When Shakespeare wrote his play ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Christians hated Jews. Christians had believed since the Elizabethan times that the Jews killed Christ. This became the reason for banning the Jews from England for 300 years; Jews had just been let into Christian societies when the play was written. The play would’ve had large audiences as it was set in an exotic place, Venice.
No one would have been to Venice, which would of made the play more intriguing. In 1597 when the play was written, families would visit the theatre regularly; people loved a bit of comedy so Shakespeare had to write a play that entertained his audience. Many things went on whilst the play did and people would carry on talking throughout the whole production. If the audience were not happy then they would feel obliged to show their appreciation by throwing vegetables at the actors. Every actor had to be a male so a boy would play a woman. Acting for women was thought to be a profession as low as prostitution.
In the lead up to the trial scene, Shakespeare shows the tension between Jews and Christians. Shylock (Jew) and Antonio (Christian) clearly hate each other and have no respect for each other’s religion or way of life. When Shylock and Antonio meet for the first time, in the play, Shylock tells us just how much respect Antonio has for him, “…you spat on me Wednesday last,
You spurned me such a day, another time
You called me dog: and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much monies.”
This short little speech of Shylock’s is showing us the kind of things Christians did to Jews. To spit on someone you must not have a care in the world for them and think of them as disgusting or “an inhuman wretch”. Calling Shylock a dog was just as bad, because back when the play was written dogs were not man’s best friends. Dogs could be treated as bad as the next Jew, kicking them would have been a favourite pastime of the Christians.
Shylock’s opinion of Antonio is very low, but Antonio gives Shylock no reason to like him, even just a bit, or to show mercy on him, when the trial scene comes. Antonio answers Shylock after his small speech with,
“I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.”
This statement shows how little respect Shylock and Antonio actually have for each other. The hate is clear and for Antonio to say that he will continue to treat Shylock badly even if he was to lend him money, Jews must have been nothing, not even thought of as humans, just there to use, for example to borrow money from, when the Christians wanted. Shylock and Antonio are very much different, not only for having different religions, wearing different clothes, with different looks about them, but personality wise too. They are very different characters, as Antonio is the kind of man who lends money to his friends willingly, not knowing when or if he would get it back.
“He lends out money gratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.”
Shylock on the other hand is professional in everything he does. Business is business, which should be done properly, that is why he would write up a Bond. The Bond is a guarantee that he would get his money back, with interest, with in three months, or else a forfeit is in hand.
“….let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.”
This may seem to be unreasonable but I think Shylock never intends to make it so. Antonio was very sure his ships would make it to their destinations and there fore his money would be back and there, to pay back the borrowed money.
Shylock doesn’t just have one reason to hate Christians, as he is given so much ammunition, but doesn’t choose to fire back until the trial comes. He builds up all his anger and his revenge on Christians, which is there fore taken out on poor Antonio. Shylock even uses this hold he has on Antonio to relieve himself of the anger he had, after his daughter left taking some of his money and Jewels with her to marry a Christian.
“….If a Jew wrong
a Christian, what is humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a
Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why,
As the trial scene starts you are given a clear indication that Shylock is hated, even the Duke (judge) is against him.
“A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch,
Uncapable of pity, void and empty
From any dram or mercy.”
When the Duke says this you get a clear picture of him walking over to a table saying it softly to himself, shaking his head and with the audience of this time very much agreeing. As every one is settled in the courtroom waiting for Shylock to enter the tension would have been immense, everyone staring at the door, looks of disgust on their faces. When Shylock finally enters the message is clear that the Christians want Shylock to show mercy and would rather take the pound of flesh from him than Antonio.
“….Thou’lt show thy mercy and remorse more strange
than is thy strange apparent cruelty.”
All of Antonio’s friends would be at the side like a jury but allowed to get up and say what they thought of the situation and Shylock would be sat on the other side of the Duke with his scales and knife at the ready. Antonio would be sat in the middle for all the court and audience to see him.
After Shylock is settled and put out his equipment he is questioned vigorously but refuses to answer each question directly. Shylock is clever with his answers and says
“I am not bound to please thee with my answers.” Shylock has only one obvious reason revenge but he can’t express this at the start, as he knows the Christians would totally disagree unless the situation was reversed. As we get into the scene and the Christians believe they are losing, the Duke calls in “a young doctor of Rome” to help the case and with some luck get Antonio off the hook. Portia responds to all Shylock’s answers in his favour,
“A Daniel come to judgement: yea a Daniel!
O wise young judge, how I do honour thee!”
This makes the drama of the whole play increase, as Shylock is sure he is winning and will get his bond. This part of the play would have been very tense and would have had the audience biting their nails, not wanting the Christians to die. Shylock would have been shocked to see Portia was on his side, agreeing that the law says he must have his bond and to see an honest Christian would have been a shock to him, he wouldn’t of been expecting it at all.
Shylock also would not of been expecting a chance to actually take his bond. He had prepared very well for this and with his equipment at the ready and Portia’s go ahead Antonio’s friends would not of been pleased.
“Why then, thus it is:
You must prepare your bosom for his knife.”
As Shylock is ready to take his bond, Portia stands in the background whilst all eyes are on Antonio and Shylock. Then as if from nowhere just as Shylock has a chance to take his pound of flesh she steps forward to ask,
“Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge,
To stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death.”
This is a very tense moment in the play as you start to get a hint of what will follow, but Shylock proceeds,
“I can not find it, ’tis not in the bond.” And the whole court would of sunk back down into their seats, with what little hope they had of Antonio’s survival gone.
As every one is stood at the back not wanting to see their friend die Shylock continues and just as the moment comes, when the audience all take in a breathe loudly, Portia steps forward unexpectedly,
“This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood.
The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh’.”
This is the turning point of the whole play, a sigh of relief through the whole court and the tension drops dramatically. Antonio’s friends would have a lot to say and were open to mock the Jew.
“O Jew, an upright judge, a learned judge!” The audience watching would’ve found the disappointment of the Jew quite amusing and reacted with an outburst of laughter. Shylock would now want to get out of the situation as easy as he could, obviously knowing the Christians would want to drain him of everything he owns to get their revenge. Portia is constant to keep the Jew in the court and give him what they think as reasonable justice.
The end of the trial scene would be most favoured throughout all the Christians as their hate for Jews would be shown in the way Shylock ended up with most of his belongings taken from him or destine to be given away once he dies. When Shylock leaves the court being told he must convert to become a Christian, the audience watching the play when it was first written would of accepted this but today people would feel sorry for him.
Knowing a Jews religion is the most important to them. Throughout the play Antonio is put across as a sad character and at the end of the trial scene I think Antonio will be looking pleased with himself making it obvious he was scared of death. Overall I think the tension in the trial scene is show by giving the play such a plot as Portia being the judge, knowing or not knowing what will happen.