The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
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Date Added: 2001-01-31
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The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare
This play is a love story set against a background of religious conflict. On the one side we have Shylock the Jew who represents Old testament law, and on the other side we have Antonio who represents the New testament exemplified by Mercy which is above the law. Shylock is a fundamentalist; he believes absolutely in the process of law with his rigid Jewish faith. He is a money lender, but more than this, due to his trade his life centres around money. It is his God. He has a beautiful Daughter who falls in love with a Christian; even then he thinks only of his money and when she elopes he cries 'O my daughter, O my ducats' yet he has driven her into Christian arms. At one point he wishes her dead at his feet. Shylock also pleads that he is no different from other men 'if you prick us do we not bleed ?' 'hath not a jew eyes ? but a person is not just flesh and blood. Shylock lends Antonio money against one pound of his flesh should he fail to pay back. Antonio cannot pay and the jew demands his bond. Later he is offered far more than he lent but he stubbonly refuses to budge for he is bent on revenge. After the great quality of mercy speech he is still unmoved and then the young judge (Portia in disguise) agrees he must have his bond. A Daniel he cries, but she then insists on the strict letter of the law and points out the bond makes no mention of blood being spilt. So on insisting on the law he has been tripped up by the law. Those who insist on the law will be judged by the law, this all emphasizes the contrast between the old testament and the new testament teaching. Shylock is beaten but Antonio shows him mercy in his defeat providing he becomes a Christian.
Here we have a moral tale in unparalleled poetic expression, it tells us that we must hold tolerance and mercy above all other human qualities. They become a king better than his crown they are attributes of God himself. Here Shakespeare gets to the very nub of christian thought, he is not concerned with theology or belief but with 'do unto others as you would be done by '. Like all Shakespeare it can be enjoyed just for the poetry and many passages are complete in themselves without any knowledge of the plot. So I must take the liberty of whetting your appetite by quoting a few. If you don't read the whole play dip into some of the gems.
'I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.' Shylock when he learns Jessica his daughter has given a ring she eloped with for a monkey.
'Look how the floor of heaven, Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold,' 'For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.'