As the play is reaching its thrilling climax, we are transported to the court of justice, where Shylock is finally to receive his destiny. Having witnessed such violent and abusive loathing between the Christian Antonio (the merchant who gives the play its title) and the Jewish Shylock, the outcome of the trial determines the outcome of the entire play, and the final result of justice for the characters. Shylock’s plans all fall to pieces at the last minute as he refuses to take any money and insists on cutting the pound of flesh; however Portia, acting as a judge, turns the case around by discovering that no blood must be drawn.
Antonio now is in control of the situation, and forces Shylock to renounce his religion and become a Christian. But in this scene, is this the “just” result? It depends which character’s side you take; Shylock wanted justice to be served with a pound of flesh, whilst Antonio wanted Shylock to be punished for his violent and unreasonable demand. The play follows many of the traits of a Shakespearian comedy. At the time, Jews were considered second class citizens, who had little freedom in a Christian society.
In comedies, traditionally the Jewish character, Shylock in this case, is the evil villain who the audience has little sympathy for and want to see fail and receive his punishment. However; Shakespeare very cleverly presents Shylock as much more of a character, enlarging this stereotype with long and very powerful speeches, which begin to turn the sympathy around the other way and take the audience onto his side. For a modern audience therefore, the emotional response to his downfall is very complicated, having witnessed both sides of Shylock.
Shakespeare certainly doesn’t steer entirely away from this Jewish stereotype; there are many instances where we see Shylock presented as greedy, and money-grabbing, for example when Shylock first is introduced in act one scene three, he says “three thousand ducats, well? “, “for three months, well? “, “Antonio shall become bound, well? “, “three thousand ducats for three months and Antonio bound. ” This repetitive characterisation introduces him instantly as a classic stereotypical comedy Jew – greedy and obsessive, irritatingly going through details about money non-stop.
His pedantic and legalistic short little lines are spread throughout the play, maintaining that de-humanising picture of him: “He lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance! ” Having made the bond for a pound of flesh with Antonio earlier legally, Shylock surely has every right to claim what has been confirmed by contract as his; therefore it is technically just; however it is most certainly not morally correct – Shylock feels it is acceptable for him to force a massive amount of pain and suffering upon another human being which could even lead to death.
Shylock’s pure hatred and desperation for revenge after years of torment and anti-Semitism from Antonio has fired up this desire to exact as much suffering and humiliation as possible back to him – his seething bitterness is very de-humanising. His plans follow the message of revenge: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. ” This is a quote from the Old Testament, an old fashioned idea of Justice that goes against the Christian belief of forgiveness thus separating the two religions even further, increasing the rivalry between him and Antonio.
As well as his sadistic demands and his stereotypical obsession with money, he is talked about as despised by other characters, even his own daughter Jessica. She flees his house, and denounces his religion. She describes him as a “merry devil” and says “our house is hell. ” She says she is not a daughter “to his manners” showing that she greatly disapproves his actions and work, showing no respect as his daughter. As she is supposed to be the closest person emotionally to him in the entire play, then the fact that she hates him should certainly discourage the audience from taking his side.
So in many ways, Shylock is the despised Jew full of greed and old-fashioned beliefs that a regular Shakespeare comedy is supposed to have. However, amongst all these lines showing an obsession with money, and amongst all his snarling cruel demands to seek revenge, Shylock is explored in much more detail by Shakespeare who opens up the stereotype and presents him with long speeches to argue his points and communicate his opinions powerfully.
He’s shown as a victim from the very start, when Antonio spits on him and calls him language like “dog” despite the fact that they’ve never even met. This instantly makes us feel for Shylock being picked on for what we later learn to be a long time. It also shows Antonio to be unfaithful to his Christian beliefs, and ignoring the bible’s message of forgiveness. In Act 1, Scene 3, the bond is made. As Shylock deals with the fact he is going to be forced to lend money to Antonio, he begs him to stop being so abusive because of his religion.
Antonio replies “I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too. ” This increases the audience’s sympathy for Shylock, as he is rejected again and again having offered Antonio forgiveness and even friendship: “I would be friends with you, and have your love, forget the shames that you have stain’d me with. ” Antonio refuses to treat Shylock as anything more than the 2nd class citizen he is deemed, and triggers the anger that forces Shylock to make his punishment, should he break the bond, be a potentially fatal cut of flesh.
As Shakespeare gives the Character more and more speeches to argue his points and communicate his opinions to the audience, he famously bursts out of his shell to powerfully take the stage: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? ” Shakespeare lets Shylock really try to engage with the audience, and prove that he deserves more respect from all other characters, and that he is victimised unfairly. This scene ends with Shylock’s situation going from bad to worse; he finds out that his escaped daughter who stole many of his prized possessions has sold his favourite ring.
Thou torturest me, it was my turquoise. I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys. ” Not only has Shylock lost his daughter and his money, he now finds out that one of his last treasured presents from his late wife has been sold off. Surely now, the audience must feel sympathy towards him, facing such torment from all around him when inside he is faced with massive issues. We also remember he is nothing more than a frail old man – we can’t help but feel tremendously sorry for him in this situation.
Shakespeare does, however, maintain essences of the stereotype still: annoying little repetitive segments: “What, what, what? Ill luck, ill luck? ” “I thank God I thank God. Is it true is it true? ” Although this is very irritating, it hardly justifies the abuse and hate he receives from the other characters, and certainly not his daughter’s actions. Finally, in Act 4, Scene 1, we reach the trial scene where everything that has built up to this climactic event will at last be settled. Shylock comes in with every intention of getting revenge on Antonio by cutting a pound of his flesh from his breast, which would almost certainly kill him.
Such anger and brutal rage from Shylock surely must be from more than just the unpaid debt – all the factors combining together all the way throughout the play have brought upon Shylock this need to hurt Antonio. He had been teased and spat on, mocked and humiliated, and now he was in control. But now Shylock had the added stress of finance and his daughter’s actions, and was overcome with a crazed desperation for blood. The courtroom itself was very one sided; Shylock was on his own as the only Jew and had absolutely nobody supporting his case.
He was surrounded by Christians, and all of them on Antonio’s side. Antonio, and indeed most Christians, refer to him simply as “the Jew”, dehumanising and victimising him publicly. He is often teased and bullied by those around him, particularly Gratiano: “O be thou damned, inexecrable dog”. This merely provokes him, and makes him more and more insistent to throw away any other offers that come to him and get his revenge on Antonio with a knife: “If every ducat in six thousand ducats were in six parts, and each part a ducat, I would not draw them; I would have my bond! By now, the character’s once again morphed back into the greedy crazed obsessed stereotype of a Jew Shakespeare would be expected of producing, gaining little sympathy by behaving in an aggressive out of control way.
As this character gets more and more savage, Shakespeare writes in various metaphoric lines involving animals, thus making Shylock appear less and less human: “Wouldst thou have the serpent sting thee twice? “, “Some men there are love not a gaping pig”, “Some that are made if they behold a cat. This language reflects Shylock, and indeed the Jew stereotype, as being nothing more than an animal in the company of humans who doesn’t deserve equal rights. Portia, dressed up as a man, now tries desperately to change Shylock’s mind, passionately trying to appeal to his religious sense by talking about mercy “Mercy is above this sceptred sway. It is enthroned in the hearts of kings; it is an attribute to God himself. ”
Even this idea of mercy is completely unappealing to the now uncaring vicious Shylock. He simply snaps back “My deeds upon my head! I crave the law; the penalty and forfeit of my bond! He then turns down another, even higher sum of money. By now, it seems inevitable that the audience are going to be forced to see Shylock physically removing a pound of flesh – a gruesome thought. The sheer sadistic gore of this turns the audience even further against Shylock. “A Daniel come to judgement; yea a Daniel! O wise young judge, how I do honour thee! ” Portia makes one last desperate attempt for him to take back the bond: “Shylock,” she says, finally addressing him by name, “there’s thrice thy money offer’d thee. ” Nothing now can turn Shylock back. “No, not for Venice. ”
Finally, it appears Portia gives in, and blood will be spilt. The long speeches now turn to snappy little lines of dialogue, building up the tension to an unbelievable level. “Prepare your bosom for his knife. ” “Oh noble judge, o excellent young man! ” “Therefore lay bare your bosom. ” Even balances are prepared: “I have them ready. ” All this fast paced action with Shylock overseeing it with a smile on his face whilst all Christians look on disgusted and outraged turns the audience clearly onto Antonio’s side. His very few lines show obvious terror – scared of what awaits him: “Fare you well.
Grieve not that I am fall’n to this for you. ” We also learn that there was a very strong emotion bond between him and his best friend Bassanio, many to the point of homosexual love: “Life itself, my wife, and the entire world, are not with me esteem’d above thy life. I would lose all, ay , sacrifice them all here to this devil, to deliver you. At last, the act is so close to completion the tension is extreme: “the court allows it and the law doth give it. ” “A sentence! Come.. prepare… ” Suddenly, everything changes.
Portia announces an added condition Shylock was unaware of. “This bond give thee hence no jot of blood. All is turned around. The roles are suddenly reversed as everyone realises Shylock’s demand is impossible to bring forward. Now it’s Gratiano who praises Portia: “Oh learned judge! Mark, Jew: a learned judge! ” Outraged, Shylock tries to get out of it with the money but fails. The deed carried on, the audience must feel relieved having avoided a bloody death so closely, and having seen Shylock turned into an animal, savagely wanting death, anyone watching surely must take the side of Antonio now.
As if Shylock couldn’t get any worse, Antonio has one final advantage over him. “He presently become a Christian! Shylock’s worst nightmare is met, as he is forced to leave his religion to become one of them. Antonio may argue that it is because of his own faith he brought Shylock in, but to me it is obvious that it was merely an act of revenge to put Shylock in the firing line. Embarrassed, worn out, and confused about what just happened, a weary Shylock leaves the court and leaves Venice; nothing more than a frail old man again. So was this result “just”? It would certainly not have been just for it to go Shylocks way – the violent taking of Antonio’s life would go against both of their religious beliefs, and certainly isn’t morally acceptable.
However, Shylock did deserve something out of this, be it some compensation at the end. Having seen him victimised so much throughout the play, there was still some sympathy for him there, even if he didn’t help things by behaving so savagely in court. From Antonio’s point of view, things went perfectly, but I believe he was definitely not in the right – his unnecessary cruel taunting of Shylock was just plain nasty, and his absolute insistence that he never looked upon him as an equal certainly got him very close to receiving a cruel punishment from Shylock.
To conclude, I believe this was not a just result – Shylock was in the wrong for much of it, so in the sense of Antonio being spared, that went well. But, for Antonio to add insult to injury by forcing Shylock to go home bankrupt and a Christian was unnecessary and cruel. Shylock was a victim, but only by a margin. He shouldn’t take demands too far, and Antonio should treat him with more respect.