William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
The play centres on two main characters, Antonio, an extremely wealthy
merchant and Shylock, a very wealthy Jew. In Venice, a person's word
was their bond. A promise made by word of mouth was the same as having
an agreement in writing; they had to keep their word or pay the
Shylock is a usurer, a person who lends sums of money to others,
charging vast amounts of interest. However, Antonio also lends amounts
of money, but minus the interest. This is one of the main reasons why
Shylock hates Antonio, as Antonio is supposedly causing Shylock's
profits to drop. Shylock also hates Antonio for the differences in
their lifestyles and religions.
Shylock has agreed to lend a sum of money to Antonio. As part of the
agreement, Shylock insists that if his money is not returned within a
designated period of time, with the added interest, he would be
entitled to cut exactly one pound of flesh from Antonio's body.
It is this bond between Shylock and Antonio that results in the court
scene in Act 4 Scene 1, the dramatic climax of the play. Although it
is not the final scene, it is the finale of "The Merchant of Venice",
where all the perplexing sub-plots and main storyline are pulled
together to create an explosive ending.
One of the reasons Act 4 Scene 1 is so dramatically effective is due
to the tension created between Shylock and Antonio. At the very
beginning of the scene, a slight sense of injustice is induced due to
the fact that Antonio is seated and Shylock is standing before the
Duke. In a Venetian court of justice, the accused is standing with the
accuser seated, not the reverse. This gives the impression that
Shylock is the one on trail when in fact it is Antonio, who is
resigned to his seemingly inevitable fate "To suffer with a quietness
of spirit" (Act 4, Scene 1, Line 12).
Strong emotive language is used to emphasize this point "Poor
merchant's flesh" (Act4, Scene 1, Line 23) to remind the jury that
Antonio has suffered enough, but as well as the stress caused from the
trail, Antonio's greatest source of wealth, his argosies, sank earlier
on in the plot, causing him a great deal of anxiety and losing hi
substantial amount of money. These reasons make the audiences
sympathies lie with Antonio, even though Shylock is the defendant.
Throughout the play, Shylock is perceived as inhuman and malevolent.
However the powerful and amative speech "Hath a Jew not eyesâ€¦ if you
prick us do we not bleed"(act 3, Scene 1, Lines 50-51) stresses the
common core of humanity that lies beneath the exterior of Shylock's
complex character. A note of hypocrisy occurs here; a mere seventeen
lines after the plea, he is ranting and raving over the theft of his
money by his only daughter, Jessica. Shylock doesn't like his daughter