Merchant of Venice
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:
Then must the Jew be merciful.
On what compulsion must I? tell me that.
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
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.
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.
confirms the wisdom and brilliance of Portia. Ruskin aptly
remarks that in his comedies Shakespeare has only heroines,
and no heroes.
fact is that Shylock hates Antonio. His anger and hatred
toward Antonio is evident:
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,
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?
an eloquent expression of Shylock’s towering revenge!
Shylock is a crafty, blood-thirsty Jew crying out for revenge
against a decent Christian Antonio.
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?”
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