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Discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of the trial scene between Shylock and Antonio in the Merchant of Venice.

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Introduction

Discuss Shakespeare's portrayal of the trial scene between Shylock and Antonio in the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, written in 1596 is a play which tells a tale of justice, mercy, Judaism and Christianity. These themes were juxtaposed throughout the play to create contrast and controversy and also to convey this polarity to the viewing audience during that time. Marlowe, another British writer during the 15th century wrote The Jew of Malta, a play full of religious conflict and political intrigue. Like The Merchant of Venice it dealt with anti-semitism and hatred which were themes particularly relevant to the audience in the late 15th century. Anti-Semitism was rife during the period in which the play was written, therefore Jews living in a predominantly Christian society were subject to bias and prejudice. In order to make a living, many Jews turned to usury; the lending of money with extremely high rates of interest. Usury in an Christian country was seen to be against "the laws of nature and of God" which made Jews even more likely to be rejected from society. Jews were understood to be to be immoral, barbaric and sly whereas Christians were honest and merciful. The trial scene was the climax of the play where these two conflicting ideas of each religions' sense of justice and mercy was put to the test. ...read more.

Middle

It is possible that Bassanio and Antonio could have been using each other. Bassanio could have used Antonio for his money and Antonio could have used Bassanio for love, respect and companionship. Antonio could also have been manipulating and controlling Bassanio. When Bassanio was talking to Antonio about Portia and the amount of money that he needed to borrow, he asked Antonio to think of it as an investment rather than an act of friendship. This suggests that Bassanio saw his friend's assistance simply as a business deal and nothing more. In the trial scene, we would expect Shylock to be wearing traditional Jewish clothing like a Gabardine and Kippah and probably all in black. Antonio would probably be wearing smart but simple clothing like black trousers and a white shirt. Shakespeare's lack of stage directions left interpretations down to the director or the audience's imagination. However the language used helped the audience to visualize the scene more fully. Shakespeare used repetition and metaphors to make the audience think about what was being said. The language used during the trial scene really helped the audience to understand quite how biased venetian courts were. Antonio is constantly referred to as the "poor merchant" (IV.i.23) whereas Shylock is merely "The Jew" (IV.i.14). As soon as the trial commences, Shylock is made to stand before the court as if he is on trial whilst Antonio sits down, making the audience judge Shylock before Antonio. ...read more.

Conclusion

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 villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction." (III.i.49-61) The trial scene has also been linked in discussions with the Crucifixion of Jesus in the Bible. It could be interpreted that Antonio was Jesus who was willing to die for his friend and was going to be mercilessly killed at the hands of a Jew (Shylock). Shakespeare's purpose in writing The Merchant of Venice was to expose the hypocrisy of Christianity with regards to anti-semitism and emotions such as hatred and revenge. Many of the Christian characters were quick to talk about love and mercy "The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath" (IV.i.184-186) but were hardly ever consistent in their practical application of these qualities. Shakespeare had to be tactful in his portrayal of the Christian characters because many, if not all of his audience at the time would have been Christian or Anti-Semites. It is debatable as to whether Shakespeare himself was an Anti-Semite due to his clich�d portrayal of Shylock as a vindictive, villainous Jew but his understanding of the circumstances in which Jews were living allows the audience to believe otherwise. [1]StartFragment ...read more.

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