This is my sustained response that I had to write in response to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice for year 9 English. It is based on the courtroom scene in act IV scene I. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Jewish Man Sentenced for Attempting to Murder a Venetian
Shylock, Jewish Moneylender, Becomes a Broken Man after Unsuccessfully Attempting to Kill Antonio, a Merchant
Yesterday, the courts of Venice experienced an unusual scene that was disgraceful and hideous yet an entertaining tragedy. Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, pursued a case against the merchant Antonio, seeking his bond of ‘a pound of flesh’. Overseeing the court case was the Duke of Venice, and the young lawyer, Balthazar. Antonio’s friends were also present, including Bassanio, for whom Antonio took out the loan, and Salerio, Solanio, Gratiano and Lorenzo. I am recounting the events which took place in the court to illustrate how experiencing discrimination can cause bitter and even irrational behaviour. All Venetians must understand the consequences of such discrimination and the negative impact on Venetian society.
First, some background to this troubling case. Three months ago, Antonio secured a loan from Shylock for three thousand ducats, with no interest. They agreed that if he failed to pay it back, he would have to sacrifice a pound of his flesh. The loan was made on behalf of Antonio’s good friend Bassanio, who wished to woo a rich and beautiful woman by the name of Portia. Antonio was confident that his merchandise at sea would return and he would easily be able to pay Shylock back. However, all of Antonio’s ships miscarried, and his wealth at sea was lost. As a result Antonio was unable to raise a sum of three thousand ducats, putting his life in Shylock’s hands.
Bassanio offered Shylock more than three times the original loan of three thousand ducats. Shylock refused to take the money, saying that he would not accept thirty six thousand ducats instead of a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Shylock’s enmity towards the Christians of Venice has intensified after being repeatedly spurned by Christians, in particular, the merchant Antonio. This hatred burst out of him even in a formal and public environment, with Shylock claiming that Antonio once spat upon him and called him a dog. Shylock stated that by collecting his bond, he would be settling a score between the Christians and the Jews of Venice by following the Christian example of revenge.
Shylock has been particularly distressed lately as his daughter eloped with a Christian and stole his valuable jewels. He has been heard saying he preferred his daughter dead at his foot and the jewels in her coffin, than having her married to a Christian. While this attitude seems to demonstrate that the Shylock is filled with hate and avarice, the reality is that Shylock has been unfairly persecuted by Antonio and other Christians of Venice for his religious beliefs. He has said that “sufferance is the badge of my tribe”; meaning that the Jews of Venice have suffered throughout history as a result of their religious beliefs. This has resulted in Shylock seeking revenge against Christians in any way that he is able to.
After introducing the case, the Duke of Venice called Shylock an inhuman monster incapable of pity or mercy. Not surprisingly, this only served to make Shylock more resentful. The Duke gave Shylock several opportunities to take the amount offered by Bassanio and to show mercy to Antonio, but Shylock refused, insisting that he ‘would have his bond’. The Duke expressed his belief that Shylock did not truly mean to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh, but instead relished the opportunity to control a dramatic scene and expose the flaws of others. Shylock was quick to justify his case, and proceeded to sharpen his knife in anticipation of collecting his bond of a pound of Antonio’s flesh, nearest to his breast.
A young lawyer by the name of Balthazar entered the courtroom, and, in an insightful speech about the qualities of mercy, gave reasons why Shylock should be merciful and take the money offered. Shylock, however, brushed aside the impressive speech and reiterated his demands for justice and revenge. Bassanio then desperately claimed that he would pay the debt ten times over, or with his own life if necessary. He begged the court that they should bend the law slightly in his favour, however Balthazar refused Bassanio’s suggestion, claiming that he would not break the law just to do “the right thing”. Shylock praised him, believing that he will finally get revenge on the Christians of Venice.
Balthazar requested that Shylock should have a surgeon on hand, in order to prevent Antonio from bleeding to death from having a pound of his flesh removed. Shylock refused, saying that it is ‘not so nominated in the bond’. At this point, Antonio believed he was beyond the point of no return, and that he would have to pay the bond with his life. He told Bassanio, with tears in his eyes, not to blame himself for allowing Antonio to die, on the basis that they both took out the loan willingly.
When all seemed lost for Antonio, Balthazar finally found a loophole in the bond proposed by Shylock. He stated that the bond stipulated no allowance for blood, and specified a pound of Antonio’s flesh with no allowance for blood, and that if Shylock tried to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh and in the process he shed blood, half of Shylock’s goods would be owned by the state and the other by the offended party, in this case, Antonio. This would be classified as an alien conspiring against the life of a Venetian. Hearing this, Shylock immediately gave up on trying to pursue a pound of Antonio’s flesh, and requested the original sum of three thousand ducats, but was prevented from doing so as he had already been given several chances. He pleaded with the Duke to make the penalty less severe, and to show him mercy as he should have done. Antonio agreed to give up his half of Shylock’s estate for it to be donated to Shylock’s daughter and her husband upon his death. Hearing this, Shylock’s face became grave, and he left the court a broken man, his case against Antonio destroyed like the wealth he once had. With that, the court meeting was concluded, and the life of the merchant Antonio spared.
Ostensibly, it would appear that this court case was caused by Shylock’s bloodthirsty desire for revenge on Antonio for his discrimination against Jewish people. Throughout history, Jewish people have been persecuted due to their religious beliefs, as Shylock has pointed out. They have been forced to convert to Christianity, had their synagogues burned, burned at the stake, had their religious texts burned, banned from travelling and massacred. In modern Venetian society, persecution of Jews still occurs, but it is unseen by the majority of Venice. Jews are not treated equally in modern Venice and have to live in ghettos, wearing red caps when leaving the ghetto.
The drama and trauma of this case could have been avoided if Shylock had been better treated for his religious views, and respected by the non-Jewish population of Venice. Venice is a city with rigid laws based on equality and safety of its citizens and has established laws to prevent the Jewish people of Venice from interfering with the lives of citizens of Venice. Treating all people of Venice with respect is the key to having a strong and successful nation, and from avoiding devastating cases such as this from occurring in the future. While trying to murder Antonio by taking a pound of his flesh was inherently immoral, Shylock’s actions were caused by mistreatment from the Christians of Venice, and for that you cannot help but feel pity for him.