is not repaid then he wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Antonio agrees to this because he is so certain that his ships will come in before the bond is due to expire. Bassanio however, is not so happy about this and tells Antonio not to agree to such a thing. As and audience we find him agreeing to such a bond an irresponsible thing to do because it could never be certain his ships would come through for him. In act 3 scene 2 it becomes apparent to us, the audience that Antonio’s ventures have failed him indeed. This means that Shylock is entitled to his pound of flesh.
At this point I did feel very sorry for Antonio because for trying to come through for his friend and give him a chance of finding love, it meant that he could lose his life. When Antonio is called to court so the bond can be settled with Shylock, Portia (Bassanio’s wife) turns up at the court disguised as a solicitor. She tells Shylock he is indeed owned a pound of flesh as stated in the bond. However Portia asks him to be merciful and has a long speech which states that mercy is a quality that God himself possesses and he should take this into account before he gets the flesh he is owed.
Shylock does not listen to this, even though he is given countless numbers of chances to back down from taking the flesh he doesn’t this is where I feel the most sympathy for Antonio because he has done nothing wrong apart from trying to help a friend. Even though Antonio is anti-Semitic throughout the play towards Shylock he does not try and kill him at any stage and this is where Shylock has one over on Antonio because this is his chance to get his own back on all the anti-Semitism.
However, Portia then tells Shylock that nowhere in the bond does it state he can have a drop of blood and if one drop of blood is spilt then the bond will be void! It was now Antonio’s turn to show mercy upon Shylock. An Elizabethan audience would think this was fantastic because as a society they were very anti-Semitic. Antonio does not wish for Shylock to be killed, however he asks that he give his land to Lorenzo and Jessica when he dies and to convert to Christianity straight away.
I think this shows that Antonio has a vicious streak because although, Shylock showed no remorse making somebody like Shylock change their religion is in some cases worse than death. I do feel very sorry for Antonio in one respect because he is very lonely. I think Shylock and Antonio have something in common which is they are both lonely and have money to satisfy themselves. Even though people may argue that Antonio has a lot of friends so he cannot be lonely at the end of the day he has nobody to love and take care of, where as Shylock did have this chance once Jessica leaves him they are both on their own.
Jessica is 1st introduced in act 2 scene 3 saying goodbye to Launcelot, who worked for Shylock, but is now leaving. Even before Jessica comes onto stage the Elizabethan audience would sympathise with her because her father is a Jew and she has to put up with the anti-Semitic behaviour as a result of this. To me this also evokes a sympathetic response, but not because I am anti-Semitic, but because through no fault of her own she is hated by the society, that surrounds her. I also feel sorry for her because her father cares so much more for his money than he does for her.
In this scene Jessica is planning to run away from home, however she feels as if she has committed a sin and says to Launcelot: “Alack, what heinous sin is it in me To be asham’d to be my father’s child! But though I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners. ” Jessica obviously does not agree with her way her father acts because she is ashamed of the way he behaves. She says that although she is blood related to him she would not be related to his manners. Throughout the play Shylock does not illustrate his feelings for Jessica and so it comes across that their father daughter relationship is not very strong if existent at all.
The fact that Shylock cares more for his money than Jessica, would defiantly evoke a sympathetic response from modern day audience, especially since Jessica has no motherly figure around to care for her either. It became apparent that she has obviously had to look after herself from a relatively young age. Jessica has fallen in love with a Christian called Lorenzo whom she is planning on running away with and marrying. I think this is because her father has pushed her away so much she has completed gone against his wishes and is converting.
This kind of behaviour would please an Elizabethan audience because of their feelings towards the Jews. Before she leaves her home she makes sure she has enough Ducats. She takes nearly all the money that her father has left in the house and a ring which she knows has a lot of sentimental value to her father and not nearly as much monetary value. With this money she buys a monkey, this goes to show that when she has money it is very trivial to her and she can just spend it on what she likes because she has it! when Shylock hears about this he shows emotion for the first time in the play when he says: Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” This shows that he has once loved and since his wife dies he had suppressed those feelings. If he had shown those feelings to Jessica then maybe she wouldn’t have left him for a Christian. I think before Jessica left Shylock she went through a lot of soul searching because she must have wondered about how she could leave her own flesh and blood even though he does care about his money and business there will always be a part of him that cares for her he just finds it hard to be prevalent.
I think Shylock is the most complex of the 3 characters, as he has a lot of different problems throughout the play. Shylock is a stereotypical Jew for the Elizabethan times who cares for his money more than anything else! Since his wife passed away he has substituted money for love. In some places of the play we look upon Shylock and feel sympathy for him and think well maybe he isn’t as bad as I first anticipated, however, this is later changed. The feeling of sympathy for Shylock is very erratic. I first felt sympathy for Shylock when he said: “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 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 you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? ” I think this speech also shows that Shylock does have emotion and it goes to show that he does have feelings and no matter what people may think about him.
He still is a human with feelings like the rest of us and just because he has a different belief he should not be excluded from society for that. However, there is a complete contradiction to this behaviour when he later says: “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! ” This goes to show hoe evil he really can be to be able to say something like that about your own daughter! It also goes to show how he cares more for his money than he does for her! I thin both an Elizabethan and modern day audience would be disgusted by this.
In court Shylock is given many chances to be merciful and Elizabethan audiences would expect him to be because God is merciful, however he does not do this and by doing this it gave Antonio the excuse not to be merciful upon him. When Shylock is made to change his religion It means we will not be spat upon in society any longer. Even though Antonio knows making Shylock do this will hurt him the most it will also benefit him because he will not be singled out in the society that they lived in.
An Elizabethan audience would have see the change of religion as good, whereas a modern day audience don’t because they are not anti Semitists so they would see that this is part of Antonio’s vicious streak. After studying the 3 characters I would say that I think Shylock deserves the most sympathy out of the three of them. I think this because in his day and age he was automatically hated because of his beliefs, so when he showed hatred against anybody it became accentuated because he was a Jew and he showed hatred.
I think that Shylock found it very hard to portray his real feelings towards his daughter because he was scared of loving again in case the person he loved got taken away from him again. Even though that is not an excuse he may have thought that if in his heart he knew he loved her it was enough. I know that an Elizabethan audience would completely disagree with me because they were anti Semitic, so to agree with anything a Jew did or said would have been wrong. I thin if they would show sympathy it would have been for Jessica because her father never showed any love towards her and she was hated because of what her father believed.
I do not feel sympathy for Antonio because throughout much of the play he feels sorry for himself, but he does not have a reason for this behaviour. The only place in the play where I felt sorry for him was when all his ships crashed and he lost all of his income. I don’t think Jessica was the most deserving of sympathy because she found love in the end found her happiness, whereas her father was left with practically nothing all because he believed in something other people didn’t!