Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
Length: 1098 words (3.1 double-spaced pages)
There are many reasons how this scene is more effective than all the
others in the play for range of reasons. In this one scene it goes
through nearly every other thing that has been mentioned earlier in
the play. Also why most scenes have mainly one big point to them, this
one has five, and some more sub - plots.
Before it starts there is the aspect of Christian Justice, either way
the case goes its going to cause problems, if it goes in Antonio's
favour then there is going to be a problem from the Jews, saying he
got off just because he is a Christian, and the state needs to keep
the Jews happy, as if there is something that makes the state need
money fast, like a war, the first place they go is to the Jews, as
usually they are rich. If the court goes in favour of Shylock, and he
gets his bond, then there are going to be more bonds like this,
meaning a lot of trouble there, people will say if he's done this, why
cant we make this bond as well, so even before the trial starts, it is
causing a lot of problems.
The scene starts with Antonio, Bassanio, Gratiano, Solanio and the
duke in the court. Antonio is introduced before Shylock enters. It is
here that the judge makes an important speech, basically reflecting on
what has happened so far. To make it clear he is on Antonio's side,he
used quotes such as;
"Shylock, the world thinks, and I think so too,
That thou but leadest this fashion of thy malice"
In this he is basically saying that the whole world thinks that he is
doing wrong by making Antonio take this punishment, he also says that
he does not expect to see Antonio have the flesh extracted from him
that is why he puts "Thou'lt show thy mercy", meaning he wants him to
show mercy on "the poor merchant", as he is called, proving what side
he is on.
Throughout the play, Antonio has always been played as the hero, by
being willing to sacrifice his life for his friend Bassanio, and
Shylock played as the typical villain, although there has been a few
times where he has gained sympathy. One example of this is where his
daughter Jessica elopes with a Christian, and he is a Jew. A famous
speech he makes to gain him sympathy is;
"I am a Jewâ€¦Hath a Jew not eyes? Hath a Jew not hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions?..."
This speech gains him a lot of sympathy, he is trying to make the
point, he is no different from everyone else, apart from he is not a
Although he gains this sympathy, Shakespeare make sure that he does
stop as the villain, by making him still go against the Christian,
which are typically the good people. A great example of this is in Act
1 scene 3, where shylock says;
"I hate him for he is a Christian:
But more for hat in low simplicity
He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice"
Here he is shown as someone who hates Christians, and only cares about
his money, as he says he lends out money gratis, meaning he lends
people money without interest.
The approach he takes towards making Antonio the "hero" is different
though. Rather than just one big thing that makes him good, it is
composed of lots of little things, but the main one is that he is
willing to risk his life to get the money for his friend Bassanio to
try and marry Portia, a rich woman from Belmont. Perhaps the best
quote to describe Antonio is taken from the court scene, just as he is
about to lose his life, he says this;
"But little I am armed and well prepared.
Give me your hand, Bassanio fare you well!"
Here he doesn't seem to be bothered about dying, he just wants
Bassanio to be there with him when he dies, meaning Bassanio will be
left with this for the rest of his life, meaning that Antonio has gone
to his death, so he can marry Portia.
Portia plays a major role in the play, although, this part is split
into 2 in a way, Portia the rich woman everyone wants to marry, and
Balthazar, the young doctor of Rome, who steps in and saves Antonio's
life seconds before he is about to be killed by shylock, although
nobody even knows its her. The way in which she takes the court scene
is very tactical, when she first enters the court, she tries to sum up
the whole situation, and also fooling them as if she is on shylocks
side. Both Portia and Shylock are agreeing with everything the other
one says, and looking through the contract together, as if they are
both of the same side. Before she makes it clear she is against him,
and tells him that he cannot be stopped from taking his bond, she asks
him if he wishes to take trice the amount of money, but he declines
it. At this point she makes another of the very famous speeches from
"The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
upon the place beneath:.."
Here she is trying to tell shylock to be merciful, when this
diplomatic approach doesn't work, she tries the other cunning
approach, trying to find a loop hole in the contract, she asks if it
says anything about blood in the bond, and he says no, so just as he
is about to take the flesh, she says if one drop of Christian blood
falls, all of his lands and goods will be confiscated. At this point,
he tries to take the money and go, but this is where she gets him
again, she asked him in the court earlier does he want to take thrice
the amount of money now, and he declined it, so she says he either has
the money, or the flesh. When he realises this he goes to leave the
court without anything, but here she says to him;
The law hath yet another hold on youâ€¦."
This hold is that he has tried to take a persons life, and not
succeeded, so again, all his wealth is to be split between Antonio,
and the other half goes to the state, plus the duke will decide on
weather he lives. By doing this, she is actually saving the hero of
the play, and due to this it has the audience on her side thinking
what a great person she must me to have saved his life right at the
last second. The Duke pardons his life, but only after hearing this,
"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."
In this, he is trying to say he would rather not live, than to live
without his money, after hearing this, Antonio decides to make a deal
with him, he will give him all of his things back, If he does two
things, first of all, he must leave all of his wealth to his daughter
Jessica, and Lorenzo, second he must become a Christian. This is done
to make it look as though the main person did actually get his revenge
on the bad person, as in most typical stories., and shylock having no
other option than to unwillingly accept this. The duke backs this up,
and states he will withdraw the pardon of his life if he doesn't
accept this. Unwillingly he accepts this. Meanwhile after the court,
another trial is going on Portia tests Bassanio, she has just saved
his friends life, then she goes to walk out, but he runs after her,
and offers her anything she wants, she declines, then he tells her;
"Take some remembrance of us, as a tribute,
Not as a fee: grant me two things, I pray you,
Not to deny me, and to pardon me."
He says this still unaware that he is speaking to his wife Portia. She
says the only thing she will take is his wedding ring, he denies her
this, saying that when he got married he promised to keep this ring
for ever. She follows this by saying;
"I will have nothing else but only this,
And now, methinks, I have a mind on to it."
He then lets her go, but Antonio says to him that she has saved his
life, and the least he can do is give her that ring, basically saying
which do you value more, your wife's instructions, or my life, forcing
him to give her the ring. At this point it is the end of the scene,
but it leaves the audience thinking what will happen about Bassanio
and Portia, so even after the scene has finished it has still got the
audience in suspense.
These are the reasons that the court scene is probably the most
dramatically effective scene in the play.