The Play is set in Venice, an ancient civic republic, In Elizabethan times Venice was seen as a place of luxury and great beauty it was also considered to be a trading centre of great importance, hospitable to people from all part’s of the world including Christians and Jews however Venice was mainly Christian dominated. In the Elizabethan times the corruption of the Jewish religion was seen to be perfectly acceptable as Jews portrayed as inferior and marginalized because of their religion and Jews were often subjected to public humiliation as they were cursed and spat at as they walked down the street minding their own business.
Jews were often forbidden to own land or engage in trade, one of the only occupations open to the Jews at that time was a money lender (usurer) which as we can see in the Merchant of Venice the Jews exploited this fully. At first I am not too impressed with Shylock, Shylock is a usurer who loans sums of money to people, however Shylock charges vast amounts of interest, Shylocks first line in the play is “Three thousand ducats” This can be taken into two contexts; as a man making a living at one of the very few occupations open to him, or a greedy cold materialistic man.
Shylock immediately shows a clear disliking to Antonio who appears to be a perfectly good honest gentlemen and he is full of generosity, This is one of Shylocks main reasons for despising Antonio as he also lends money to people except he doesn’t charge interest at all, Shylock thinks that Antonio is stealing his customers and causing his profits to drop.
Shylock doesn’t just hate Antonio for the business side of things he also hates Antonio for their difference in social class, lifestyles and religion “I hate him for he is a Christian” this shows Shylocks religious hatred, Shylock also makes it clear that will only business with Antonio and Bassanio as when Bassanio offers Shylock to have a meal with them to talk over the loan of money “If it please you to dine with us” Shylock makes it clear that he was willing to offer his profit making services to the Christians but he was not prepared to socialise with them by saying “I will buy from you, sell to you, talk with you, walk with you and so-on-but I won’t eat with you, or drink with you, or pray with you. Shylock continues to mislead Antonio trying to appear that he does not want to lend Shylock his money.
Shylock delivers a long speech the end of the scene, which may make the audience sympathise him as he talks about how Antonio and his fellow Christians Shylock tells us how he has turned the other cheek when the Christians have betrayed him about his money lending he shrugged it off as he tells us how suffering is the trademark of his race “you have rated me about my money and my usunces: Still have I borne it with a patient shrug, for suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe” Shylock then goes on to inform us of how they have insulted him by calling him an infidel and a cut-throat dog and how they spit on his Jewish garments, then he begins to question Antonio about how Ironic it is that the same man who spot on his beard, called him and treated him like a dog “foot me as your spurn a stranger cur” should he reply like a dog?
Does a dog have money he asks, “Hath a dog money? Is it possible a cur can lend three thousand ducats? ” He then adds a bit of sarcasm to the speech by asking if he should act like a humble servant and allow them to kick him and call him a dog and in return for their compliments he will lend them the money “Shall I bend low, and in a bondman’s key with hated breath and whispering, humbleness say this fair sir you spit on me on Wednesday last …. You called me a dog; and for you spit these courtesies I’ll lend you thus much money’? ”
A Major Change in the play for Shylock is when his long trusted and beloved daughter decides to elope with a Christian called Lorenzo, Jessica like her father is a Jew but unlike her father she is able to earn the respect of the Christians and even the love of one Christian Lorenzo, this is shown when Lancelot compliments Jessica “most beautiful pagan, most sweet Jew… ” This shows that the Jews can earn the respect of the Christians this may mean that the slander directed towards Shylock may not be because he is a Jew. Jessica is a strong women and she is not afraid to speak her mind Jessica shows this when she gives her reason for leaving home, she claims life at home is hell even though Lancelot the clown reduces her boredom “Our house is hell, and thou a merry devil didst rob it of some tedious” but Jessica doesn’t just want the boredom to be reduced she wants no boredom at all this is why she will leave with her love Lorenzo.
The Christians treat Jessica’s elopement as perfectly acceptable as she has already earned their respect they do not care that she is a Jew, In fact the Christians are all a part of the plan to help Jessica and Lorenzo escape from Shylock as he forbids her to fall in love with a Christian, the Christians carry out the deed without a thought about how hurt Shylock would be when he found his darling daughter had gone, once again this makes you feel a bit of sympathy for Shylock as his dearly-loved daughter is snatched away from him. During this point of the play when Shylock is grieving the most treasured belonging in his life seems to be a daughter this is shown when Shylock says “my daughter is my flesh and blood” this means that Jessica is a part of him and very close to him, but later on in the play Shylocks character is tested when he begins to think about his money over his daughter this shows when Shylock is quoted by Solanio “my daughter, o my ducats … ” when he does this he to disowns his daughter “She is damned for it” .
Shylock is very angry so he decides to take his revenge by following through on his bond he does not let Antonio get a word in edgeways, Antonio pleads with him “hear me yet good Shylock” but Shylock does not want to hear it he just wants his bond “I’ll have my bond, speak not against the bond” after many pleas from Antonio and Solanio had been turned down by Shylock it is finally taken to court. Justice and mercy are the two main points that are expressed by all parties in the trial Justice is what is seen to be right in the eyes of the law but mercy is what is sometimes shown by compassionate human eyes when you forgive someone for committing a wrongful act.
At First not much justice is seen to be shown by the Duke towards Shylock as the Duke seem to show more mercy for Antonio as the Duke asks Shylock to forgive (show mercy) Antonio and take the ducats but Shylock responds defensively and aggressively to the Dukes plea for Shylock to relent “The world thinks and I think so too…. The duke is saying that the world as in the Christian world of Venice think that Shylock should show mercy to Antonio Shylock once again makes it clear that he will have noting but his bond “I will have my bond” When the Duke questions Shylock about his motives he insists that his only motive is revenge is for the endless taunting and abuse he has received from Antonio and his fellow Christians Bassonio tries to challenge Shylock which only angers him his only response to the challenges and pleas made for mercy to be shown is “I am not here to please thee with my answers” when Antonio offers Shylock more money Shylock still flatly refuses.
Then Shylock argues that if he does not receive his pound of flesh the Venetian law is corrupt he says, “If you deny me, Fie upon your law”. The other characters in the court are obviously siding with Antonio the Christian and they are against Shylock the Jew. Portia foresees this and tries to become acquainted with Shylock, so she can persuade him to act merciful towards Antonio. “Is your name Shylock” Portia confronts Shylock the Jew first; she also uses his name showing a degree of respect.
He then like the Duke tries to persuade Shylock to accept the money offered by Antonio in exchange for sparing Antonio’s life “Then the Jew must be merciful”. Portia then talks with the Jew privately and tries to negotiate with him the advantages of being lenient and merciful with Antonio Portia tells Shylock “It blesseth him that gives and that him that takes. ” Here Portia is still portraying a kind and patient attitude with Shylock. This confuses the other characters present in the court, as they are becoming anxious about the risk their friend is presented with. She cleverly causes them to have fluctuations of hope and fear through out the scene to maximize her chances of success.
However Portia is unable to persuade Shylock to be merciful with Antonio “My deeds upon my head. I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond. ” This shows Shylock’s inflexible desire for revenge increasing tension and dramatic effect in the court scene. Portia having now realized that Shylock is extremely stubborn she changes tactics to defeat him. She cunningly makes Shylock put his trust in her and encourages him to be less cautious. “It must not be. There is no power in Venice can alter Antonio decree establishment. ” Once Portia has gained this trust and respect from Shylock she exploits his naivety.
“O wise young judge, how I do honor thee! Shylock clearly shows how pleased he is with Portia however this also shows his happiness, to have the chance to take Antonio’s life. Exposing his unnecessary vengeful and malicious attitude. Portia again tries to quietly persuade Shylock to accept the ducats offered. Shylock declines and seems to be encouraged by the aspect of hope he has of wining the trial that Portia illustrated to him. “Bid me tear the bond” Here it becomes apparent that Portia begins to portray a worried and inshore attitude, as she is no longer convinced that she could win the case. She begins to beg which she had not resorted to so far in the trial. Shylock repeats his compliments of Portia and she develops confidence.
Portia asks Shylock to have a doctor present when he cuts the pound of flesh ” Have by some surgeon” to which Shylock replies by saying it is not in the bond “I cannot find it,’ tis not in the bond” This is where Shylock makes his mistake and lets Portia begin to unfold her plan, In which she uses his own statement, the words of the bond and law to destroy him when Shylock mentions that the presence of a doctor is not in the bond Portia says that there is nothing about blood in the bond an she insists that Shylock is only allowed to cut a pound of flesh “no more no less” She promises Shylock that he shall have justice but with consequences “Thou shalt have justice more than thou desirest”
At this point Shylock tries to back down and accept the money offered but Portia and the judge are not prepared to let him go so easily and they decide that Shylock is now the one on trail as he now faces the charges as “an alien” by direct or indirect attempts he has sought after the life of a Venetian citizen which if he I guilty of (which he has) all of his goods are confiscated into the laws of Venice” This is also punishable by death so Shylock has to plead for the Duke to show mercy and spare his life. The Duke does show Shylock the mercy of pardoning his life However Antonio insists Shylock “presently become a Christian” which is a brutal gesture, which adds to Shylocks woes.
Shylock is forced by the Christians to kiss the cross of Christ which breaks his heart he now leaves the court a broken man without a word he leaves as a Jew dejected by the Christians and not shown much mercy by the law of Venice, This is Ironic as Portia who earlier pleaded with him to show mercy breaks down Shylock with the full force of the law this doesn’t show much for the “Christians Mercy”. I think that Shylock the Jew is a Victim in the merchant of Venice a “victim” is someone who is on the receiving end of abuse; this could be physical or verbal. The victim may or may not contribute to there victimization for example someone could be victimized for their physical appearance which they have no control over and have not contributed to, or someone could be victimized because of their actions which they have control over and have contributed to.
Even though he is sometimes portrayed as a villainous materialistic man acting in villainous ways, I feel that he has been driven to this by the xenophobic Christians as he has been on the receiving end of their racial, verbal and physical abuse they have also mocked the way in which he earns a living even though it is one of the few occupations open to him. One of the most damaging actions committed by the Christians to Shylock is when they steal his daughter away from him and have her elope with a Christian Lorenzo. Not only are the Christians against Shylock the law is as well as Shylock is forced by the law to give up his money estate and most important of all his religion, In the end Shylock ends up with nothing at all.