The Trial Scene in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
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Written between 1596 and 1598 "The Merchant of Venice" is not one of
the most performed plays written by William Shakespeare and most
productions often use modern times and dress. A modern day audience
would be less sympathetic than the audience of that period towards the
Jew, Shylock. The play is one of the sixteen comedy plays. The issues
being raised in the play would have been understood by the audience
who were not very well educated "The Merchant of Venice" has two main
characters, Shylock, a Jew and Antonio, who is an extremely wealthy
merchant, an investor who gets wealth using venture capitalism. In
Venice, your word was like having an agreement in writing. The
breaking of this bond would result in a serious penalty, as it would
in today's society but in a different nature. Shylock is a moneylender
who lends sums of money to others at a fixed rate but charges vast
amounts of interest. However, Antonio also lends amounts of money, but
without the interest. This is "Gratis". This is one of the main
reasons why Shylock hates Antonio because Antonio is meant to be
making Shylock's profits to drop. They both are 'bigots' because they
also hate each other for their religion. Venice is the setting of the
play; The city was the trading centre of the world but at the end of
the 16th century was overtaken by England which was at a new age.
Looking at the hate between the two characters, Antonio states "I hate
him for he is a Christian"
Shylocks only concern was for money. Shylock agreed to lend a sum of
money to Antonio. As part of the bond, Shylock insists that if his
money is not given back in time, with the added interest, he would be
entitled to perform his bond which stated that shylock could cut
exactly one pound of flesh from Antonio's body. This bond between
Shylock and Antonio is the reason for the court scene in Act 4 Scene
1, the dramatic climax of the play. Although it is not the final scene
of the "The Merchant of Venice" it is where all the sub-plots and main
storyline are pulled together to create an explosive ending. The
tension created between Shylock and Antonio is one of the reasons Act
4 Scene 1 is so dramatically effective. At the very beginning of this
scene in the play directed by Trevor Nunn, Shylock is standing and
Antonio is seated. This gives the impression that Shylock is the one
on trial when in fact it is Antonio. As well as the tension caused
from the trial between the two characters, Antonio's greatest source
of wealth, his ships are reported to have "Not come home" to be 'sunk'
which at the end of the play end up to be discovered, this is one of
the starting points for the dramatic tension in the scene because from
now on you know that Antonio has no other means to pay the bond, the
3,000 ducats. This reason makes the audience sympathies with Antonio.
Shylock is often perceived as inhuman however the following strong
speech by shylock, in Act 3 Scene 1 makes the audience think again
about his character.
" Hath a Jew not eyesâ€¦ if you prick us do we not bleed"
This speech is certainly a strong point for shylock and does make the
scene dramatic because his power in this speech alters the Christians
position in life with them being the dominant religion this is
switched for the duration in this speech with shylock the Jew having
power over the Christians. With very strong language, Shylock wishes
that Jessica "Were dead at my foot". Shylock is made to be a complex
character with his many twists and turns. This wish for his daughter's
death does bring back a lot of the sympathy for shylock created by the
strong and dominant speech from shylock previously. This makes the
scene appear that shylock is willing to see his only daughter dead for
the sake of a few ducats. As stated above, shylocks only concern was
for the money and the constant repetition of his demands for his 3,000
ducats. This gives the viewer/reader a powerful impression of shylock
as a character. Due to this powerful impression it is easy to see why
Shylock is 'doomed' from the start of the trial even before it has
begun. Portia, (Bathazar) disguised as the judge grills Shylock in the
dukes court (the name of the court in which the trial is held). This
is a case of Dramatic tension because you can see that shylock has
been lulled into a false sense of security, shylock starts to believe
that the judge believes him and is supporting him.
"Which is the Jew and which is the merchant?" this is what the judge
asks in the court
Shylock states, "On what compulsion must I?"
The speech was very strong and stuck in the mind due to the strong
language and emotive thoughts.
"You must prepare your bosom for his knife"
This statement reveals a different side to shylock, he is exited.
Portia makes an important discovery as shylock is taking his knife to
Antonio's 'breast'. The audience are being 'thrown' around in many
twists of emotions and situations, this is dramatically effective
because you are left in the balance wondering what plan Portia has
came up with. The bond states that not one drop of Christian blood may
be spilt, this is the climax of the play, all of the power is removed
from shylock and tension is placed on him. He starts to be broke down
and lose his power because Portia has now turned on shylock. The
sudden twist in power and in the audience's belief on the consequences
again throw the audience around increasing the dramatic tension
because we are left unsure about the well being of both characters no
matter if you sympathise with them. This play is clever in the fact
that the dramatic tension is built up for Antonio at the start of the
play and then reaches a climax when Antonio is told to "prepare his
'breast' for the knife" from that point the tension drops and then
increases for shylock when he is denied the money about 3 times, he is
told he cant walk out of court and then he is told he has to convert
religion. Portia goes on to convict Shylock of attempted murder.
Shylock now has been reduced to a wreck, which is a direct contrast to
the powerful position he was placed in when Portia was supposedly on
his side. For Shylock, this is the worst possible thing he could be
made to do, as he is proud to be a Jew. Shylock is reduced to a far
cry from his confident and vengeful image even further. When shylock
was made to leave fellowship and peace is brought back to the play
because the Christians are now dominating much like they are used to
in everyday society of the period. Justice, sadness and comedy are
successfully combined in "The merchant of Venice". The play is a
comedy but to a first time reader or viewer the play would not seem
so, the ending of the play is an integral part to the structure of the
play in terms of its comedy value with its dramatic twists and turns.
Many aspects of the plot such as the discrimination and hate of Jews
are still in place in today's society. "The Merchant of Venice",
although I recognise that the text is open to multiple interpretations
is a strong dramatic play: some interpretations can even directly
contradict one another. This scene is made dramatically effective by
the many twists and turns that Shakespeare delivers to the
reader/viewer. Strong emotive language helps to strengthen the
effectiveness of the scene, a powerful scene that is an important part
in the whole play.