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Michael Robartes and The Dancer

Irreverent Criticism of John Keats

William Shakespeare

The Deepest Ever Written Book

The Merchant of Venice

Dramatis Personae

Arms and The Man

Pride and Prejudice

Matthew Arnold as an Elegiac Poet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Merchant of Venice 

Shakespeare’s tragicomedy The Mechant of Venice is one of his greatest plays. Shylock and Portia are immortal characters, and they seem to be real human beings of flesh and blood. Portia requests  Shylock to show mercy in the following oft-quoted lines: 

Portia:
Then must the Jew be merciful.

Shylock:
On what compulsion must I? tell me that.

Portia:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 

Portia is the magnet of  universal attraction. The Casket scene, the Trial scene and the Ring-episode reveal her clear vision and penetrative wisdom. The bond-story would have culminated in tragedy, if Portia had not intervened.  Portia’s main argument in the trial scene is to show mercy toward Antonio. According to the contract, Shylock would extract the pound of flesh as the penalty in case of default.

But Shylock refuses to show any mercy for Antonio. Portia clarifies that the bond only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, not the "blood", of Antonio. Thus if Shylock sheds any drop of Antonio's blood, his "lands and goods" would be forfeited under Venetian laws.

This confirms the wisdom and brilliance of Portia. Ruskin aptly remarks that in his comedies Shakespeare has only heroines, and no heroes.

The fact is that Shylock hates Antonio. His anger and hatred toward Antonio is evident: 

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, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd 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?
 

 What an eloquent expression of Shylock’s towering revenge! Shylock is a crafty, blood-thirsty Jew crying out for revenge against a decent Christian Antonio.

James Shapiro, a Professor of English at Columbia University has raised the question: “The Merchant of Venice has long been a problem play for lovers of Shakespeare. How could the greatest playwright in English, renowned for his depth of humanity, create a crude anti-Semitic stereotype like Shylock?”

The Merchant of Venice instructs us about religious tolerance. “Shakespeare’s comic genius resembles the bee rather in its power of extracting sweets from weeds  and poisons, than in leaving a sting behind it” (Hazlitt).



Santosh Kumar, Editor, Cyberwit.net