The themes and ideas in the Merchant of Venice are very controversial nowadays and in Shakespeare’s time were very much a ‘hot topic’. The play is about mainly justice and mercy as they are the main themes that run throughout the play. At the time this play was written there were two main religions in Venice, Christianity and Judaism, with Christianity being the superior religion. If anyone was a Jew they were treated by Christians as dirt. The Jews were kept in their own part of Venice and once dark the gates were locked so they could not get out.
The two speeches which will be compared are Portia’s and Shylock’s speeches. Shylock’s speech is about revenge whilst Portia’s is about mercy. Shylock and Portia are from two very different backgrounds. Shylock is a money lender and a Jew (Jews believed that interest should be charged whereas this was against what Christian law). Portia is a daughter of a rich and wise Lord, but he is dead and Portia is not allowed to marry anyone without his permission. So her father has set up a task to prove if the man is the right man for Portia and by picking the right casket he gains access to all of Portia’s money and gold.
Shylock’s speech is given right after he comes home from a Christian banquet he was invited to. When he arrives he finds that his daughter has stolen from him and run off with a Christian man called Lorenzo as well as his servant leaving him. This means he is very angry which explains why there is a lot of rage and anger in his speech. His speech is centred on his plea for justice. His speech is also based on money and revenge.
An example of him being mocked and treated like dirt is in his speech. “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 mine friends, heated mine enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. “) There is a lot of anger and rage in this speech which evokes the sufferings endured by Jews throughout history whilst turning him from a cardboard stage villain to a complex character. In this interpretation Shylock in an outcast who just wants social expectance but this is far from possible for him. This is shown in his speech, some of which is as follows “Hath not a Jew eyes?
Hath not a Jew hands, organs”, “Fed with the same food, hurt by the same weapons” and “warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter as a Christian is? ” He then goes on to say what is considered to be the most powerful thing he says throughout his entire speech and it is also a triplet and at the end of it there is a sudden mood change which continues throughout the rest of his speech. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? ” He longs for acceptance and tries to show that Jews and Christians should not be different and are quite alike. And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we resemble you in that. ”
Throughout his speech he uses lists, rhetorical questions, triplets, varied sentences, repetition and grouped phrases to get a point across. An example of lists being used in his speech is “Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? ” To get his point across here that he is just the same as any other Christian and also the rest of his people are just like Christians. An example of him using rhetorical questions in his speech is “what’s his reason? I am a Jew. This is a critical moment as it shows that no matter what religion of faith we follow we are all from the same race.
Shakespeare says through Shylock that this is the only reason why Shylock is treated differently which is because he follows a different religion. Shakespeare appears to recognise the same humility in us all. The themes this speech reveals are revenge, money and justice. Shylock wants justice for his people so he not is willing to show mercy, revenge for how his people are treated and money because that’s what starts all this in the first place that Antonio has not paid back the ‘merry bond’ in time.
You can also say that Shylock is very bloodthirsty because he wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh taken from his breast closest to Antonio’s heart inflicting ‘as much pain as possible whilst he still lives’. He also says in the first line of his speech that he has no real use for his flesh ‘apart from baiting fish but to feed his revenge’. Portia’s speech on the other hand is not a plea for revenge but a plea for mercy. It is also written in verse whereas Shylock’s speech is written in prose this could be because Shakespeare wanted to make the two speeches more defined from one another.
The very first line that Portia says is “the quality of mercy is not strained” just like Shylocks speech it is not long winded but precise and straight to the point. What she means by the first sentence is that mercy is something that can not be forced but only something done by a person’s own free will. The next line she says is a simile stating that as rain is a gift from god so is mercy. “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. ”
Her speech then starts to have a prayer like rhythm and forces you to pause so that more emphasis placed on the second part. It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes. ” Mercy is only in the best of the best of people. “‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest” She then follows on to say it is better to have mercy “it becomes the throni?? d monarch better than his crown”; and that a king’s sceptre is only a symbol of power on Earth. “His sceptre shows the force of temporal power”. She finishes speaking about kings and how godlike they are by having mercy because it is an attribute of god and how mercy makes them above others.
In the very last eight words of her speech she completely detaches her self from Antonio and refers to him as a merchant even though that if it was not for him Bassanio would not have been able to go to Portia to try and solve the riddle left by her father and marry him which is another thing different from what is normal in our time and the time when this was written. Through out her entire speech she uses a lot of repetition; the words mercy and plea are repeated virtually every section of her speech.
This is because whilst getting hr point across she also wants you to remember what she has said by repeating the higher the likelihood of the speech being. Also in the last line she says is when she uses the strongest language throughout the entire speech. “Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there. ” The themes that are revealed through Portia’s speech are justice and mercy. Justice is also featured in Shylocks speech and therefore leads me to think that justice is one of the themes that run through out the play just like mercy and justice as the two are tied like stated in Portia’s speech.
When mercy season justice” To conclude and to answer the question, how does a close study of two speeches reveal the themes and ideas in “The Merchant of Venice”? A close study of the two speeches reveals the themes and ideas throughout the rest of the play by seeing what the two speeches have in common. This is that both speech themes are around revenge, justice and mercy seeing as the two are tied together. Money is also another theme in both speeches because both speeches would not have been necessary if Antonio paid his ‘merry bond’ on time.