“To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge”… is one of many key lines from “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare. It is one of the memorable lines as it is the first line from Shylock’s pivotal speech based on revenge. I will be going into depth in this critical response about what are the main themes which will include the conflict between justice and mercy and the contrast of love and hate. Collectively, they help us to understand in detail about the characters, Also, I will be describing many other features from the play such as the key speeches by Portia and Shylock, setting and characterisation.
The Merchant of Venice’ is a play which focuses on two main plots. First of all there is Shylock’s plot, were he is on a quest for a pound of flesh from Antonio. However, Portia comes and saves the day. Also there is another plot surrounding Portia which involves three caskets and her marriage. In Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” he explores many themes but the main one in my opinion is the conflict between justice and mercy. As in Shylock’s key speech where he is putting a lot of emphasis on revenge by using rhetorical questions aimed at him being a Jew.
Shylock expresses his hatred and resentment of Antonio in his speech as all of his feelings which he had to suppress over the years now have burst to the surface. As the speech goes on he gets more passionate and tries to gain the sympathy of the audience and appeals to common humanity, Shylock does this by the use of rhetorical questions, such as: “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands”, “If you poison us, do we not die. ” However, Shylock’s sympathetic side does not last long as he quickly turns into his usual self by saying, “And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge.
He is saying here, because Antonio has done something wrong, Shylock has a right to take the pound of flesh and not show any mercy. Although, if you look at Portia’s key speech, in “The Merchant of Venice” you will find that her feelings and attitude differ from Shylock’s. Portia emphasises the value of mercy and how Shylock should show mercy to Antonio. The opening line of her speech is: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d… ” Portia is saying here that you cannot force mercy on anyone; mercy has to come deep down from the person’s heart.
Then, in the second line, Portia describes rain as “a natural occurrence” However, in Shylock’s case, mercy does not come naturally to him and cannot be “forced” on him as Shylock’s hatred and his will for revenge are very much the paramount of who he is as a person. Portia then goes on to show there is a connection between being a King or an important leader and the quality of mercy. She says that having a sceptre symbolizes earthly power, but it is far more important to show the quality of mercy which earns respect, which is the proper characteristic of true royalty.
Mercy shows the real integrity of the royal leader not a crown which is superficial. Basically, she is asking Shylock to consider showing mercy to Antonio by even allowing a doctor to be present when the pound of flesh is cut. As well as the conflict between justice and mercy there is the juxtaposition of the two main settings in the play, Venice and Belmont. First of all the juxtaposition of Venice and Belmont is highlighted as, throughout the plot it keeps going back and forth between the two so their contrasts become highlighted. In Venice, the characters are greedy and they all have to work hard to earn their money.
This leads to the characters in Venice not taking money for granted and they value money as they keep it all to themselves. However this can be compared to Belmont, which is very much the upper-class city. We see that, the characters in live in Belmont, the characters do not have to work as hard as they are already rich so their need ‘to work hard’ for money is not as great as in Venice. So overall, Venice is the city where the hard working who does not take money for granted and Belmont is the city of the upper-class who is all rich. Also Belmont is full of peace and harmony compared to the tense business world of Venice.
Antonio who is ‘The Merchant of Venice’ himself comes from Venice. He is often generous to his friends, especially Bassanio when he helps him out with a loan. Antonio is often sad and depressed; the cause of the sadness is not known but it is often said it is because he the two so their contrasts become highlighted. In Venice, the characters are greedy and they all have to work hard to earn their money. This leads to the characters in Venice not taking money for granted and they value money as they keep it all to themselves. However, this can be compared to Belmont, which is very much the upper-class city.
We see that, the characters that live in Belmont, they do no have to work as hard as they are already rich so their need ‘to work hard’ for money is not as great as in Venice. So overall, Venice is the city where the hard working, were people do not take money for granted and Belmont is the city of the upper-class who is all rich. Also, Belmont is full of peace and harmony compared to the tense business world of Venice. Antonio who is ‘The Merchant of Venice’ himself comes from Venice. He is often generous to his friends, especially Bassanio when he helps him out with a loan of ducats.
Antonio is often sad and depressed; the cause of this sadness is not known but it is often said it is because he is an isolated character. In a conversation with Gratiano, Antonio expresses his feelings metaphorically describing the world as: “A stage where every man must play a part, and mine a sad one. ” He feels his part is to play the role of a depressed character. We also learn at the start of the play when Antonio lends Bassanio the money, he breaks his own rules. He breaks his rules as Antonio disapproves morally of the lending of money for interest; however as a mark of affection to Bassanio he is willing to do this just for him.
Throughout the plot Antonio is still lonely after the climax he is the only one who has not found true love or even a relationship. Antonio has an enemy in the play, this is Shylock. Shylock is the one who suggests the unusual bond of a pound of flesh if Antonio does not repay the money Shylock lent to him. Shylock is a money-lending Jew, and for these two reasons he is very much disliked and hated by most in the plot. Throughout the plot Shylock is often associated with devil or animal imagery.
“An inhuman wretch, incapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy. This is when the Duke is describing Shylock as being un-human and will only show a small measure of mercy. Also, in Shylock’s key speech – the Duke is correct – as he shows no mercy what so ever to Antonio as he thinks that revenge is more important than being merciful. However, at the end of the plot Shylock neither gets his pound of flesh or his three thousand ducats back. As a matter of fact he has to sign all of which he owns over to Jessica and Lorenzo, and he also must promise to become a Christian. By this point Shylock has lost everything and is totally defeated.
Then there is Portia who is another important character in ‘The Merchant of Venice. ’ Portia is a very intelligent and beautiful woman who falls in love with Bassanio, However, her father has planned a test with three caskets and whoever chooses the correct casket is allowed to marry Portia. Later she dresses up as a lawyer in the courtroom scene and saves Antonio’s life. At the end of the play Portia is happy as she and Bassanio ‘live happily ever after. ’ One of the central themes in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is the contrast between love and hate. There is not just one type of love explored in the play; there are many.
Such as the love of a friend which is explored through Antonio and Bassanio, These two friends are extremely close and Antonio would just about give his live or do anything for Bassanio. In return Bassanio would do the same and would even give up his wife for Antonio. Another type explored is the love shared between father and child. Firstly, you have Portia who still respects her father’s wishes regarding the terms of the caskets left in his will. Then there is Jessica and her father Shylock; their relationship is not as strong as Jessica welcomes the chance to run away from home.
Also there is Lancelot whose father does not even recognise him when the accidently meet. However, he finally recognises him for his blessing. Also there is the romantic love explored by Shakespeare. Here it is explored through Portia and Bassanio as they have fell in love with one another, but Bassanio’s true motives for him marrying Portia was for her money. Then there is Nerissa who marries Gratiano but they hardly know each other. Also there is a love between characters and possessions, for example you could say Shylock loves his money.
However, all is not love and well as hate is also shown through certain characters and factors in ‘The Merchant of Venice. ’ First of all you see the hatred shown to Shylock as he is a Jew from all Christians. There is even more tense and hatred relationships between Antonio and Shylock. This hatred causes Shylocks to go in search of revenge rather than to be merciful to Antonio. In my opinion love is explored stronger than hate in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ as there are more ways in which he explores it compared to hate. Also the end scene shows that mostly everyone lives happily ever after and all is well.
Iambic pentameter is a language technique used by William Shakespeare in ‘The Merchant of Venice. ’ It is when the lines are unrhymed but all have ten syllables, they also have to be divided into five ‘feet. ’ Shakespeare uses it throughout this play. An example of it is, “My wind, cooling my broth, would blow me to ague when I thought what harm a wind too great might do at sea. ” This is an example of it as there are ten syllables which are unrhymed, this results in iambic pentameter. The effect of iambic pentameter is so that the lines flow well and they do not have to rhyme for this to happen.
Shakespeare uses this technique a lot in his plays. The key scene of the plot is act four which is also known as ‘the courtroom scene. ’ In the courtroom scene both the Duke – the judge – and Portia – who is dressed up as a lawyer – give speeches on the quality of mercy, Portia’s main objective for going to the trial is to saver her husband, Bassanio, as he is willing to give his life for Antonio. This is when the two plots converge as Shylock, with the pound of flesh, and Portia, with the three caskets, come head to head in the courtroom. When they come head to head, it gets very tense as Shylock still seeks revenge.
However, Shylock does not succeed in his wish as all of a sudden due to Portia he has lost everything he once owned. Furthermore, Portia who is the main character around the three casket theme shows how strong her bond with her father was as she still kept the terms in the will. However she complains about the restrictive terms in the will. The exact terms in her father’s will are that if anyone wants to marry Portia they must either choose gold, silver or a lead casket. The caskets all come with one rhyme for the suitors to think about and consider when they are making their choice.
Also for the suitors to know if they have made the correct choice there will be a small portrait with a painting of Portia on it. The first suitor to make his preferred choice is The Prince of Morocco. His choice is the gold casket and inside is a skill and a scroll with writing on it, results in him choosing the wrong casket and must never return to Portia and cannot tell anyone the casket in which he had chosen. The second suitor to choose a casket is ‘The Prince of Arragon. ’ This suitor also chooses the wrong casket in which he had chosen the silver casket.
This casket had a picture of a blinking idiot and also a scroll. So this meant the lead casket which the audience knew the was the correct casket but the final suitor did not know this, The third suitor is of course Bassanio, although Bassanio has already fell in love with Portia he still must make the correct choice to ‘win’ Portia as his wife. Bassanio chooses the lead casket and this reveals a picture so devine and life-like of Portia as Bassanio describes the portrait as, It also contains a scroll which at the end of it says, “And claim her with a kiss” to confirm the correct casket.
With the three caskets there is a certain element of superficiality around them. The superficiality is mostly around the appearance as the three caskets are gold, silver and lead. Now, most people would think Portia’s father would put her in the gold casket as gold represents wealth and something special. Also on the gold casket the inscription says, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire. ” This would suggest that Portia’s father has an opinion that men do not deserve the love of Portia. However, he puts the picture of Portia in the least expected casket; this would be the lead casket.
The inscription on this casket reads, “who chooseth me must give and hazard all the hath. ” He is saying here that if you choose this casket you must go through and put up with what might ever come your way with Portia, this might put some men off picking it as it sounds negative and so does the fact it is in the lead casket. So overall, Portia’s father does not go for the obvious he went for the least obvious which is what superficiality is all about. In my opinion to conclude the question in which I chose the main theme is the conflict between justice and mercy for many reasons I will briefly state.
First of all Portia who is one of the main characters, her key speech was based around mercy. Then if you compare that to Shylock’s, another main character, his speech was based around revenge. So these two most famous speeches are based around the main theme. Also at the end of the play, in my opinion Shylock deserved what he got so justice was served. Justice and mercy is also relevant in today’s society as the quality of mercy is not dead. It is not dead as people still believe that showing mercy to others is still worthy of praise and should be respected.