‘The Merchant of Venice*’ Revision Notes. Themes in the play. Justice versus Mercy Mainly seen in Act four, scene one. Shylock is repeatedly asked to show mercy but instead focuses on justice / revenge. Is he right?
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Themes in the play • Justice versus Mercy • Mainly seen in Act four, scene one. • Shylock is repeatedly asked to show mercy but instead focuses on justice / revenge. Is he right? • The Christians / Elizabethans believe mercy is a divine trait. They both believe they ‘save’ Shylock in the end. Is this true? • Portia is merciless in her administration of the law – to Antonio and Shylock. Is she objective?
Why do the Christians hate the Jews? • The killing of Christ. If they did not convert then they could not be ‘saved.’ • The stereotype of a Jew. In medieval times it was rumoured that Jews killed children and drank blood. Ritual sacrifice is hinted at in Act Four, scene one. • The practice of usury. Money-lending was an unpopular profession.
Themes in the play 2. Money as a motivating factor • Seen in the love and ‘bond’ plot of the play. Bassanio needs money to woo Portia; lack of it puts Antonio in Shylock’s power. • Attitudes to money differ: both merchants view it differently (one gives it away while the other is greedy for it - usury seen as morally wrong), Jessica and Bassanio waste it, it does not make Antonio / Portia happy. • Bassanio is not taken in by material wealth in the casket test. • Portia (the ‘Golden Fleece’) gives away her wealth for love. Shylock prefers his ducats to his daughter.
Themes in the play 3. Love, marriage and friendship • Portia plays the stereotypical role of an Elizabethan woman, dutiful to her father / husband and giving up all she has. • Antonio shows platonic love for Bassanio – he is prepared to give up his life for him. • The play shows the triumph of love / friendship over greed. Shylock hates Antonio because of his business practice, it stops his profit. Act four, scene one shows the extent of his greed.
Characters – Shylock* • His main traits are his: focus on money / greed, hatred of Christians, pride in being Jewish, his cunning and inflexibility. • Our attitude to him varies – dislike his hatred for Antonio, feel pity / sorry for his treatment by Antonio / Portia, surprises us with his offer of friendship, we dislike his attitude towards Jessica compared to his love for money. • His famous “if you prick us…” (Act Three, scene one) speech evokes sympathy but then revulsion as he uses it to justify revenge.
Characters - Shylock • The trial scene shows him at his worst – unbending and obsessive. He savours revenge, exposes Christian hypocrisy and dismisses all talk of mercy. • Meets his match in Portia – Elizabethans would have been happy with the end as they would have believed a sort of mercy is given him. • Not the stereotypical Jew seen in ‘The Jew of Malta’ (Marlowe); Shakespeare gives Shylock more human feelings – he is a paradox, simultaneously a “bloodthirsty wolf” and a victim.
Antonio Sad, unselfish and generous. Shows ideals of love and friendship and how far this can go. Contrasts Shylock’s greed. Anti-Semitic?; calls Shylock “cur,” “dog” and spits on him, but does not take a share of Shylock’s estate at the end. Does however force him to convert to Christianity (‘saving’ him?) Portia Shown as a prize to be won – smart / beautiful. Typical Elizabethan woman. Defers to her father / husband, but also teaches the latter a lesson. Quick to act for Bassanio. Used to present the idea of mercy, but does she really show it? Ruthless / clever in dealing with Shylock. Characters
What do the critics say? • ‘Jewish revenge is at least as good as Christian injuries.’ (Hazlitt) • Shylock is a good hater; “a man no less sinned against than sinning.” (Coleridge) • ‘Shylock has strong grounds for the lodged hate he bears Antonio.’ (Hazlitt) • ‘…we can hardly help sympathising with the proud spirit…stung to madness by repeated undeserved provocations.’ (Hazlitt) • ‘…we pity him, and think him hardly dealt with by his judges.’ (Hazlitt)
What do the critics say? • The play was ‘designed tragically’ by the author, not as a comedy (Rowe) • Greater sympathy emerged for Shylock in the 1800’s as religious freedom spread. • These days Shylock’s ‘jewishness’ is either emphasised (showing anti-Semitism) or ignored in favour of him being a businessman before a Jew.
Act One, scene one: “I know not why I am so sad.” “In Belmont there is a lady richly left.” Act One, scene three: why Shylock hates Antonio – how Shylock has been treated. Act Three, scene one: “To bait fish withal…Hath not a Jew eyes?” Act Three, scene three: Shylock shows his victimisation / motivation. Act Four, scene one: Shylock shows no mercy or gives no reason for his hatred. On the verge of cutting Antonio, Portia defeats Shylock who loses his money and has to convert to Christianity. Key scenes in the play
Key Quotations • “I am as like to call thee so again, / To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.” (1,3 A) • “I do oppose / My patience to his fury, and am arm'd / To suffer, with a quietness of spirit, / The very tyranny and rage of his.” (4,1 A) • “I pray you, think you question with the Jew:… You may as well use question with the wolf.” (4, 1 A) • “In Belmont is a lady richly left; / And she is fair, and, fairer than that word, / Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes / I did receive fair speechless messages:… and her sunny locks / Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;” (1,1 B)
“But mercy is above this sceptred sway; / It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, / It is an attribute to God himself;” (4,1 P) • “Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh; / But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed / One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods / Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate / Unto the state of Venice.” (4,1 P) • “How like a fawning publican he looks! / I hate him for he is a Christian,…He lends out money gratis and brings down / The rate of usance here with us in Venice. / If I can catch him once upon the hip, / I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. / He hates our sacred nation.” (S 1,3)
“Signior Antonio, many a time and oft / In the Rialto you have rated me / About my moneys and my usances: / Still have I borne it with a patient shrug, / For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. / You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, / And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine…,” (1,3 S) • “To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, / it will feed my revenge. 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 my friends, heated mine / enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath / not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, / dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with / the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject / to the same diseases, healed by the same means, / warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as / a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? / if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison / us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not / revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will / resemble you in that. 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 villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I / will better the instruction.” (3,1 S) • “I'll have my bond; speak not against my bond: / I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond. / Thou call'dst me dog before thou hadst a cause; / But, since I am a dog, beware my fangs…” (3, 3 S) • “for thy desires / Are wolvish, bloody, starved and ravenous.” (4,1 G)