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Justice & Mercy. Benedict Tan (2) Darren Low (3) Teo Mingjie (21) John Yap (23) Zach Lim (25). Introduction. The theme of Justice and Mercy can be seen mainly in Act 4, Scene 1 These 2 are often compared by each other

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Justice mercy

Justice & Mercy

Benedict Tan (2)

Darren Low (3)

Teo Mingjie (21)

John Yap (23)

Zach Lim (25)


  • The theme of Justice and Mercy can be seen mainly in Act 4, Scene 1

  • These 2 are often compared by each other

  • Since Justice is usually defined by the Law, there is a need too to analyse how the Law plays a role in the Merchant of Venice


  • Right and fair (legally?) behaviour of treatment

  • “Acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good”

  • “Guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness”

  • “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartialadjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

The law
The Law

  • A system of rules society develops to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships

  • “A rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority” - Britannica

  • “The whole system of rules that everybody in a country or society must obey” - OED

Justice the law
Justice & the Law

  • “Justice! Find the girl! She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats!” (II, viii, 21-22)

  • “The Duke shall grant me justice.” (III, iii, 8)

  • “My deeds upon my head! I crave the law...” (IV, I, 205)

  • “I charge you by the law,/ Whereof you have been a well-deserving pillar,/ Proceed to judgement” (IV, I, 237-239)

  • Shylock repeatedly expresses desire for justice, using Venetian law as a tool for revenge

  • He is the representative of strict justice: one that it merciless and based on power and retribution


  • Choosing not to harm someone you have power over

  • Forgiving someone you have the right to punish

  • “Compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power; compassion, pity, or benevolence” – Dictionary.com


  • “Then must the Jew be merciful.” (IV, i, 182)

  • “Be merciful;/ take thrice the money, bid me tear the bond.” (IV, i, 232-233)

  • “’Twere good you do so for charity.” (IV, i, 260)

  • Portia here seems to be the representative of mercy, delivering a speech that extols this value as well as other Christian values

Condemnatory vs redeeming
Condemnatory vs. Redeeming

  • “To mitigate the justice of thy plea, Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice/ Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.” (IV, i, 202-204)

  • The law (the bond) condemns Antonio to die but mercy would redeem him

  • “That thou should see the difference of our spirit, I pardon thee thy life before thou ask it.” (IV, i, 367-368)

  • “What mercy can you render him, Antonio?” (IV, i, 377)

  • The Duke (and later Antonio) both show mercy to Shylock, redeeming him despite of his deeds

Condemnatory vs redeeming1
Condemnatory vs. Redeeming

  • “That in the course of justice none of us/ Should see salvation.” (IV, I, 198-199)

  • Justice, if strictly followed, would condemn all humanity as well

  • “We do all pray for mercy,/ And that same prayer doth teach us all to render/ The deeds of mercy.” (IV, I, 199-201)

  • Mercy, however, redeems us (contrast of New Testament teachings to Old Testament’s “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”)

Rigid vs flexible
Rigid vs. Flexible

  • “O be thou damned, inexcreable dog,/ And for thy life let justice be accused!” (IV, i, 128-129)

  • “And I beseech you,/ Wrest once the law to your authority./ To do a great right do a little wrong,/ And curb this cruel devil of his will.” (IV, i, 213-216)

  • Gratiano and Bassanio both plead for the law to be bent slightly to release Antonio from his fate

Rigid vs flexible1
Rigid vs. Flexible

  • “There is no power in Venice/ Can alter a decree established./ ‘Twill be recorded as a precedent,/ And many an error by the same example/ Will rush into the state. It cannot be.” (IV, i, 217-221)

  • “And that no lawful means can carry me/ Out of envy’s reach” (IV, i, 9-10)

  • “The Duke cannot deny the course of law” (III, iii, 26)

  • The law cannot be changed, it is strict and inflexible, as any bending of the law will create a precedent for others later

Rigid vs flexible2
Rigid vs. Flexible

  • “The quality of mercy is not strained;/ It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath.” (IV, i, 183-185)

  • “That thou should see the difference of our spirit, I pardon thee thy life before thou ask it.” (IV, i, 367-368) (Contrast to: “How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?” (IV, i, 89))

  • Mercy is compassionate (“not strained”) and does not treat us according to what we deserve

Earthly vs divine
Earthly vs. Divine

  • “His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,/ The attribute to awe and majesty,/ Wherein doth sit in the dread and fear of kings.” (IV, i, 189-191)

  • “It is an attribute to God himself;/ And earthly power doth then show likest God’s/ When mercy seasons justice.” (IV, i, 194-196)

  • Contrast again between the strict laws in the OT and the mercy taught in the NT. The comparison here can further be extended to Jews (Shylock) and Christians

One sided vs mutually beneficial
One-sided vs. Mutually beneficial

  • Since justice condemns, it is obvious that there is a winner and a loser

  • “It is twice blest;/ It blesseth him that gives and him than takes.” (IV, i, 185-186)

  • Mercy, however, is reciprocal and mutually beneficial

  • “The brain may devise/ laws for the blood, But a hot temper leaps over a cold/ decree” (I, ii, 16-19)

  • Ultimately, justice should be seasoned with mercy

Shylock s fate
Shylock’s fate

  • By urging justice (dispensed strictly and by power and retribution) and following the law strictly to the letter (“I cannot find it, ‘tis not in the bond”), Shylock ultimately sets the ground for Portia’s rebuttal

  • Finding a loophole in the “pound of flesh”, she prevents Shylock from taking the bond

  • A further deadly law of Venice threatens to strip Shylock of everything on the spot

Shylock s fate1
Shylock’s fate

  • Mercy shown by both the Duke and Antonio reduce Shylock’s penalty

  • Shylock is defeated and walks out of the court, and he has paid for his lack of mercy and ruthlessness

  • All ends happily... Or does it?

  • Is justice “seasoned with mercy” really served to Shylock?

Justice is relative

Portia has preached mercy, but:

“For, as thou urgest justice, be assured/ Thou shalt have justice more than thou desir’st”

“Soft!/ The Jew shall have all justice.”

“He shall have merely justice and his bond.”

Even if she urges justice, is impartial justice served?

Justice is relative

The venetian law
The Venetian Law

“The law hath yet another hold on you.     It is enacted in the laws of Venice,     If it be proved against an alien     That by direct or indirect attempts     He seek the life of any citizen,     The party 'gainst the which he doth contrive     Shall seize one half his goods; the other half Comes to the privy coffer of the state;     And the offender's life lies in the mercy Of the duke only, 'gainst all other voice.”

(IV, i, 347-355)

Justice is relative1
Justice is relative

  • Shylock is perceived as an “alien” vs. a “citizen”

  • The strict law enforced that

    • All goods would be seized by the state and the victim

    • Person responsible would most probably die

  • Portia’s rebuttal is also legally unacceptable: blood and flesh are counted as one

  • At the end, we can almost hear Shylock’s cry: “Is this justice?”

  • In a way, it is “Acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good”

Mercy is relative
Mercy is relative

  • “So please my lord the duke and all the court     To quit the fine for one half of his goods,     I am content; so he will let me have The other half in use, to render it,     Upon his death, unto the gentleman     That lately stole his daughter:     Two things provided more, that, for this favour, He presently become a Christian;     The other, that he do record a gift,     Here in the court, of all he dies possess'd, Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter. “

Mercy is relative1
Mercy is relative

  • Condition 1: Shylock becomes Christian (strips him of his religion, profession, identity)

  • Condition 2: Shylock gives money to his “son”, Lorenzo, on his death (strips him of his pride, forced to acknowledge Lorenzo as his son)

  • Condition 3: Shylock entrusts money to his enemy and “owes a favour to him” (strips him of his money, pride and the chance to obtain his retribution)

  • In Antonio’s eyes, this is compassion and mercy (“for this favour”), but in Shylock’s eyes, is this mercy?


Ultimately, justice should be seasoned with mercy, and ruthless, inflexible justice based on power and retribution is not favourable in any form


  • What is the worth of a man?

  • In the eyes of justice and the law, all men should be equal: but is the law always fair to all? Can it be manipulated for personal gain?

  • In the eyes of mercy, all men deserve to be shown kindness and grace despite of their faults: but is mercy shown to all?