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The Merchant of Venice* Revision

Notes

Themes in the play

1. Justice versus Mercy


Mainly seen in Act four, scene one.
Shylock is repeatedly asked to show
mercy but instead focuses on justice /
revenge. Is he right?
The Christians / Elizabethans believe
mercy is a divine trait. They both believe
they save Shylock in the end. Is this
true?
Portia is merciless in her administration
of the law to Antonio and Shylock. Is
she objective?

Why do the Christians hate the Jews?


The killing of Christ. If they did not
convert then they could not be saved.
The stereotype of a Jew. In medieval
times it was rumoured that Jews killed
children and drank blood. Ritual
sacrifice is hinted at in Act Four, scene
one.
The practice of usury. Money-lending
was an unpopular profession.

Themes in the play

2. Money as a motivating factor


Seen in the love and bond plot of the play.
Bassanio needs money to woo Portia; lack of it
puts Antonio in Shylocks power.
Attitudes to money differ: both merchants
view it differently (one gives it away while the
other is greedy for it - usury seen as morally
wrong), Jessica and Bassanio waste it, it does
not make Antonio / Portia happy.
Bassanio is not taken in by material wealth in
the casket test.
Portia (the Golden Fleece) gives away her
wealth for love. Shylock prefers his ducats to
his daughter.

Themes in the play


3. Love, marriage and friendship
Portia plays the stereotypical role of an
Elizabethan woman, dutiful to her father
/ husband and giving up all she has.
Antonio shows platonic love for Bassanio
he is prepared to give up his life for
him.
The play shows the triumph of love /
friendship over greed. Shylock hates
Antonio because of his business practice,
it stops his profit. Act four, scene one
shows the extent of his greed.

Characters Shylock*
His main traits are his: focus on money / greed,
hatred of Christians, pride in being Jewish, his
cunning and inflexibility.
Our attitude to him varies dislike his hatred for
Antonio, feel pity / sorry for his treatment by
Antonio / Portia, surprises us with his offer of
friendship, we dislike his attitude towards
Jessica compared to his love for money.
His famous if you prick us (Act Three, scene
one) speech evokes sympathy but then revulsion
as he uses it to justify revenge.

Characters - Shylock
The trial scene shows him at his worst
unbending and obsessive. He savours revenge,
exposes Christian hypocrisy and dismisses all talk
of mercy.
Meets his match in Portia Elizabethans would
have been happy with the end as they would
have believed a sort of mercy is given him.
Not the stereotypical Jew seen in The Jew of
Malta (Marlowe); Shakespeare gives Shylock
more human feelings he is a paradox,
simultaneously a bloodthirsty wolf and a
victim.

Characters
Antonio
Sad, unselfish and
generous.
Shows ideals of love and
friendship and how far
this can go. Contrasts
Shylocks greed.
Anti-Semitic?; calls
Shylock cur, dog and
spits on him, but does not
take a share of Shylocks
estate at the end. Does
however force him to
convert to Christianity
(saving him?)

Portia
Shown as a prize to be
won smart /
beautiful.
Typical Elizabethan
woman. Defers to her
father / husband, but
also teaches the latter
a lesson. Quick to act
for Bassanio.
Used to present the
idea of mercy, but
does she really show
it? Ruthless / clever in
dealing with Shylock.

What do the critics say?


Jewish revenge is at least as good as
Christian injuries. (Hazlitt)
Shylock is a good hater; a man no less
sinned against than sinning. (Coleridge)
Shylock has strong grounds for the lodged
hate he bears Antonio. (Hazlitt)
we can hardly help sympathising with the
proud spiritstung to madness by repeated
undeserved provocations. (Hazlitt)
we pity him, and think him hardly dealt
with by his judges. (Hazlitt)

What do the critics say?


The play was designed tragically by
the author, not as a comedy (Rowe)
Greater sympathy emerged for Shylock
in the 1800s as religious freedom
spread.
These days Shylocks jewishness is
either emphasised (showing antiSemitism) or ignored in favour of him
being a businessman before a Jew.

Key scenes in the play


Act One, scene one: I Act Three, scene
three: Shylock shows
know not why I am so
his victimisation /
sad. In Belmont
motivation.
there is a lady richly
left.
Act Four, scene one:
Shylock shows no
Act One, scene three:
mercy or gives no
why Shylock hates
reason for his hatred.
Antonio how Shylock
On the verge of
has been treated.
cutting Antonio, Portia
Act Three, scene one:
defeats
Shylock
who
To bait fish withal
loses his money and
Hath not a Jew eyes?
has to convert to
Christianity.

Key Quotations
I am as like to call thee so again, / To spit on
thee again, to spurn thee too. (1,3 A)
I do oppose / My patience to his fury, and am
arm'd / To suffer, with a quietness of spirit, / The
very tyranny and rage of his. (4,1 A)
I pray you, think you question with the Jew:
You may as well use question with the wolf. (4,
1 A)
In Belmont is a lady richly left; / And she is fair,
and, fairer than that word, / Of wondrous
virtues: sometimes from her eyes / I did receive
fair speechless messages: and her sunny locks /
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece; (1,1
B)

But mercy is above this sceptred sway; / It is


enthroned in the hearts of kings, / It is an
attribute to God himself; (4,1 P)
Take then thy 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, by the laws of Venice, confiscate /
Unto the state of Venice. (4,1 P)
How like a fawning publican he looks! / I hate
him for he is a Christian, He lends out money
gratis and brings down / The rate of usance here
with us in Venice. / If I can catch him once upon
the hip, / I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear
him. / He hates our sacred nation. (S 1,3)

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft / In the Rialto you have rated
me / About my moneys and my usances: / Still have I borne it with a
patient shrug, / For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe. / You call
me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, / And spit upon my Jewish
gaberdine, (1,3 S)
To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, / it will feed my
revenge. He hath disgraced me, and / hindered me half a million;
laughed at my losses, / mocked at my gains, scorned my nation,
thwarted my / bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine / enemies;
and what's his reason? I am a Jew. 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, healed by the same means, / warmed and cooled 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? If we are
like you in the rest, we will / resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a
Christian, / what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian / wrong a
Jew, what should his sufferance be by / Christian example? Why,
revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go
hard but I / will better the instruction. (3,1 S)
I'll have my bond; speak not against my bond: / I have sworn an oath
that I will have my bond. / Thou call'dst me dog before thou hadst a
cause; / But, since I am a dog, beware my fangs (3, 3 S)
for thy desires / Are wolvish, bloody, starved and ravenous. (4,1 G)