The idea of mercy is important in The Merchant of Venice because it provides a focus for the contrast between Venetian Christian society and the alien invader, represented by Shylock. Mercy occupies a "central" position in the trial scene (IV.i.), where the power struggle between aristocratic Venetian society and the threatening force Shylock comes to a climax. My thesis is that the contrast between (and equation of) mercy and revenge in the trial scene reveals the true nature of Venetian society as insecure , hypocritical and vengeful.
Mercy is clearly of greatest importance to the Christians in this text. It is only mentioned in the trial scene by two characters--the Duke (3 times) and Portia, in her guise as the lawyer Balthazar, (10 times). Mercy is significantly never mentioned by Shylock, implying either that he does not believe in it, or that he sees a hidden motive behind the Christians' insistence that he should be merciful to Antonio. By looking at what mercy means to the Christians and how they use it in the trial scene, I will try to show how it acts as a mirror for their true value system.
Mercy can be defined as "kind and considerate treatment that you show to someone, especially when you forgive them or do not punish them." It is a Christian value associated with the New Testament, thus contrasting with Shylock's Old Testament religion and its image of a more stern and vengeful God. In the first half of the trial mercy and revenge are contrasted. The Duke appeals to Shylock to be merciful as if he shared their Christian values--
Shylock the world thinks, and I think so too,
That thou but leadest this fashion of thy malice
... middle of paper ...
...is required to become a Christian. Shylock feels he might as well be dead--
Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that,-
You take my house, when you do take the prop
That doth sustain my house: you take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live. IV.i.370-373.
To the Christians, then, mercy has different meanings and uses in this trial scene. It is used to try to tempt Shylock to recognize Christian values as superior to his own, to tempt him with the delusion of power if he accepts them, and when he refuses, to crush him and take away all his economic, religious and racial power. This abuse of mercy also reveals Venetian society to be greedy for power, hypocritical in its use of Christian values for secular aims, and vengeful. Mercy, and its uses and misuses, is revealed as having a power far greater than is at first apparent.
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Women of the late 16th century were subjected to patriarchal ways and not granted the same rights and privileges as males. Yet, Shakespeare gives women in The Merchant of Venice significant roles in controlling the fates of all of the other characters. Portia and Nerissa cleverly disguise themselves as an esteemed lawyer and clerk, respectively, and interpret the law in such a way that Antonio and Bassanio are saved from Shylock’s bond, while Shylock is forced into a position of utter humiliation.... [tags: Feminism, Gender role, The Merchant of Venice]
1750 words (5 pages)
- The Aspects of Shylock in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' There are many aspects of Shylock; in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ he is seen in many different forms. In Medieval Venice Shylock the Jewish banker is persuaded to lend three thousand ducats to Antonio a Venetian merchant who had cursed and ridiculed Shylock for years. The condition for the loan is that if Antonio did not pay back the three thousand ducats he would forfeit, ‘a pound of flesh, to by him cut off nearest the merchant’s heart.’ Through the course of the play Shylock is portrayed in many different ways.... [tags: Merchant of Venice Essays]
931 words (2.7 pages)
- One of the strengths of good theater is its ability to mirror the problems and conditions shaping its time. In The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare reflects two important aspects of Elizabethan society: the corrupting influence of prosperity and the increasingly vengeful nature of Venetian justice. To address the former issue, Shakespeare downplays the importance of wealth by associating its involvement in romance with superficial and insubstantial advantages. He characterizes prosperity as a deceiving agent, citing its ability to introduce shallowness into a relationship.... [tags: Merchant of Venice Essays]
1552 words (4.4 pages)
- The Way Shylock is Presented in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice The Merchant of Venice is about the conflict between a Jew and a Christian. This is not between one Jew and one Christian but between Shylock, who stands as a representative of the Jewish tribe, and between groups of Christians who greatly outnumber the Jew. The conflict between Jews and Christians is a historical one. The Christians hated the Jews because they made money from usury; this was completely against the Christian beliefs of that time.... [tags: Merchant of Venice Essays]
1625 words (4.6 pages)
- Othello, the Moor of Venice is one of the major tragedies written by William Shakespeare that follows the main character, Othello through his trials and tribulations. Othello, the Moor of Venice is similar to William Shakespeare’s other tragedies and follows a set of specific rules of drama. The requirements include, following the definition of a tragedy, definition of tragic hero, containing a reversal of fortune, and a descent from happiness. William Shakespeare fulfills Aristotle’s requirements in this famous play.... [tags: Shakespearean Literature ]
1326 words (3.8 pages)
- The Setting of Venice in Othello Othello is a fundamentally different character to all others in the play . He is an outsider to Venice and therefore an outsider to the customs and society of Venice. In one way this is good for him. He is a renowned strong general who is much in demand from the Venetians. Rather than fight the war against the Turks for themselves, they hire Othello to do so, indicating that he is respected by the Venetians but not considered, as a civilized Venetian would be, above having to fight wars barbarically.... [tags: GCSE Coursework Shakespeare Othello]
1224 words (3.5 pages)
- The Conflict Within Venetian Society in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice The Merchant of Venice written by Shakespeare during the late sixteenth century. The play is based on different conflicts: Christians and Jews, father and Daughter and patriarchal system. The main plot of the play is the flesh bond between Shylock and Antonio. The sub plots are the three caskets, the ring plot and Jessica and Lorenzo. Antonio is a merchant of Venice, who takes money from Shylock the Jew, for his friend Bassanio.... [tags: Free Merchant of Venice Essays]
885 words (2.5 pages)
- The Nature of Contracts in The Merchant of Venice In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice there are two major contract’s made, a contract is any promise or set of promises made by one party to another for the breach of which the law provides a remedy. The promise or promises may be express (either written or oral) or may be implied from circumstances. The first contract in the play that I discovered is one between Portia and her father. Nerissa telling Portia : “Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men at their death have good inspirations: therefore the lottery, that he hath devised in these three chests of gold, silver and lead, whereof who chooses his... [tags: Merchant of Venice Essays]
511 words (1.5 pages)
- The Turkish-Venetian War in Othello According to A. L. Rowse, William Shakespeare's Othello is one of the most perfect plays ever written (13). There is practically nothing in it that does not contribute to plot or character development (unlike Hamlet, which is filled with a large cast, complexities, and sub-plots). G. B. Harrison agrees that the construction is perfect (1058). Only two brief scenes with a clown in Act III don't seem to advance the play any. That, and one strange plot element: the Turkish war and change of locale from Venice to Cyprus.... [tags: Othello essays]
2274 words (6.5 pages)
- The Merchant of Venice The play, ¡°The Merchant of Venice¡± by William Shakespeare has two main settings. One setting is Venice, a city where many businessmen live, a place, full of unhappy and unkind people. It a world of commercial and law. Shakespeare has portrayed Venice as the ¡°real¡± world. The other setting is Belmont, a city which houses a rich, happy society of beautiful people. Belmont is a fairy-tale world of music and love. In this play, it is evident that, good things happen in Belmont and not so pleasant events happen in Venice.... [tags: Merchant of Venice Essays]
1384 words (4 pages)