Merchant of Venice


Main Features Of Antagonist Shylock

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, is a play about Antonio, a wealthy merchant, who takes a loan from a Jewish usurer named Shylock in 16th-Century Venice. Antonio uses the money to furnish a trip to Belmont, to assist his close friend Bassanio in seeking to marry Portia, the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat. As the most prominent Jewish character in the play, Shylock is subjected to cruel treatment from Antonio and numerous others, variously being spat on, called a dog, or having his daughter, Jessica, defy him by running away with his money to elope. However, his suffering is seemingly acceptable to Antonio and his friends, and even comedic, as he is portrayed as the antagonist of the play. Shakespeare uses extremely negative stereotypes of a Jewish person, especially in portraying Shylock as being unable to show mercy, for example, when he won’t accept ten times the sum of his original loan, but instead insists on collecting it’s original collateral, a pound of Antonio’s flesh. At the end of the play, Antonio and his company all obtain wealth, most get married, and all enjoy a storybook happy ending, which suggests that the audience watching The Merchant of Venice was supposed to think they were the protagonists or heroes. Logically, the audience’s views and attitudes toward Shylock and his misfortunes should be unsympathetic as he has been set up by Shakespeare, throughout the play as the antagonist. However, well after Shylock creates a contract with Antonio, and Shylock’s daughter elopes, it becomes clear that his misfortunes are no longer comedic, and start to become harrowing and take on a greater meaning for the audience. For example, Shylock explains to Antonio that his and everyone else’s hatred of him actually reflects a hatred of their own behaviour. He explains that his inability to show mercy was learned from the mistreatment he received from Antonio and his peers, as opposed to an unmerciful nature. Shylock also discusses the fundamental similarities between Christians and Jews, and how their prejudices of one another are based on false differences, such as superiority of their own religion over the other’s. William Shakespeare creates the unmerciful character of Shylock to lead his audience into a hatred for the antagonist only to then surprise and astonish the audience when they are confronted with the notion that the character that they hate so much, is actually a creation of their own unmerciful nature.

From the initial introductions, impressions, and assessments of Shylock by Antonio and his friends, Shylock is set up as the antagonist, and the other characters are set up as the protagonists. The first indication that Shylock is the antagonist is shown in how early he is introduced in the play: in the third scene of Act One, far ahead of when Antonio and most of his company are first introduced. Shylock’s antagonist role is also demonstrated by how Antonio and his company speak about Shylock. For example, when discussing the use of interest in the loan between Shylock and Antonio, Antonio speaks to his friend Bassanio and says: “Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (Shakespeare 33). At several points in the play, Shylock is called the devil, and his actions are presumed to be evil. However, a more prominent theme, especially culminating in the climax of the play, is that Shylock is incapable of mercy. This can be seen in the usurious nature of Shylock’s loaning business, which Antonio hates. Antonio and Bassanio both mockingly call Shylock’s waiving of the interest rate on their contract “kindness” (Shakespeare 37). They equate loaning without interest with mercy, because it makes it less stressful for the party who takes the loan. Because Shylock loans with interest, they believe he isn’t merciful, and dislike him for it. Shylock’s inability to show mercy also leads to his desire for revenge on Antonio, which makes Antonio’s company, as well as the audience, hate him.

While the characters’ roles seem apparent to the audience throughout most of the play, certain moments in the play, as well as a powerful speech given by Shylock, make Shylock’s misfortunes seem more chilling, and provoke the audience to have sympathy for his character and to reflect on their prejudices. Early on in the play, Shylock goes to Solanio and Salarino, friends of Antonio, to accuse them of aiding his daughter’s elopement. Salarino proudly states that “I, for my part, knew the tailor that made the wings she flew withal,” essentially boasting that he did help Shylock’s daughter to elope (Shakespeare 97). Shylock then leaves, telling them that he is adamant about collecting his bond, a pound of flesh, from Antonio. They follow him, and he delivers a speech, pleading for common humanity, as well as telling them that his villainy is taught by Christian example:

“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?… And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?… 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” (Shakespeare 99).

Shylock outlines two clear messages here: Jews and Christians are alike in their human nature, and that Shylock’s bad qualities were given to him through the example of Christians. His first message seeks to debunk the rationale for prejudice and unequal treatment: that there are any real fundamental differences between Jews and Christians. By explaining the similarities between the two peoples at the root of all human existence, Shakespeare demonstrated that any smaller, dissimilarities in religion and culture do not provide enough of a basis to legitimize discrimination. His second message attempts to get the audience to think about why Shylock is unmerciful, or any of the reasons why they might dislike him. Thinking of the past relationship between Antonio and Shylock, when Antonio has called Shylock a misbeliever, kicked him, and spit on him in public, it’s more than likely that this unmerciful Christian example comes from Antonio, and even his friends (Shakespeare 35). It is clear that the audience is meant to think deeply about this because there are no witty comments after Shylock’s speech as in other passages of the play. Salarino and Solanio can’t respond with something cocky like they did in their initial interaction with Shylock. They are taken aback and the audience is likely also shocked. In this moment, Shakespeare was beginning to force his audience to reflect on their shared prejudice of Jews.

Once this tone had been set, Shakespeare allowed the audience to witness an example of how Antonio and his company perpetuate the villainy which the antagonist Shylock has been guilty of until now. Portia, Bassanio’s wife, comes to the Venetian court where Shylock seeks to enforce his contract with Antonio. She is dressed as a male lawyer named Balthasar, who delivers a speech to Shylock detailing the nature of mercy, and how it isn’t a forced act, but how it must be chosen, and how it is like “an attribute to God Himself…” (Shakespeare 155). Once Shylock makes clear that he is not swayed and that he intends to seek the pound of flesh, and not accept the principle sum of the loan, Portia claims that the agreement doesn’t allow Shylock to spill any of Antonio’s blood. If he does spill his blood, all Shylock’s money will be taken from him (Shakespeare 165). Shylock drops the case, but because he has threatened the life of Antonio, he has to pay a fine, and give half of his estate to the threatened party. Antonio offers to give his share of the money back, so long as Shylock converts to Christianity, which he does, reluctantly (Shakespeare 169). However, after delivering a speech about mercy, and how Shylock should exercise it, Portia is unrelenting in her punishment of Shylock. He attempts to accept the sum of money Bassanio offers, but she doesn’t allow him to take it, as he “hath refused it in the open court” (Shakespeare 165). Portia becomes completely hypocritical in her actions, showing no mercy to Shylock, while expecting him to give it to Antonio.

Shakespeare has taken the audience through the process of hating the antagonist Shylock for his unmerciful, devilish traits and heralding the protagonists, Antonio and his companions for their seemingly benevolent natures. However, both Shylock and Portia’s speeches reveal the hypocrisy of the protagonists’ behaviour and demonstrates that their discrimination and abuse actually breeds Shylock’s resultant unmerciful nature. Shakespeare’s subtle commentary reverses the roles of antagonist and protagonists enough to have audience members reflect on their prejudices while using the same stereotypes to affirm their reflections, leaving the audience wondering whether they should laugh, or feel sympathetic.

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An Attitude Toward Shylock in The Merchant of Venice

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Even in the sixteenth century, people were treated with disrespect and unfairness. In Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is a Jewish money lender, and the play’s antagonist. Throughout the play, Shylock has his daughter run away, is treated with lack of respect for being Jewish, and has everything taken away from him. By the end of the play, Shylock does not receive fair and just treatment, despite how he has been treated.

The way Jessica treats her father, Shylock was not treated fairly and deserved to have better treatment. The audience never saw how Shylock really treated Jessica, so she may be just overreacting and saying he treated her poorly. This is unfair due to the fact that Shylock raised her for most of her life alone, and she repays him by running away and taking most of his ducats and possessions. While Jessica was away from Shylock, she sold his engagement ring, which was very important to Shylock. When he is taking to Tubal, he expresses how hurt he is by saying, “Out upon her! Thou tortures 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.” (III,I,113-116) Shylock was so hurt by Jessica’s actions because the ring was the only thing he has left of his wife, who passed away. Not only did Jessica run away, but she ran away with a Christian; something she knows Shylock would have never approved of. Shylock felt betrayed and heartbroken, to the point that he was shouting on the streets that his daughter, “Fled with a Christian!”(II,VIII,16) Due to the way Jessica had treated her father by taking his ducats, selling his engagement ring, and marrying a Christian, Shylock was treated unfairly by the end of the play.

Most of Shylock’s life, he has been treated with disrespect because he is a different religion. Christians spit on him due to the fact he is Jewish. Antonio spits on Shylock and calls him names in the beginning of the play, and when he asks Shylock for money he says he will still, “call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.” (I,III,127-128) If Shylock were Catholic, he would not be treated this poorly. This play was written at a time when only the Jewish people were treated with lack of respect by Christians. Shylock never treated anyone badly before for being Christian, so that gives them no right to treat him poorly. By getting spat on and treated with disrespect, Shylock still did not receive fair treatment by the end of the play.

Shylock deserves to have just treatment considering he got everything taken away from him. At the end of the trial, Shylock did not receive Antonio’s penalty, even though Antonio promised he would take the punishment if he did not have the money in time. If this were the other way around and Shylock owed borrowed money from Antonio, the court would most likely be cheering Antonio to cut Shylock’s flesh, but since Shylock is Jewish, the court was trying to prevent Antonio from dying. For no reason other than Antonio getting revenge on Shylock, he had to be converted into Christianity by force. This is unfair because Shylock already lost half of his wealth and his daughter, and there was not a valid reason for Shylock to lose his religion also. Money meant a lot to Shylock, and he had to give half of his wealth away because of a law that did not apply to him. Portia says, “ If it be proved against an alien that by direct or indirect attempt he seek the life of any citizen the party ‘gainst the which he doth contrive shall seize one half his goods.” (IV,I,348-352) This is especially unfair because Shylock was born in Venice; he is not a foreign resident, and he lost half of his wealth over a law that is not directed towards Venetians.

Evidently, after being hurt by his daughter, disrespected by Christians, and lost everything at the end of the trial, Shylock was not treated fairly by the end of the play. Jessica ran away with a Christian and his ducats and sold Shylock’s engagement ring. Shylock got spat on and got called names by Christians. He did not even get his penalty from Antonio and had to convert to Christianity.

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Different Ways Of Mercy in Titus Andronicus And The Merchant of Venice

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Mercy in Shakespeare

Throughout Shakespeare’s plays, characters are often presented with opportunities to have mercy on others, but this is not always the case. In both Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice, Tamora and Portia view mercy in different ways yet cannot stay true to them when given the opportunity. Tamora views mercy as a godlike attribute which could have been a ploy to inflate Titus’ ego in an attempt to save her son. Contrastingly Portia sees mercy as a voluntary action made by those in a position of power. Although their views are different, upon denial of their request for mercy, they both go against what they believe in order to get revenge.

Tamora and Portia have different, yet specific ideas on exactly what mercy means and who is capable of it. Tamora’s plea for mercy from Titus is designed to feed his ego so that he can feel even more powerful at this time of triumph. Tamora’s statement of “Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods? / Draw near them then in being merciful” is trying to convey that Titus could become like the gods if he were merciful like them (1.1.17-18). In addition, Tamora shows her belief that mercy is a noble act when she says, “Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge” (1.1.119). However, Portia believes that mercy is more of a voluntary action than a noble one. When she says, “The quality of mercy is not strained” it shows her belief that mercy cannot be forced (4.1.179). In addition, Portia goes on to explain that “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” which means that giving mercy must come and feel natural. If it does not feel this way, then it must be forced, and therefore, the mercy is false. Although most of their ideas about mercy are different, it can be interpreted from their statements about nobility and voluntary action that mercy requires a strong character.

In these plays, Shakespeare shows mercy as an attribute that both sides will have the power to yield. Tamora and Portia plead for mercy when they are powerless and are denied that luxury. This denial sprouts a grudge against Titus and Shylock which is resolved later in the play. Tamora resolves this grudge by killing Titus’ sons. Although she asks, “But must my sons be slaughtered in the streets / For valiant doings in their country’s cause?” she does not provide Titus’ sons the same mercy she pleaded for, even though they are simply being loyal to Titus, just as her sons were loyal to their country (1.1.112-113). Similarly, Portia resolves her grudge when she accuses Shylock of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen, which finally forces him to convert and give everything to Jessica upon his death. Here, Portia could have shown mercy on Shylock for similar reasons as she asked for Antonio. Portia goes directly against her beliefs of mercy simply because Shylock would not afford her the same luxury. Tamora and Portia’s beliefs on mercy seem to only apply when they are the ones in need of help.

Shakespeare provides many opportunities where his characters could show mercy, however, none seem to take them. Tamora and Portia have different views on what mercy is, however, they both seem to backpedal when given the opportunity to put those beliefs into practice. Tamora believes that mercy is an attribute the gods possess and only a noble character can express. Portia sees mercy as more of a voluntary action that must be natural in order to be authentic. Both Portia and Tamora are denied mercy, and therefore, hold a grudge against Titus and Shylock. When given the opportunity to show mercy and adhere to their beliefs, both Tamora and Portia fail. Overall, these characters only believe their statements about mercy when it is convenient for them.

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Gender Roles in The Merchant of Venice

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

16th century men and women were often confined to certain gender roles within society. This was often upheld in literature and plays during this time. Men were portrayed as independent, brave and strong- the heroes of the text, while women were expected to be weak, submissive and vulnerable. Throughout The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare actively appears to challenge these stereotypes that were deeply rooted in Elizabethan society. Throughout this essay I will be discussing how this was achieved and to what extent these roles were challenged.

Shakespeare makes it clear the extent that male dominance has even in Venetian society through the degree of authority Portia’s father continues to hold over her despite his death. One of the first impressions we receive of Portia is that despite her wealth and social standing she is still unable to have control over her own life and choice of suitor. We learn that she is held to her father’s will. ‘O me, the word ‘choose’! I may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father.’ (1.2,22-24) Despite the fact that Belmont is directly implied to be more liberal throughout the play, Portia’s choice remains out of her hands. Her father’s power over her life could be seen as a testament to the control men had on women in this period. The character of Portia appears to be submissive though the above lines have an undercurrent of bitterness towards the predicament she finds herself in.

The role of the submissive woman ties into gender roles of this time. Women were expected to move from their father’s will to their husbands, often portrayed and treated as property. The repetition of the word ‘choose’ really emphasises to the audience as well as the reader Portia’s discontent with the situation and the importance of choices and their effects. In fact, throughout the entirety of this scene the word ‘choose’ is repeated ten times. Our focus being brought back to choice really pulls the idea of Portia’s lack of preference due to her gender to the foreground. This ideal is very fitting with the gender confines of a 16th century woman.

Despite this apparent image of Portia as the acquiescent woman and the casket selection appearing to be a strict stipulation Shakespeare constructs Portia with some wit and clear intelligence. Attributes considered to fit a male gender role. She deciphers a method in which she still can manipulate the situation so that the she can still have some influence over who she marries. ‘Let music sound while he doth make his choice…Let us all ring fancy’s knell I’ll begin it- Ding, Dong, bell. Ding, Dong, bell.’ (3. 2, 43, 69-71) The use of music here adds to the ambience of Belmont that gives it its magical and liberal quality. This ideal that anything could happen- and it is with this music that the character of Portia is able to take some control of the decision-making by giving Bassanio a clue to indicate the correct casket. This is the first step we see as the audience to her challenging societies accepted gender role. As Dusinberre explored in his work Portia’s ‘submission is a garment she wears as gracefully as her disguise.’1 He argues that Portia accepting Bassanio as a husband and appearing to give up any independence is nothing but ‘an act of courtesy’. This is coupled with Shakespeare’s inclusion of wit and humour in Portia’s character give us the impression that there is much more to Portia than the typical stereotype of a wealthy Venetian lady.

Throughout act two scene five Shylock is shown to actively enforce his authority and dominance over Jessica. ‘What, Jessica, I say!’ (2.5,6) Shouting as though she is a servant. Shylock calls for her three times- Shakespeare using a triplet here to draw our attention to Shylock’s authority over Jessica. This is then followed by Jessica’s answer ‘Call you? What is your will?’ (2.5, 10). In this line her character answers expectant of an order. She appears submissive and emotionless. Shylock then proceeding to bark orders at Jessica bears a possessive and bitter undercurrent. ‘Hear you me, Jessica: Lock up my doors;’ (2.5, 27-28) The use of listing as well as a colon before rattling off his commands makes his words and orders the focal point. He does not stop or even allow time for Jessica to speak – nor even accept her duties. It is simply expected. In fact, Jessica only utters three lines in the entire scene. The idea of women being completely under the control of men and what was expected of the 16th century daughter is brought to the contemporary readers/viewers’ attention, while also pushing the male gender as the dominant one to the foreground. Shakespeare is simply continuing on with what society specified however it does seem to indirectly cause us to sympathise for Jessica and therefore understand her elopement.

Despite this at first submissive view of Jessica Shakespeare’s characterisation of her exemplifies the challenge that he portrayed to the role and expectations that were positively reinforced for women in the 16th century. Jessica’s elopement with her lover Lorenzo not only is defying the most prominent male in her life but also society’s expectations. This would have not been a common practice in this time and would have been greatly frowned upon. Daughters were the property of their fathers, just as wives were their husbands. Jessica was actively defying the roles inflicted on women and living by her own free will and agency. ‘I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners.’ (2.3.18-19) These lines really emphasise Jessica’s empowerment and determination. The use of end-stopping between the two halves of the statement directly appears to symbolise the separation she feels between her and her father as well as her, evident distain at her father’s behaviour. Shakespeare constructs a deep undercurrent of strength and opposition to the ‘dominant’ male in her life. The actions and words of Jessica’s character epitomize the challenges Shakespeare has put to expected gender roles and really pushes the boundaries of what was seen to be positive about a 16th century woman. Despite her apparent disregard for what was seen as the right thing to do she is still shown in the best light- the audience is really pulled into viewing her strength and defiance as a positive attribute to her character.

Shakespeare uses crossdressing through The Merchant of Venice to give the women in the play power to do what could otherwise not be done due to the restrictions that came with their gender roles. Despite Jessica’s power and defiance, she has to dress as a page boy to execute her escape from the dominance of Shylock’s household and elope. However, she is portrayed to be embarrassed by this- especially being seen as a boy by her lover. ‘Cupid himself would blush | To see me thus transformed to a boy.’ (2.6, 38-39) The idea of ‘hold[ing] a candle to [her] shames’ (2.6,41) is frightening to her. Shakespeare’s use of metaphorical language here allows the audience to emphasise with Jessica. The idea of holding a light to her disguise and her flaws- but also holding a light to her need to dress as a man to gain any power. Holding a light to societies flaws is perhaps indirectly implied. Beauty and virtue was highly valued as an attribute of women and being around her lover while appearing ‘unattractive’ was humiliating to her. It brings our focus as a modern reader to how intertwined patriarchal ideals must have been in the minds of women of this time. It is interesting that Shakespeare would use becoming male as the only way for Jessica to escape. It ties in with what was possible and praised in men – independence and more choice- something that as a woman her character could not fully execute despite all her determination.

Unlike Jessica, Portia and Nerissa are not represented as at all uneasy. On the contrary they seem rather exited by the concept. ‘That they shall think we are accomplished | With that we lack. […] And wear my dagger with a braver grace’. (3.4,61-62,65) Shakespeare’s use of language here clearly references to that lack of political and social power that women had. Despite Portia’s wit and clear thinking, she would be unable to save Antonio or have a voice in the court room as a woman. The audience sees not a restricted, powerless Portia, agonizing over the possible misfortunes of being wed to ill-complexioned braggarts, but a confident, even cunning Portia. When dressed as men they were able to speak and be taken seriously an allowed a legal voice. Shakespeare is appears to be using these lines to target the inequality that appears to be an undercurrent on these lines. The idea of wearing a dagger with a braver grace perhaps has the metaphorical value of a dagger giving them power and strength that they can ‘wear’ better than any man could in this instance and this reiterated when they are the ones to ‘save the day’ in the courtroom- a job no man could do. The idea of the dagger also connotates quite phallic imagery.

This is quite a clever gender role reversal that Shakespeare uses to not only highlight inequality and sexism- but also undermining the male characters. They appear as helpless and vulnerable, attributes that supposedly belonged to the female gender and are praised in them but looked badly on in men. Portia and Nerissa’s disguise undermines and deconstructs the male hierarchy as they achieve more than Bassanio, Antonio or Shylock are able to achieve within the courtroom. Shakespeare uses the character of Portia to ask the audience to reconsider holding so much value in a socially constructed idea of gender that denies her power despite ability. When Portia continues to expand her plan Nerissa and explain of how they will be succesfully disguiced as men Shakespeare uses her speech to highlight the contrasts between the gender expectations of men and women. ‘turn two mincing steps into a manly stride, and speak of frays like a fine bragging youth, and tell quaint lies, how honorable ladies sought my love, which I denying, they fell sick and died — I could not do withal! Then I’ll repent, and wish, for all that, that I had not killed them; and twenty of these puny lies I’ll tell, that men shall swear I have discontinued school above a twelvemonth. I have within my mind a thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks, which I will practice.’ (3.4.63-78)

Throughout her speech she reiterated attributes that were expected from men and so we could assume the opposite is expected from women. However, she herself portrays many of these attributes throughout The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare may have used this to draw the contemporary audience’s eyes to the similarities between men and women and the lack of clear distinction between what is expected of each role. Portia talks of men using ‘raw tricks’ in a derogatory tone but when the play continues she plays many more tricks on the male characters of the play than any of the men on the women. It appears as though Portia is using her disguise to allow her less ‘feminine’ traits to come to the surface. It must also be considered the complexity of the court room scene that was formulated by Shakespeare. Due to the barre on women acting on the stage all characters would have been played by men. Women would have been played by young boys with unbroken voices. When Portia was in the court room she would have been played by a young boy pretending to be a woman, pretending to a boy with an unbroken voice. This was a trait of most of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies however – this feels as though it has a little more poignancy. It would have brought the audiences focus onto gender roles – perhaps giving Portia’s male like qualities more poignancy.

Shakespeare’s role reversal is furthered through Portia and Nerissa’s trickery of their husbands using their rings. Although both men began appearing dominant they were left grovelling and apologising to the women. ‘Pardon this fault, and by my soul I swear| I never more will break an oath with thee.’ (5.1, 248-249) The rings were used as test of loyalty and assurance with the right to end the commitment should they be misplaced and so Bassanio ignorant to Portia’s trickery is terrified he will lose her and their marriage.

Portia’s language when confronting Bassanio is also very interesting. ‘Mark you but that!| In both my eyes he doubly sees himself, | In each eye one. Swear by your double self,’ (5.1, 244-246) Shakespeare’s use of metaphorical imagery here connotate pictures of a monster like creature which was hinted to in prior to this conversation (3.2, 122-126) of Zeuxis’s portrait of Helen that rather than beauty created a monster like image. The idea of taking all the beautiful aspects of different women to create the perfect one turning into something hideous. Here we see the idea of one’s ‘double’ self being a ‘self-defeating reflection’. Portia is holding on to Bassanio’s admission to being two-faced. The imagery around eyes could also be seen to directly imply a link to ‘an eye for an eye’ in the Old Testament. This ideal of one paying the price for what one has done without mercy. This contrasts with Portia’s speech on mercy in courtroom (4.1, 181-202) and ties more in which Shylock’s attitude towards wrongdoing. This whole ideal of conflict and action is to be expected from male character’s not women and so this also challenges the boundaries of gender roles here.

Throughout The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare explores gender roles and pushes their boundaries in ways other playwrights of this time did not. Not only does it express women’s dependence and submissiveness and lack of agency over their own lives, it also shows the independent gender of men becoming dependent on women. Shakespeare uses cross dressing to emphasise lack of power and language to make not only a contemporary but also a modern audience sympathise and ponder the roles that society have laid out for certain genders. Women are not presented to be vulnerable but rather characters who behave, act and think in a way that did not conform with what was expected in 16th century Elizabethan England. Whilst doing this he also highlighted how men did not always fit the roles they were given challenging the gender roles given by society.

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The Merchant Of Venice Summary: a Brief Play Summary

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Antonio, a Venetian businessperson, whose friend Bassanio is urgently in want of cash to present himself Portia, a rich mistress who lives within the town of Belmont. Bassanio asks Antonio for a loan so as to travel in vogue to Portia’s estate. Antonio accepts but could not find the loan himself because his trade ships that are still at sea. Antonio suggests that Bassanio to get the loan from one among the city’s moneylenders and name Antonio as the loan’s warrantor. In Belmont, Portia is disappointment over her father’s will, that stipulates that she should marry the person who chooses one in all 3 caskets correctly. Not even one contestents are to her liking, and her peeress, Nerissa.

In the city, Antonio and Bassanio consult Shylock, a Jewish money lender, for a loan. Shylock has a long past grudge against Antonio, who has prominently been blowing up Shylock and alternative Jews for his or her usury, lending cash at outrageous rates of interest, and who undermines their business by providing interest-free loans. Shylock acts enjoyably and offers to lend Bassanio 3 thousand ducats with no interest when still Antonio refuses to apologise for his behaviour. Shylock adds, however, if loan go unpaid, Shylock will have the right to have a pound of Antonio’s own flesh. Despite Bassanio’s refusal to the money lender’s conditions, Antonio agrees. In Shylock’s own residence, Shylock’s daughter Jessica schemes to flee with Antonio’s friend Lorenzo. That night, Jessica elopes with Lorenzo by dressing up as his page. after an eve of celebration, Bassanio and his friend Gratiano venice and head to Belmont, where Bassanio intends to win Portia’s hand.

In Belmont, Portia recieves the prince of Morocco, who has come for an attempt to decide on the correct casket to win her. The prince studies the details on the 3 caskets and chooses the gold one, which is an incorrect selection. In Venice, Shylock is furious to find that jessica has run away, however consolidates himself by the undeniable fact that Antonio’s ships are reported to have been sinked and that he will be ready to claim his debt. In Belmont, following the visit of the price of morocco, the prince of Arragon also visits Portia. He, too, studies the casket in a rush and picks the silver one, which is also a bad choice. Bassanio arrives at Portia’s estate, and that he declares his love for her. Despite Portia’s request that he thinks carefully before selecting, Bassanio right away picks the proper casket, that is formed of lead. He and Portia rejoice. One the other hand, Gratiano confesses that he has fallen loving Nerissa. The couples choose a double wedding. Portia gifts Bassanio a ring as a token of love, and makes him swear that under no circumstances can he spare to lose it. They’re joined, unexpectedly, by Lorenzo and Jessica. The celebration, however, is cut short by the news of Antonio losing his ships, and that he can never full fill his bond to Shylock. Bassanio and Gratiano right away travel Venice to try and save Antonio’s life from despair. once they leave, Portia plots with Nerissa to head to Venice disguised as men.

Shylock ignores the numerous pleas to spare Antonio’s life, and an attempt is termed to determine the matter. The duke of Venice, who sits over the trial, claims that he has sent for an expert, who seems to be none other than Portia disguised as a young man of law. Portia asks Shylock to show mercy, however he remains inflexible and insists the pound of flesh is truly his. Bassanio offers Shylock double the cash due him, however Shylock insists on grouping the bond as it is written. Portia examines the contract and, finding it lawfully binding, declares that Shylock is entitled to the merchant’s flesh. Shylock ecstatically praises her knowledge, however as he’s on the verge of collecting his due, Portia reminds him that he should do thus while not inflicting Antonio to bleed, because the contract doesn’t entitle him to any blood. cornered by this logic, Shylock hurriedly agrees to take Bassanio’s cash instead, however Portia insists that Shylock take his bond as written, or nothing the least bit. Portia informs Shylock that he’s guilty of conspiring against the life of a Venetian national, which suggests he should flip over half his property to the state and also the other half to Antonio. The duke spares Shylock’s life and takes a fine rather than Shylock’s property. Antonio additionally forgoes his half Shylock’s wealth on two conditions: first, Shylock should convert to Christianity, and second, he should will the whole lot of his estate to Lorenzo and Jessica when he dies. Shylock agrees and departs the court.

Bassanio, showers the young law clerk with thanks, and is eventually forced into a situation of giving Portia the ring that he was told never to lose. Gratiano provides Nerissa, who is disguised as Portia’s clerk, his ring. the two ladies come to Belmont, where they realize Lorenzo and Jessica declaring their like to one another below the moonlight. once Bassanio and Gratiano arrive the following day, their wives accuse them of treacherously giving their rings to different ladies. Before the deception goes too so much, however, Portia reveals that she was, in fact, the law clerk, and each she and Nerissa reconcile with their husbands. Lorenzo and Jessica are happy to find out of their inheritance from Shylock, and also the joyful news arrives that Antonio’s ships have indeed made it back safely. The party celebrates its fortune by luck.

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Feminism in The Merchant of Venice: Radical Feminist Perspective

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Music sound while he doth make his choice. Let us all ring fancy’s knell I’ll begin it- Ding, Dong, bell. Ding, Dong, bell’.

Apparently, the situation correlates with the comprehensive patriarchy and its power. Portia however, appeared to work against the oppressive agreement she was bound to and chart the itinerary of the selection of her husband. In addition to the creation of a balance in her destiny by manipulating father’s will, both Portia and Nerissa are able to show some means of assurance that they will keep their husbands with the ring test. The concept of loyalty of the Bassanio and Gratiano towards their women exemplified within a ring serves as a form of faithfulness and gives directions to end at the engagement of marriage should such a memento be misplaced. The pledges Bassanio and Gratiano made to Portia and Nerissa respectively in respect to the rings is a strong contract for the women as a legal pact similar to the contract between Shylock and Antonio. When Portia and Nerissa raised alarm to the loss of the rings to Bassanio and Gratiano, they showed signs of panic and bitterness so much as to deny them their love. This illustrates the feministic viewpoint because they were able to use as much circumspection a man could in the gaining and later dismissal of their fiancés.

Feministic values are very prominent in the play The Merchant of Venice, mostly those involving the radical feminist concept of a patriarchal society. The female personas were able to exploit the activity of cross-dressing to accomplish the business they needed so that their lives might be more tolerable while under the control of men within the society. Not all of the personas felt empowered by their action to become men, Jessica developed a sense of shame during her disguise as a man. Portia and Nerissa were able to take control of their future husbands to come up with an equal ground for both couples with the ring test. Portia also even was able to guide the husband selection outcome to suit her interests. The continuous differing tension between the male and female personas in their grapple for dominance over the other indicates that William Shakespeare had a deep and acute knowledge of the dynamism between men and women. Portia understood that gender was the cause of her oppression and had to use radical means to overcome that.

Portia was in a unique territory with her position as a single and wealthy female without a male controlling her. Although she had her father’s will which forbids her choice for marriage, she remains a character with savage autonomy and a stunning sense of self. Portia is typically admired as a feminist in a male-dominated society, although, a contrasting view can also be taken. Portia’s most outstanding moment as an intelligent, successful, rational female is demonstrated in the courtroom scene when she dressed as a man. Portia had to dress like a man in order to speak in the courtroom. Female lawyers were not allowed in the courtroom by the Venetian court system, and also there were no educational institutions in place that allowed this. However, Portia as a female took it upon herself to ‘fix’ the difficulties the men could not fix, taking no credit. William Shakespeare portrays Portia as intelligent and cunning and does not show similar characteristics of other female characters. It is difficult to characterize her, as a feminist because her future was firmly in the control of the patriarchal system, and therefore she manipulated the system for her own self-interest instead of fighting it.

Portia could be labeled a radical feminist, she believed their oppression was exclusively based on their gender and its manifestation as inferior. Radical feminism seems to the most suited Portia’s character. She referred to herself as, “lord of this fair mansion, master of my servants” instead of lady and mistress, putting into consideration the gendered differences. Portia understands she cannot be in charge of her family as a lady because that means there remains a lord. After her father’s death, Portia was in control, and to be in full control she must be the ‘Lord’. Nevertheless, she is only ‘radical’ in that she knew that her gender was the source of her oppression. Portia didn’t appear as an individual looking to fight against the Venice culture or the female cause, she rather set to fight against her own personal oppression. However, the play can be classified as because Portia was the beneficiary at the expense of her father’s desires.

She successfully manipulated those around her at the end of the play with more independence than in the beginning. At the end of Act III, Portia and Nerissa appeared in the courtroom dressed like male lawyers in defense of Antonio, Portia used her skill to turn the tables and made Shylock the victim. Portia knew that Shylock was on the right by demanding to cut Antonio’s pound of flesh but she was also aware that the law stipulated that if someone attempted to end a Venetian’s life, his property would be confiscated. Portia brilliantly twisted the case in favor of Antonio. Portia absorbed Shylock’s wealth, whereas Antonio was set free. The play, the Merchant of Venice depicts women’s intelligence over the actions of the males. Although the play presents Venice as a male-dominated society, the actions of the women characters turn out to be superior to those of the male characters. Portia and Nerissa were able to take control of their future husbands to come up with an equal ground for both couples with the ring test. By absorbing Shylock’s wealth, Portia was able to increase her riches and remain sovereign over her inheritance. She began the play as a prisoner of her father’s will, and at the end, she turned out to independent as she could. She was able to change her destiny and fate despite all the obstacles put ahead of her by her father. She was able to guide Bassanio to pick the correct contrary to her father’s will. Portia could claim to be the unrivaled merchant at the end of the play and the true Merchant of Venice.

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Formalistic, Sociological, And Psychological Analysis Of The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

If you give something out of care, someone will also care for you. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is an inspiring play that gives spectators a lesson timely needed. The play is about a young, penny-less man, Bossanio and his merchant friend, Antonio. The play shows a magnificent story of friendships and how they fought side by side against all odds without shedding blood. It also disports idea that, when you have a true friend, you know you can have someone whom you can lean on in terms of problems and needs. But also the Merchant of Venice introduced a love affection that even a long period of time couldn’t vanquish. The Merchant of Venice shows an image of a love that cannot be cover by gold or silver. The Merchant of Venice was played using a very lightful word and of course very rhyming that it somehow can make the spectator’s feet thump.

The Merchant of Venice is considered a comedy play despite the fact that it is out of the league of its author style. William Shakespeare – a renowned English poet, playwright, actor, and also an award-winning writer and is known for writing tragic plays and disconsolate sonnets- portrayed Merchant of Venice in an outright point of view. William Shakespeare gives justice to the play by displaying an effective scene and character to employ the rightful message the spectator could have. Most probably, William Shakespeare wants the spectators to understand the Merchant of Venice in an evenhanded perspective. William Shakespeare was born in England at Stratford-upon-Avon in early 1564. At the early age, William Shakespeare got married to Anne Hathaway and begat three children. William Shakespeare, around 1585 to 1592, began his writing career which results to 38 plays and 154 sonnets and until now his writings are still widely cherished.

This paper will analyze the play in three different perspectives to unmask the beauty and fully understand the message being implied in the Merchant of Venice. Firstly, the critics will refine the themes that give meaning to the play using a Formalistic Approach. A “Formalism”, as the name implies, is an interpretive approach that emphasizes literary form and the study of literary devices within the text. Also as cited by Robert Penn Warren (1935), that a literature is a valid source of knowledge that cannot be communicated in terms other than its own which gives us the idea that a literary piece should be analyzed on how it was written through the use of lexical items and the author’s writing style. Secondly, the critic will assay the Merchant of Venice using a Sociological Approach to disclose some sociological issues being displayed. A Sociological Approach, according to Edmond Cros (2003), is a literary criticism directed to understanding literature in its larger social context; it codifies the literary strategies that are employed to represent social constructs through a sociological methodology. Furthermore, this approach examines literature in the cultural, economic and political context in which it is written or received, exploring the relationships between the artist and society. And lastly, the critic will anatomize the Merchant of Venice in a Psychological Approach to count some mental attributes of the protagonist. A Psychological Approach, according to James George (2011), is a unique form of criticism in that it draws upon psychological theories in its interpretation of a text. Furthermore, Sigmund Freud’s (1856) Psychoanalysis Theory, that events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality, was also the bedrock of this type of literary criticism. With the use of this three approaches, the critic can scrutinize the play Merchant of Venice and provide ample evidence that the play is wonderful.

The Merchant of Venice has a lot of themes which effectively disport the meaning of the play and gives valuable lessons that spectators could learn from. The themes present in the Merchant of Venice could be narrowed down into three subjects; equality, truthfulness, and vengeance. First, a theme of equality, “Do unto others what you want them to do to you”. In the play, Antonio was so humble and help Bossanio even it cause him his own flesh. Antonio sacrificed his own self to help his beloved friend. In return, when Antonio was in the peak of death, Bossanio stood beside him and help him to escape the bitterness he could face. Bossanio even sacrifices the ring his wife gave him to repay the freedom of Antonio. In a formalistic analysis, the critics could put into words that what Antonio did for Bossanio, Bossanio also did the same.

Secondly, the theme of truthfulness, “No gold nor silver can cover the purity and strength of a lead”. In the play, when Portia was picking a groom, she let them choose caskets made of gold, silver, and lead. Portia was witty to put the right answer to the least valuable casket, the lead, which happens to be the one Bassanio choose. In a formalistic analysis, the critics could assay that Bassanio’s feeling towards Portia was pure and cannot be influenced by those gold and silver. Lastly, the theme for vengeance, “Vengeance is not our”. In the story, Shylot, the Jew, wanted to take revenge for what Antonio splutter about him. Shylot wants to even hand Antonio for insulting and badmouthing him for how many years by putting Antonio in a bound of flesh if he failed to pay his debt. In a formalistic analysis, the critic could define that Shylot was full of resentment towards Antonio to end up asking his heart for a pay. But at the end of the play, it was Shylot who suffer from the consequences of his own bad acts. The Merchant of Venice, though considers as comedy, display an image of social issues. One evident social issue in the Merchant of Venice is discrimination. According to the study, racial discrimination” is the action or behavior that results in unequal treatment of an individual based on membership of the racial or ethnic group. In the play, at that time there was racism struggle between Jews and Christians.

In a sociological analysis, the critics can say that Jews must have been treated unfairly that make them do foolish things. In the play, as being surrounded by Christians, Shylot the Jew endures all the discrimination of the Christian towards him particularly Antonio. Most probably, Shylot has been oppressed long enough to plot revenge towards Antonio. Shylot then has his reason to do that, but sad to say at the end of the story, he never has that sweet revenge instead he was bullied in court and they turned him into Christian. The Merchant of Venice introduces its character in different personalities that give justice to the story by portraying their role rightfully. The story gives three main characters; Antonio, Bassanio, and Portia. In the Psychological analysis, the critic will anatomize the different personality of the different protagonist. First, Antonio, as showed in the play, he is kind and very considerate towards his friend Bassanio. However, it was also shown in the play that Antonio also possessed the negative attitude, particularly with Shylot. Antonio is very unfair with Shylot a badmouthing him. In a psychological analysis, the critic can say that Antonio is a phlegmatic person since he is calm and considerate. Second, Bossanio, he is portrayed as a person who loves adventure and is pure in hearts.

In the play, he showed his adventurous attitude when he chooses to travel and find his love. And he also won the heart of Portia because of his pure characteristic. In a psychological analysis, the critic could assay that Bossanio is a sanguine person since he is expressive and he loves to find himself traveling and find adventure. Lastly, Portia, she is introduce in the play as a person who want something just rightful. In the play, before she choose her husband, she let them first choose from the three caskets that symbolizes their feelings toward her. In a psychological analysis, the critic could put into words, that Portia is a melancholic person since is a little to perfection. Merchant of Venice is an inspiring play written by William Shakespeares and is widely loved by many people for its wonderful plot.

In this paper, the play was analyzed from three perspectives: formalistic, sociological, and psychological. The play was portrayed in the light mood to help spectators understand the meaning and lesson of the story. The critic could assay that planning for revenge is not a good idea and it can only lead you to destruction. A friendly reminder from the critic, talking too much can ruin your reputation but talking less can preserve your dignity.

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Shylock’s Hatred in The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Shylock’s character in William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice is essentially evil; he is meant to be hated by the reader. He is portrayed as a devil-like being throughout the entire play, someone purely just evil. However, it can be argued that maybe Shylock’s behavior and his personality is justified. It can be said that he is just a sad man who later became angry.

It is clear throughout the play that Shylock is hated by the Venetian society. He is hated by the same city he calls home. Shylock plays the role of a Jewish moneylender in the play. When Antonio visits Shylock to ask for a loan, Shylock reminds Antonio, “You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog, and spet upon my Jewish gaberdine…’Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last, you spurned me such a day; another time you called me dog; and for these courtesies I’ll lend you this much moneys’? “. However, Antonio does not seem to care, “I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too”. He says he would do it again. This remark makes it clear how he is looked down upon by the society he lives in; he has been spat on, called harsh names toward himself and his Jewish community. Shylock ’s own daughter, Jessica, elopes with a Christian man that she’s in love with. She abandons her father and later also converts to Christianity. Shylock is hated for his faith, the culture he follows, and his occupation as a moneylender. He is also abandoned by his own daughter. He can be seen as someone who has been wronged and a father who has lost his daughter. He just desires to be appreciated and accepted for who he is. Shylock is often humiliated for his occupation as a Jewish moneylender who gives loans with an interest. Most of Shylock’s wealth is also taken away by the court towards the end of the play. He is even forced to convert to Christianity against his will.

Shylock’s hatred can be seen as justified. Shylock’s alienation from society and being seen as an outsider is what creates sympathy in the reader for him. The discrimination he faces victimizes him and creates sympathy for his character, making him seem more human than how he is actually portrayed. However, I do agree that it is hard to pity Shylock entirely. His behavior and interactions with other characters are often very rude. He makes no effort to try and get on well with his peers. For example, he demands a pound of Bassanio’s flesh if he is unable to pay back his loan, which he obviously is aware that this will kill him. Demanding such a thing is already is so immoral and malevolent of him. When Bassanio invites him to dinner, Shylock responds by saying that “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you”. Outside of professionals interactions, he refuses to interact with any Christian for any other reason, especially in personal settings. Shylock also behaves very rudely with his servant and daughter as well.

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A Description Of Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Merchant of Venice portrays a Jewish man named, Shylock, and his struggles over constant abuse and mistreatment in a Renaissance era Venice. Prejudice against marginalised groups often ignites a long lasting feud, which in turn can lead to suffering and possibly violence. The Merchant of Venice clearly shows the effect of prejudice being held against Shylock and the desire for revenge that he has. Racism plays a big role in his motivation and is obviously seen to be the only cause for his acts. Without prejudice, none of the acts shown in the Merchant of Venice would have happened. The role that prejudice plays is seen when: Shylock wishes to murder Antonio without mercy or remorse and how Shylock becomes drunk with power during the trial.

Racism against Shylock is the main motivation for his actions exhibited in the play. Throughout the play Shylock is treated as a second class citizen and is spat upon by Christians. After treatment like this, presumed to be ongoing through his entire life, he would definitely be willing to take ‘justice’ upon those who have wronged him. In one scene Shylock says”My deeds upon my head! I crave the law. The penalty and forfeit of my bond.” In this phrase it has become apparent that Shylock has been mistreated so harshly that he does not fear the afterlife and only wishes for revenge. Secondly, he remarks “An oath, an oath, I have an oath in heaven. Shall I lay perjury upon my soul? No, not for Venice.” He claims that his actions are justified in heaven and he would be disobeying it if he did not carry them out. This statement would be said by someone that has suffered a great deal of abuse. This is further emphasised when he says, “I have possessed your grace of what I purpose, and by our holy Sabbath have I sworn to have the due and forfeit of my bond.” He again states his hate for Antonio (and his actions against him) when he plainly states-without any remorse or alluding to something else: “Hates any man the thing he would not kill?” Simply he said, would a man not want to kill something he hates? This clearly shows how the racist and xenophobic actions can start a cruel and merciless feud between two groups.

Shylock becoming ‘drunk’ with power during the trial alludes to how much hate and thirst for revenge that he has, due to racism against him, shows the effect prejudice has. In the trial Shylock has moments where he is appears intoxicated by his newfound power even going as far as mentally torturing Antonio with ‘death threats’. The first of his many ‘threats’ involves him comparing Antonio’s flesh with a slave. Shylock says, “Many of you own slaves, which—like your donkeys and dogs and mules—you use to perform awful jobs just because you bought them. Should I say to you, “Set them free! Let them marry your children! Why are you making them work so hard? Let their beds be as soft as yours, and let them eat the same food as you”? No, you’d answer, “The slaves are ours.” And that’s just how I’m answering you.” He says Antonio’s flesh is his property that he ‘bought’ and it is what he deserves, no matter what. Another moment where he shows his power is when he is caught sharpening a knife on his shoe, Bassanio asks why he sharpens it so eagerly, Shylock then replies “To cut the forfeiture from that bankrupt there.” He says it in a fashion that is almost mocking him for his fate. Any person who mocks someone who is potentially going to die, definitely loathes that person. If someone were to tease someone for having cancer, would you not think that there has been a long lasting quarrel between them? These moments of intoxication show the hate and suffering that is a result of a long history of racial abuse.

As seen by the events in The Merchant of Venice, one can see the toll that racism has on an individual. The consequences of prejudice can be seen when: Shylock unrelentingly wishes to murder Antonio and how his thirst for revenge simply makes him drunk with power or even to an extent, on the verge on megalomania. Imagine the effects racism would have over an entire group, over hundreds of years.

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Trade And Religion Issues in Merchant of Venice

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Explore and analyse the ways in which ideas and language often associated with trade and religion are used by William Shakespeare in the early scenes of his play ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

The trades first apparent in the early scenes of The Merchant of Venice begin with Antonio and Bassanio’s relationship. In effect, Antonio buys his time with the man he loves, who uses this money in turn for a very different trade, yet one very much concerned with ‘love’ on the surface. Money is at the heart of most physical trades, as it is in this and also the most obvious trade in the play: Antonio borrowing money from Shylock, a Jew, the price if not returned being ‘a pound of flesh’. Marriage is considered a trade, Portia being the prize of this – to decide her husband is the test of three chests, each of which determine the true value of a man – and a relationship with God is to some extent seen as a trade. Shylock, simply by being a Jew, has traded his life for one of sufferance and hatred by following Jewish teachings, and Antonio is bound by both the restraints of law and religion in his pursuit of Bassanio.

This play is set during the Elizabethan era, although not in London, it is focused around Venice which mirrored England’s capital at this time. Shakespeare did this so that he could draw upon direct parallels and criticise or highlight ways of life without it seeming too direct to the audience – much like the idea of a morality play, it teaches a lesson, though it is hidden within the story. Trade is extremely important in Elizabethan life (and in Venice) as it is the only means of requiring certain materials, herbs, spices and products, which make it vital to the people and provide them with income. However, it can also be a gamble, as ships were often lost at sea to ‘flats’ and ‘dangerous rocks’ or raided by pirates, so their profits very much relied on luck. Where the play is set, Jewish people were atrociously segregated, forced to live in ghettos and obey rules of curfew – the Christians hated them, and would treat them harshly because of their differing views. Tensions were high between the races, especially seeing as Rodrigo Lopez, believed to be a hidden Jew, was accused of trying to poison the Queen Elizabeth.

Firstly, Shakespeare presents Antonio and Bassanio’s relationship. The play begins with Antonio who is very sad, yet claims ‘I know not why’. This is immediately revealed as untrue, when his good friend Bassanio arrives and he immediately asks about the ‘lady… to who [he] swore a secret pilgrimage’, revealing that Bassanio’s conquest for Portia has played heavily on his mind. As the first scene progresses, the audience is shown the relationship between these two gentlemen – arguably presented as a very one-sided one. While Antonio inputs money to fund Bassanio’s quest, Bassanio admits ‘I owe the most in money and in love’, proving he gives little of either. This example of unfair trade reflects how it is defined by greed, or the pursuit of profit. Here Bassanio manages to profit greatly from his relationship with Antonio, as Shakespeare is exploring the idea of relationships being harsh trades at heart: people use one another to get what they desire. Bassanio needs Antonio’s money to chase after Portia, though his real reasoning behind this move is the wealth of the ‘richly left’ lady. This is shown as his true desire as he mentions this before any other qualities. Antonio is bound by the restraints of religion, however, and must trade his love for eternal life with God by obeying his teachings – at this time homosexuality was illegal and unholy. Yet from this seemingly unfair trade with Bassanio, Antonio does get to spend time with the man he loves; he also trades his own affections for Bassanio’s happiness – despite his ‘eye being big with tears’. Sacrifice such as this is a trade without profit, which Shakespeare proves to be very rare in the world.

Portia’s father has died, though he has devised a test to determine a worthy husband for his child. There are three chests, gold, silver and ‘base lead’; the suitor must choose which they think contains the picture of Portia. Hence she is bound by flesh and blood, as she must obey her father’s instructions and be sold off to whoever took the chest of lead. Nerissa is her lady in waiting, a respected servant who offers advice to her mistress, yet in return for that she is paid. Family is a major focus on trade, as daughters are traded to suitable matches along with dowries, and even in religious context it is considered a sin to betray your flesh and blood. Her hair is, at one point, described as a ‘golden fleece’ creating a classical allusion to the tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece, where requiring this object is necessary to gain his rightful kingdom. In this way, Portia is presented as little more than an object of trade, and the fact she cannot choose her own husband shows how she cannot negotiate in this trade. Although a key involvement in trade throughout the play, Shakespeare presents her merely as an object to acquire – the profit of choosing correctly, bound by the relationship between her and her father. The suitors each try to win her, such as the Prince of Morocco falling for gold which ‘many men desire’, and that of Arragon fooled by silver and ‘as much as he deserves’. The test teaches that to trade for her, they must be willing to offer all or ‘hazard all’, rather than seek to profit from her. The other two caskets speak of gain, whereas this one is centred around giving – seemingly an isolated action in these times. Shakespeare shows this type of selfless trade as very rare, and uses the caskets to show this very moral point.

Shylock is the subject of a lot of anti-Semitic hatred and abuse by the Christians in this play – they ‘spit upon [his] Jewish gaberdine’ and ‘foot [him]’ like a dog, and Antonio himself is seen to ‘void his rheum’ on Shylock. This highlights religion as a trade – he must endure all of this in return for his beliefs. Yet his relationship with Antonio is by far the worst of all – they have a deep hatred of one another, and Antonio is forced to come to his enemy for help in order to aid Bassanio (once again showing how great his love for this character is). Shylock is a usurer, a practice banned by Christians involving the lending and reclaiming of money, so like Antonio trade is central in his life. His daughter, Jessica, is bound to him by the tie of ‘family’, though this bond is broken early in the play. She leaves him for a Christian, Lorenzo, therefore disrupting her links of both a familiar and religious nature. When he discovers her disappearance, Solanio describes his passion as ‘confused’, for he was unsure whether to worry more about his money or his child: ‘O my ducats! O my daughter!’ This account may be exaggerated due to the hatred of Jews, but if it is true, it shows that Shylock, at least on the surface, cares more for his earnings than for Jessica. She has betrayed his religion and gone against the bonds of family, breaking two metaphorical ideas of trade by running away. Not only has he lost his wife and his servant, he has now lost his child – in life Shylock appears to have made a loss in profits, and as trade is all he knows, he is determined to reclaim his losses. Shakespeare presents the idea that when dealing with trade, it is possible for it to consume one’s life – then everything becomes a matter of profiting from one’s actions. Although not looking to better his life here, he has lost nearly all he has, and will therefore be very desperate to recover. However, despite being defined by trade, Shylock still is a very human character – ‘if you prick us, do we not bleed?’

There are two main trades which the play is set around. Firstly, between Antonio and Shylock. If these three thousand borrowed ducats are not returned, then Shylock is permitted ‘a pound of flesh’ from his enemy – a legal way of killing someone. Shylock has been mistreated and abused by the Christians due to his faith, and he tells Salarino ‘if a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge’. For him this is not an unfair trade, despite not making any financial profit, he gets the revenge he always desired. Antonio receives the money he needs to make the love of his life happy, proving that both make more of an emotional gain than a physical one from their deal. Shakespeare uses this to reveal the depth of trade – on the surface it can appear one-sided, or about money, but beneath that there are other profits and losses to be had. As Venice is used to symbolise London, this is used to identify how trade becomes a way of life and most actions of life are in trade. Much as one’s religion will define them, the constant desire to better or to gain will also. In this way both are very similar and very powerful. Secondly, Portia is involved in physical trade, through the casket test. Whoever successfully completes the test wins her, though many fall by seeking profit through the dowry. Her father ensures only a good man will marry her as the poor suitors are distracted by the wealth, without seeing the metaphorical wealth they will acquire in Portia. Shakespeare’s design of the casket test, although failing with Bassanio, is meant to question the reason behind a decision (such as choosing someone to marry) and whether it is truly as people claim. It is crafted to teach those seeking to gain, whom the play is revolved around, that to give can often bring greater rewards.

In conclusion, Shakespeare shows that trade is often much more than the physical examples shown – trade is at the heart of every human action, and gain is often the desire. Where some seek ‘as much as [they] deserve’, and others ‘what many men’ want, Shakespeare suggests that one must value the true prizes in life over materialistic goods, or they will never truly gain. Such is shown by the test of the caskets. Referring to religion, faith appears to be both positive and negative – while intending to lead men on good, kind lives it simultaneously causes tension, segregation and abuse where views differ. Shylock is heavily driven by his religion, and being different to Antonio, the rivalry between them grows to enmity. If not for this there would be no need for the ‘pound of flesh’ trade, which represents the hatred and lust for revenge in this Jewish character. Religion also binds Antonio from freely acting out of love for Bassanio, as does society, proving that although faith is a good thing, where two ideas contradict it can create terrible circumstances.

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