Common – The Merchant Of Venice – Essay


Resource Description

Essay that compares and contrasts the characters of Shylock & Portia (Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice.)

William Shakespeare’s masterful storytelling in his play The Merchant Of Venice (MOV) allows audiences to introspect and gain insight into the anomalies which epitomise the human experience. Accordingly, the Bard’s treatment of Shylock and Portia’s individual experiences is unique because as the plot progresses, these seemingly dichotomous become increasingly alike due their paradoxes. Ultimately, this story has impacted audiences across time by providing a perspective which authentically reflects the human condition.

Shakespeare contrasts Shylock and Portia’s individual experiences through the audience’s surface level perception of their characters, as a bloodthirsty Jew and an empowering Heroine, respectively.  The Jew’s antagonistic tendencies are established whilst creating the bond with Antonio, “In merry sport, if you repay me not … let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of your fair flesh.” Although Shylock maintains the comic genre of MOV by stating that the agreement is “a merry sport,” it is highly inconsistent because when he later uses the phrase “merry bond,” he incorporates an oxymoron, as a bond which legalises murder is hardly merry. Ultimately, the bond is a symbol which encompasses Shylock’s revenge and disregard for Antonio’s life, which coincides with the Elizabethan myth of Jews being barbaric enough to practice ritual murder. Shylock’s jest is virtually absent later in the play, as he demands, “I’ll have my bond. I will not hear thee speak … I’ll not be made a soft and dull-eyed fool… I will have my bond.” Through pairing anaphora with the imperative mood of the verb “I will,” the playwright utilises Shylock’s ire-filled monologue to solidify him as a bloodthirsty Machiavellian adamant to receive justice and witness Antonio suffer. Comparatively, Shakespeare contrasts Shylock against Portia, who is indirectly introduced at the start of the play through Bassanio as, “a lady richly left, and she is fair, and fairer than that word, of wondrous virtues.” In this line, Bassanio’s hyperbolic language exalts Portia as a paragon of Renaissance womanhood in whom the classical graces of beauty, chastity and passion are perfectly balanced and combined. However, the fact is she “left” implies that Portia is abandoned and vulnerable in the patriarchal society, with a fortune coveted by many suitors. By the climax, however, Portia subverts such assumptions by crossdressing as a lawyer to save Antonio, in which the dramatist juxtaposes Portia against the men she is subservient to, but less capable. Portia exercises her intelligence in the monologue, “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven… it is enthroned in the hearts of kings, it is an attribute of God.” Portia instills her argument with ethos and religious imagery to prove that “mercy is above” the law of common men as it is “in the hearts of kings” who have a Divine Right to rule; hence, “it is an attribute to God himself” which even a Jew must respect. Evidently, the dramatist skillfully depicts the disparities in these opposing individual experiences before revealing their similarities.

By exposing the dualities of these multifaceted characters, Shakespeare is able to establish their collective human experience. Throughout MOV, casual abuse is shown towards Shylock by constantly referring to him by the vocative “the Jew,” which completely dehumanises and alienates him from Venetian society. Furthermore, a large array of deprecatory nouns and adjectives are added before this, to augment how uncivilised and subhuman Shylock is from a Christian perspective, including, “dog,” “villain,” “faithless,” “currish,” and “harsh.” Moreover, Antonio expresses the highly discriminatory line, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart.” By religiously alluding to “the devil,” Antonio  explicitly personifies Shylock as the figure of true evil. Moreover, the juxtaposition of light and dark imagery, shown through “holy witness” and “evil soul,” makes the rigid hierarchy between Christianity and Judaism in Renaissance Italy apparent to modern audiences. However, these acts of prejudice are paradoxical to this group’s collective human experience, as they do not agree with the quality of mercy, which is inherent to Christianity. Shylock’s situation particularly appeals to modern responders due to minimal tolerance towards racism, yet, perhaps the dramatist intends to mock his contemporary audience’s values through this irony.  Although Shylock is solely accused of conspiring to trap “good Antonio,” his villainous actions can be equated with Portia’s in the climactic trial scene, which illustrates their shared human experience. Portia carefully plots her attack against the Jew by waiting until the final moment before revealing the flaw in the 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 … confiscate.” Rather than employing the imperative, Portia issues this line with conditional language and an ironic politeness to mark a poignant moment of peripeteia. Moreover, by deliberately prolonging the trial and repeatedly giving Shylock the chance to forfeit beforehand, the Bard’s nuanced storytelling highlights Portia’s cruelty as she intentionally exacerbates his humiliation. Despite appealing to audiences across time as a heroine by saving Antonio and challenging Tudor gender roles, the playwright evokes a strong sense of irony by exposing Portia’s paradoxical actions, as Shylock is shown little mercy despite it previously being so earnestly endorsed. His punishment is ruthless as it thieves him of everything he cares for; his family and his religious identity, and has worked tirelessly for; his wealth and status. Ultimately, Shakespeare deliberately creates a sense of ambiguity at the play’s conclusion, allowing audiences for four-hundred years to dispute whether the Jew is a villain or a victim of his context, and whether Portia really is an empowering heroine or a hypocritical racist.

Through challenging perceptions of Portia and Shylock’s individual experiences, Shakespeare’s efficacious storytelling in MOV allows audiences to realise that it is these inconsistencies which connects all humans to forge a universal human experience.

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Merchant of Venice Generic Essay 19/20

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imscy_8 • 1 year ago

"very good"

jayviru • 1 year ago

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