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“The Merchant of Venice” written in the 16th century in 1596 and
originally a comedy. The play is about Antonio who lends money to his
friend, Bassanio, because he wants to marry a rich heiress, Portia.
Although Antonio’s money is tied up in his ships, Bassanio still
allows him to borrow some on his behalf. Portia cannot choose her own
husband. In his will, her father requires suitors to choose one of
three caskets, whoever chooses the right one wins Portia. Bassanio and
Antonio borrow money off Shylock, a rich moneylender and also a Jew.
Shylock who hates Antonio and Christians, agrees to lend money to
them. If Antonio fails to pay, he demands a pound of his flesh. When
Antonio doesn’t give Shylock his money because his ships are reported
wrecked, Shylock, Antonio, Bassanio and Gratiano go to court to
witness Shylock finally demanding his judgement. Meanwhile, Shylocks
daughter, Jessica has eloped with a Christian named Lorenzo.
Antonio is a generous and kind person towards his friends. He borrowed
money to his friends Bassanio without interest. He is also a racist
towards Shylock; Antonio never uses his name when he is talking about
him. When Antonio had to give a pound of flesh to Shylock, he
I shall hardly spare a pound of flesh
Tomorrow to my bloody creditor.
When Bassanio needed to borrow money off Shylock, Antonio whispered
that Shylock was:
A villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at heart
Antonio is also dignified towards death, when he was in the Dukes
palace; Antonio tells Portia:
I do beseech the court
To give the judgement
Antonio also persuades Bassanio to give the ring Portia gave him to
the judge because the judge helped Antonio during the court case,
Bassanio wanted to give 2 things to the judge to remember him by, the
judge chose Bassanio’s gloves and the ring, Bassanio refused to give
the judge the ring, but Antonio said the judge deserved the ring:
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Let him have the ring.
Let his deservings and my love withal
Be valued ‘gainst your wife’s commandment.
Shylock can be seen as a villain or a victim. Gratiano taunted him in
the courtroom scene and so did Solanio and Salarino when Jessica
eloped with Lorenzo. In act 3 scene 1, Shylock is seen as a victim
when he explains to Solanio and Salarino how Antonio treated him and
states that Antonio’s flesh will feed nothing but
revenge. When Shylock is explaining to them how Jews are humans as
well he says:
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not
A Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
Shylock tries to prove a point that Christians and Jews are both the
same regardless what religion they are, in doing so he says:
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
In contrast, Shylock doesn’t only have a problem with Antonio, but
hates all Christians; his hatred for Christians was there well before
the start of the play because he said:
I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.
Jessica is Shylock’s daughter, and was brought up as an orthodox Jew.
She falls in love with Lorenzo, a Christian, and decided to elope with
him because she knew that shylock doesn’t like Christians and wouldn’t
approve of her and Lorenzo being together. Although she gets married
to Lorenzo, she is still treated differently to the other Christians
because Gratiano calls her an infidel. When we watched the theatre
production we saw Shylock and Jessica share a song together in Hebrew
and slapped her afterwards when he got angry. I think that Jessica
doesn’t love her dad in return because when her father leaves the
house she says:
Alack, what heinous sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my fathers child!
I also think she doesn’t respect her fathers wishes, in one of the
scene she says
I am a daughter to his blood
I am not to his manners.
She’s looking forward to getting married; we can see this when she
If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife,
Become a Christian and thy loving wife.
Portia is a rich heiress who can’t choose her own husband because her
dad left three caskets; they were the gold, silver and lead. Whoever
chooses correctly wins Portia. Her first suitor was the Prince of
Morocco, her second suitor was the Prince of Aragon, and her third
suitor was her husband, Bassanio. When the Prince of Morocco chose the
gold casket he found a skull and a message, and when he left, Portia
A gentle riddance! Draw the curtains, go.
Let all of his complexion choose me so.
This tells us that she doesn’t want a black person or anyone that has
the same skin colour as the Prince of Morocco to come and win her hand
in marriage. When the Prince of Aragon arrived, he chose the silver
casket; there was a picture of a ‘blinking idiot’ and she’s relieved
he chose incorrectly. When Bassanio approaches, he chooses the lead
casket and wins Portia. She tells Bassanio she was uneducated:
Is an unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpractised.
However, we never expected her to impersonate a lawyer because she
told Bassanio that she wasn’t educated. During the courtroom scene, we
saw that Bassanio never noticed Portia was there, but in the Lawrence
Olivier production they got round Bassanio not recognising Portia by
having her back towards him. During the courtroom scene she shows that
she’s intelligent when she says:
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood.
The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh’.
In the channel 4 productions, the director chose to follow the play
line by line but in the other productions they chose to slightly
change the lines. I prefer the Lawrence Olivier production to the
other productions because it is more similar to the play.
The Merchant of Venice was originally a comedy. The Shakespearian
audience would find the play funnier than the 20th or the 21st century
audience would. There’s a lot of comedy in the courtroom scene when
Portia dressed up as a man so she can take action as the Judge and
Nerissa dresses up as the Judge’s clerk, most people in our days
wouldn’t find that scene as humorous as the Shakespearian audience
would. Portia’s suitors are supposed to make the audience laugh, and
so are the racist comments made towards Shylock, his appearance is
also supposed to be amusing.
Portia tries to make Shylock look like a villain in the courtroom.
Bassanio offers him six thousand ducats on Antonio’s behalf and he
refuses the money. Portia gives Shylock 3 chances to let Antonio go,
in doing so she offered him treble the amount of money and he rejected
it, she asked him does he have a surgeon to carry out the procedure,
I cannot find it, ‘tis not in the bond.
And on his final chance she asked him to have mercy but Shylock still
wanted his pound of flesh.