The Merchant of Venice was first written sometime between 1594 and 1597 by William Shakespeare. It was produced in London and was seen by many people including King James I, who demanded to see it again, proving the play to be very successful for Shakespeare. Although a lot of controversy was made because of the character Shylock, who was Jewish. During the Middle Ages, all Jews were expelled from England and weren’t allowed to return until nearly 300 years later. When they were permitted to live in England again, they were forced to wear red hats so they were easily identified. If they ignored this rule they would be sentenced to death.
They were forced to live in ghettos guarded by Christians and were expected to pay them for providing safety. Since then Jews have been mistreated even more. The prime example is during World War II, where 6 million Jews were killed in the concentration camps in Germany. After various other persecutions of Jews in Israel and Northern Africa, it has made it rather difficult to ever stage ‘The Merchant of Venice’ again as it would receive a lot of criticism and be interpreted as anti-Semitism because of the mistreatment of the character Shylock. The theatre has changed a lot since the 16th century.
Everyone is allowed a seat today no matter what there religion, society status or race. In the 16th century it was completely the opposite. Upper class people were provided with the best seats, usually high up in the theatre in the balconies where you had the best view of the play, and were treated like royalty having gourmet snacks and drinks prepared for them. The lower people in society would have to stand in ‘the pit’ if they wanted to watch a performance. The rich people would throw their rubbish down onto the poor and it was very rarely cleaned after each performance, which meant the smell was worse each time you went.
Because of the standing audience, the stage was slanted slightly so they could see everything that was going on in the play. Today we are all treated the same and are all given a suitable seat within the theatre. We are all allowed to buy the snacks and sweets on offer and enjoy the play within a nice environment. The stage for Act 4 Scene 1 is very important as it is set within a courtroom and needs to fully portray the tension, anger and depression this situation has produced between Shylock and Antonio.
With Shylock putting his friendships on the line and Antonio his body, the matter becomes very serious. Therefore the stage needs to exemplify this intentness with certain colours, props and lighting. I have chosen to lay down on the stage during the scene a red carpet and the background will be an orangey brown colour with various props such as plants and statues scattered around behind the characters. The red carpet will create a sense of tension and anger between Shylock and Antonio and the props will restore normality into the courtroom.
Also during the part of the play where Portia tells Shylock he isn’t allowed to shed a drop of blood from Antonio, the red carpet will act as an opposite to this situation. The arrangement of characters will be important as some characters can’t be next to or near each other. For example, it is not wise to put Bassanio and Gratiano next to Shylock, because they are against each other in this case. Also, the audience needs to be able to see the main characters well, so extra people need to stand behind.
I would place the Duke and his officials on the audiences left and Antonio at the back, then the extras to the right and Bassanio and Gratiano in front. Shylock would stand between the Duke and Antonio, but would move around the stage when speaking. Nerissa will stand along side Gratiano after giving the letter and Portia will stand with the Duke. The Duke and his officials will be sat at tables and Antonio will be placed on a big wooden armchair. Everybody will be in clear view of the audience and will be heard well as the actors will project their voices when speaking.
There will be lights shining down on the main characters when they are giving important speeches and music playing when tension is building. For example, when Shylock is about to cut the bosom of Antonio, the lights will dim and the music will increase in volume and pace until Portia shouts ” Tarry a little” to end the dramatic tension. The entrances of each character are very meaningful in this scene and each have a reason behind them. Antonio is extremely nervous about the trial and has to be dragged by two officials into the court room, as he has lost his pride and cannot see his future after the trial.
Bassanio and Gratiano enter with Antonio, worried for him and are there to comfort him the best they can, but fail to boost his confidence. Bassanio starts to fell a sense of guilt because of what he has started, but hides his feelings and prepares himself to do the best he can to persuade Shylock to stop this trial. Shylock enters full of stubbornness and maliciousness and by these actions you can see that he has no intentions of backing down and forgetting about the whole thing. He immediately gets out a knife and starts to sharpen it on the bottom of his leather boot.
Antonio is placed on the big wooden armchair and gazes at Shylock as if he was in a trance. Bassanio and Gratiano stand opposite Shylock doing the same, but with more emotion. Shylock ignores them and continues to sharpen his knife. Nerissa’s entrance has to be authentic and persuasive for Portia’s plan to work. The Duke has to accept Bellario’s letter without spotting anything wrong with Nerissa’s appearance and personality. Also her disguise must be good enough to fool Gratiano therefore she must keep her composure and swiftly make her way towards the Duke.
When delivering her lines she must also sustain a worthy male tone. Portia will have to do the same, but with more control and for longer. Her entrance will be a conclusion of the letter as it describes her well and defines the illusion that she is male. This will be very important in the outcome of the trial, as Portia is the one with control over Shylock because of the loophole in the bond. As Nerissa enters she will glance at Gratiano then Antonio for a brief second as she is making her way towards the Duke.
This will remind the audience of the relationship between Nerissa and Gratiano. After handing over the letter, Nerissa will make her way over to Gratiano and stand beside him for the rest of the scene. Portia will make no eye movement towards Bassanio when entering as she is trying to make herself as professional as possible. The Duke will greet her and then she will begin to ask questions to Shylock and Antonio, thus beginning the breakdown of Shylock. The first lines of Act 4 Scene 1 are very important as we see the Duke showing sympathy towards Antonio.
He explains the horror that Shylock has created and that he cannot do anything about it except persuade Shylock to forgive and forget. Antonio understands that there is little that can be done and that it is very unlikely that Shylock will back down as he is a very merciless man. We see these emotions in lines 3-6 where the Duke says ‘I am sorry for thee. Thou art come to answer a stony adversary’. This perhaps creates a bond, a friendship, a trust between the two men as Antonio is relying on the Duke to somehow rescue him from the clutches of Shylock’s twisted and evil mind.
We see Antonio saying ‘He stands obdurate and that no lawful means can carry me out of his envy’s reach’, but inside he is hoping that he can be freed and forgiven by Shylock. All of this is happening before Shylock enters so Antonio can show his feelings towards the Duke without revealing any weaknesses that Shylock could pick up on and tease about. Shylock’s character throughout the scene changes a lot. We see many different emotions from him and there are times where he really makes us feel angry and shocked.
Other times he makes us, in a way, feel sympathy towards him when he spirals out of control and cannot save himself. Shylock enters the scene very cocky and arrogant as if he has already committed the deed on Antonio and quickly starts to make his arrival well known. He gets out his knife and sharpens it with the bottom of his leather boot as a taunt towards Antonio. His attitude towards the Duke is calm and collected because of his power, but his attitudes towards Bassanio and Gratiano are as if they should just stop trying to help Antonio.
Shylock has no intention at all of relinquishing the bond and forgiving Antonio, therefore he rejects Bassanio’s offer of six thousand ducats to let Antonio free and continues to wait until he can take the pound of flesh. This creates the sense that Shylock is a blood thirsty man and will not leave without claiming the prize he has earned. Antonio has no other choice but to take the verbal attacks from Shylock and sit back and watch him walk around full of joy and happiness. Shylock wants to make Antonio feel worthless and treats him like a lower lifeform just like Antonio used to do to Shylock.
Shylock’s thunder is stolen when Nerissa enters with the letter. He is startled that someone is interrupting him and doesn’t know what’s going on. He becomes wary but doesn’t show this as he is trying not to reveal any weak signs to Antonio, Bassanio or Gratiano. If he did then they could crack his shell and get inside his mind and unveil the truths which Shylock beholds. While Nerissa is handing over the letter, Shylock will be pacing up and down infuriated and anxious to get the trial over and done with. We begin to see another side of Shylock during the presence of Portia.
After listening to the Duke read the letter out Shylock watches the entrance of Portia with nervousness but doesn’t show these emotions. Portia dressed as Doctor Balthazar, enters with the knowledge of there being a loop hole within the bond. She identifies who is who, even though she already knows, and then begins to infiltrate her well created plan. As she slowly introduces this well found trap in the bond, Shylock loses all hope of winning this trial and begins to disintegrate and collapse into the powerless human being he used to be and believes he has failed himself and his religion.
When she finally reveals the final blow, Shylock knows there is no way of battling back and accepts defeat. He will fall to his knees and then hang his head in shame. As part of the agreement Shylock is made to convert to Christianity and when he dies pass on all his possessions to Jessica and Lorenzo. This may seem a hard contest to tackle, but I believe that for Shylock it is a chance to begin a new life and change his outlook towards society. He may have lost his right to go into any Synagogue, but there is nothing stopping him believing what he wants to believe.
Portia is known to show mercy and no mercy during this scene and it is mainly aimed towards Shylock. During her arrival into the courtroom she gathers some basic information about Shylock and Antonio then begins to evaluate the merciless character of Shylock. Shylock becomes confident around Portia when she speeds up the procedure and states that the bond says that Shylock is able to take a pound of flesh from Antonio. Portia knows that Shylock has fallen into a trap and is going to be shocked when he discovers the loop hole that the bond has within it.
At this time Portia will be standing a long side the Duke keeping her composure and waiting for the right moment to activate her plan. During her first speech she mentions “mercy” quite a lot. I think that she is doing this to drill it into Shylock’s mind that he should think deeply about what he is doing and if it is a good or bad thing to do. She believes that Shylock is disobeying the, not official, but should be taken account of, rules of his religion and this may make him go to hell after his death.
Shylock may have thought about this, but believes that he is doing nothing wrong as this is part of a signed agreement and Antonio has gotten himself into this situation. As Portia begins to release her merciless attack on Shylock, she overpowers him with the loop hole within the bond. She says it as if Shylock should of accepted defeat early on and now must suffer the consequences for being a greedy old man. As Shylock is preparing to finish the trial and take the pound of flesh, Portia will shout “Tarry a little, there is something else”.
Shylock will turn around and face Portia with confusion. As she goes onto explain that Shylock must not shed a drop of blood, Shylock will begin to collapse. Portia is happy that Shylock is feeling like this and continues unmercifully to reveal more unseen problems that this agreement has produced. She watches Shylock fall apart and inside feels she has succeeded, but doesn’t show this as it would give away her identity. As Shylock exits Portia will step down from the table and walk into the middle of the stage where she will be greeted by Bassanio and Gratiano.
As Shylock leaves the courtroom on his own he will be feeling a variety of feelings. He will feel like a failure, an idiot and a Christian. He gets up from his knees and boldly states “I am not well. Send the deeds after me and I will sign it”. As he slowly makes his way out of the court, he will make brief eye contact with Antonio and see a happy and relieved man. Shylock doesn’t understand why he has been interpreted as the villain in this situation. After years of being mistreated by Antonio and other Christians, he feels that he has a good right to his actions and now he is being punished for it.
Outside of the court Shylock will look down and see Christian hands waving in front of him. At this point Shylock will not be able to contain his emotions and break down into tears on the streets of Venice. To conclude Act 4 Scene 1, we know that Shylock lost the trial and Antonio won. Shylock had entered with the intention of claiming a pound of flesh, but didn’t succeed. Antonio must feel relieved for getting out of this with his bosom and feel great happiness towards Doctor Balthazar (Portia). The intended outcome for Shylock didn’t happen and he had no idea about there being a possible loop hole in the bond.
Therefore he has suffered the consequences and learned that he shouldn’t be so evil just to get his own back on Antonio. We know that Shylock has been mistreated by Antonio and he wants to get revenge but he should stay calm and ignore it. He should have obeyed his religion and now he has been forced to leave it. Overall, Portia has succeeded the most as she has successfully completed her plan. She has kept her disguise well and cracked the mind of Shylock. Now Shylock is left as a Christian unable to enter any Synagogue ever again, just because of his revengeful plan towards Antonio.