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"How might modern audiences react to Shylock's fate in the trial scene?"

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Introduction

"How might modern audiences react to Shylock's fate in the trial scene?" The Merchant of Venice was written by William Shakespeare in the year 1599. At this time in England there was a lot of racism, particularly anti-Semitism. These views are reflected in the play. The character of Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who is despised by the Christians of Venice because he is a Jew and because he lends money with interest, which is frowned upon by Christians. Shylock agrees to lend Antonio money but with a bond attached; if the money is not repaid in time, Shylock is entitled to take as a forfeit one pound of Antonio's flesh from whichever place he chooses. Antonio agrees to this bond, but fails to pay back the money that he has been lent in time. Act 4 Scene 1 is the trial scene, in which it is decided whether or not Shylock is indeed entitled to the pound of flesh that Antonio agreed to give in the bond. Antonio has lent the money that he borrowed from Shylock to his friend Bassanio who needs it to show Portia that he is rich enough to marry her. Bassanio then chooses the right casket and returns to Venice with Portia. In the trial scene, Portia enters disguised as a lawyer and she is the one who saves Antonio's life by realizing that the bond he has signed has made no allowances for a single drop of blood, thus preventing Shylock from taking the flesh. ...read more.

Middle

Where the Duke has been rude and racist, she shows Shylock respect and talks to him politely, even flattering him to try to get him to change his mind. Later in the scene, Portia, disguised as a lawyer, re-offers the opportunity to be merciful. She first talks to Shylock about mercy, and how it is a good thing: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd ...It is an attribute to God himself" In this passage, Portia is trying to persuade Shylock to have mercy by elevating him to the level of a God if he gives mercy. This is a clever technique to try and persuade Shylock to have mercy, however he declines it. Unlike the Duke, she is being polite to Shylock and treating him no differently to how any other person should be treated, and so the audience might expect that Shylock, having been shown respect, might back down, but this is not the case; Shylock says: "...I crave the law, The penalty and forfeit of my bond." The audience's impression of Shylock is further reduced by this refusal. Portia then offers him the opportunity to take three times the value of the original bond in return for mercy, but Shylock declines this offer also even when Portia begs Shylock to be merciful: Portia: "...Be merciful: Take thrice thy money; bid me tear the bond." Shylock: "...I stay here on my bond." ...read more.

Conclusion

The Christians in the play clearly do not adhere to this understanding, so as well as the possibility that Shakespeare was racist, he could also be criticizing Christians, although this is in my opinion unlikely because of the heavily religious climate in England at the time. This highlights how views of audiences and writers have changed for the better since the play was written. I personally feel sympathy for Shylock from the moment he is told that he can not have the original offer of three times the bond, as he should have some repayment for the loan that he made, and even though the pound of flesh was an agreed penalty, there should be some fair substitute for this. Even though he probably would have killed Antonio if he had had the chance, and there should be some punishment for this, he did not actually inflict any injury upon him, and therefore does not deserve to be punished to the extent that he is. The loss of his daughter is punishment enough for this, and there is no need to further destroy him. That is not to say that Shylock is without his flaws; he is greedy, and also to some extent racist, but the other characters in the play are far worse in moral comparison. Shylock's fate; his daughter, his money, and his religion all having been snatched from him, is, in the view of most modern audiences, unjust and unacceptable by modern standards. ?? ?? ?? ?? Sarah Cooper 11Lat. Merchant of Venice coursework essay ...read more.

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