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The Plot Of The Merchant Of Venice English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2424 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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So far in the play, Bassanio a noble man with money problems wants to woo Portia, a wealthy heiress of Belmont. Bassanio asks his companion Antonio, a very successful merchant of Venice for a loan to woo Portia. Antonio agrees but, as all of his assets are at sea, his recognition will have to be used in order to get the money his friend needs. Antonio and Bassanio go to a Jewish moneylender named Shylockfor a loan since Antonio can’t lend his friend money. Shylock has an “ancient grudge” against Antonio, who has made a habit of criticizing Shylock and other Jews for their usury. Shylock acts pleasantly and offers to lend Bassanio three thousand ducats with no interest even though Antonio refuses to apologise for his behaviour towards Shylock. This shows the audience that conflict exists between Shylock and Antonio. Shylock adds, however, that if the loan isn’t repaid in three months time, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s own flesh “Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken”. Despite Bassanio’s warnings, Antonio agrees “Yes, Shylock, I will seal unto this bond”. Since Antonio is a Christian, Shylock is happy to lend money to Antonio, this will give Shylock the opportunity he needs to hurt and humiliate Antonio just as Christians have done to him as he is a Jew.

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In Act 1 Scene 3, the audience expects Antonio and Shylock to immediately odium each other before they meet in the play. This is because in the Elizabethan era Jews were commonly disliked by Christian nations throughout the 16th century, as Christians believed that in biblical history Jews were the people that killed Jesus Christ (Christian messiah). Jews suffered harsh persecution over the centuries, including torture, loss of property, and forced conversion to Christianity. England expelled all Jews about 300 years earlier to William Shakespeare’s time, much of what remained of them were tales filled with anti-Semitic response ranging from exaggeration to complete lies, which portrayed them as vile, evil and despicable. Jews in Elizabethan times were not viewed as citizens. Instead, they were viewed as outsiders, and were often banned from many occupations because of their religion. This helped the audience understand the conflict that exists between Shylock and Antonio. Jews were left with few means of earning a living as only Christians could belong to professional relations as well as own land . Christians, however, could not lend money with interest, and many Jews earned a profitable living as usurers. We know Shylock is a Jew since the narration specifies that he’s a Jew “Enter Bassanio with Shylock the Jew”. Shakespeare puts an emphasis on “Shylock the Jew” since he doesn’t state the religion of the other characters.

The audience are introduced to Shylock as a greedy man because the first thing he said was about money “Three thousand ducats, well”. Shylock describes Antonio as a “good man”, even though some people might think it means Antonio is kind and generous but to Shylock this means that Antonio has enough money to repay him. It is made clear from the way Shylock is introduced that he is hatching a cunning plan from the start because Shakespeare specifies that Shylock is a Jew but for the other characters he doesn’t state their religion. The audience begin to think Shylock is devious and has something up his sleeves. “…and then there is the perils of the waters, winds and rocks. The man is notwithstanding sufficient…. I think I might take this bond.” Even though Shylock knows that Antonio’s ships will be destroyed (all Antonio’s money is invested in his ships) he still goes ahead to lend him the money. Bassanio invites Shylock to dine with them “If it please you to dine with me”, Shylock denies saying “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you”. This indicates that even though Shylock will do business with Antonio and Bassanio he will not eat, drink or pray with the. It also shows the religious differences that set Shylock apart from the Christian Venetians. Shakespeare presents Shylock this way so that the audience’s hatred would be focused in the direction of Shylock. Shakespeare, while describing the Jewish moneylender Shylock according to stereotypes, fills Shylock with humanity and produces sympathy for the troubles of the Jews. On the other hand, an Elizabethan audience won’t show sympathy towards Shylock as they are anti-Semitic to Jews.

Just before Shylock speaks to Antonio, he lets the audience know in “aside” that he hates Antonio “I hate him for he is a Christian”. This phrase said by Shylock is based on the beliefs of other Jews on other Christians; it helps the audience to know the conflict that exists between Shylock and Antonio. The phrase also shows how stereotypical Shylock is since he doesn’t really know Antonio, but because Shylock has heard of Jew-hating Christians he thinks that he too should hate Christians since all of them hate Jews. Shylock distastes Antonio because he “lends out money gratis” free of interest, so bringing down interest rates for professional moneylenders such as Shylock and for having disgraced him in public by spitting on him and calling him names such as “dog” and “cutthroat Jew”. For humiliation as well as the persecution that the Jews have long suffered at the hands of the Christians, Shylock tells the audience that he hopes to exact vengeance on Antonio. “If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him.He hates our sacred nation . . . Curs’d be my tribe if I forgive him!” Shylock reveals to the audience that he’s prejudice against Christians and he also explains to the audience the ways in which he has experienced anti-Semitic prejudice himself. Both groups’ ideas of the other revolve around ideas of business: the Christians believe it is wrong to practice usury (lending money for interest), whereas the Jews-who were forbidden by law from engaging in most other professions-often decided to usury as a way to make a living and identify themselves in the Venetian society.

“I hate him for he is a Christian;

But … interest. Cursed be my tribe

If I forgive him!”Shylock’s quote in Act 1 Scene 3 line 36-47 tells the audience that Shylock is as concerned with money as religion, and possibly even more so. Shylock uses his money to get back at Antonio so he can feed his personal grudge against him. He views the lending as an opportunity to stick it to Christians for all the troubles and sufferings they have caused the Jews. The money lending is a battle between the two men as well as their religions. Shylock and Antonio can be considered substitute for their religious issues. But money is their way of throwing in personal accusations while fighting the religious fight.

Shylock is told by Antonio that normally he wouldn’t take part in a deal involving interest but because his friend is in need of the money he will break his custom. Their greeting has ironic suggestion for the audience, which has just heard Shylock’s opinion of Antonio “I hate him for he is a Christian”. Shylock decides to loan Bassanio the money he needs. Shylock recites the Biblical story of Jacob to defend his practice of charging interest. Shylock shows the personal and religious differences between his religion and Christianity by reciting the Book of Genesis. As it is unnatural to breed money from money Christians believe usury is dissolute. But Shylock interprets the Bible to say that charging interest is no different than Jacob’s breeding of animals, which Christian law would permit as totally natural.

“The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind.” As Antonio thinks that Jews aren’t kind and can’t be kind unless they’re Christians. He witnesses Shylock, the Hebrew, become kind by lending him money and so believes that’s impossible. Since Shylock is being generous by lending Antonio money, Antonio takes it as Shylock being Christianised as he’s being nice. This quotation tells the audience how Antonio considers his religion superior to Judaism. The previous quotation “I hate him for he is Christian” illustrated how Shylock was stereotypical about Christians. There are similar beliefs in the religions of both characters. The exchange in words between Shylock and Antonio prepares the audience for what is going to happen next.

Antonio has publicly abused Shylock many times and even spat upon his clothing “spit upon my Jewish gabardine” Why, Shylock asks, should he lend to Antonio as freely as he would to a relative or friend? Enraged, Antonio begins to insult Shylock again. There is no need to pretend to be friends, he says: lend money to him as to an enemy “If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not as to thy friends… But lend it rather to thine enemy”. Shylock then goes on to propose an unusual deal. He says that, this time, he will not charge interest on his loan. Nevertheless, Shylock will be allowed to cut off one pound of Antonio’s flesh from any part of his body if Antonio is unable to pay Shylock. The bond Shylock proposes is hard for the Christians, and a modern audience or reader, to understand. Shylock is adopting the Christians’ stated business and directing them towards an atrocious end by trading flesh instead of making money “breed” by usury; this mocks the principles of Christianity. Antonio is told by Shylock that he wants to be companions with him and will settle the bond for a pound of flesh as a “merry sport.”

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Antonio agrees “Yes Shylock, I will seal unto this bond” to Shylock’s bond despite Bassanio’s nervousness “You shall not seal to such a bond for me” about binding his friend to such a dangerous bond. Bassanio shows some sense of right and wrong about putting his greed before his friend, for the first time as he realises that by being greedy he has caused his friend to agree to put a price on his pound of flesh, this leads Antonio right into Shylocks trap. By signing the contract Antonio agrees to be bond.

Antonio says “there can be no dismay”, this line is ironic because later in the play there is a reason to worry when Antonio’s ships are destroyed at sea so he can’t pay Shylock his money back. This then means that Shylock would want his pound of flesh. Since Shakespeare ended the Act 1 with Antonio’s quote: “Come on. In this there can be no dismay. My ships come home a month before the day.” By ending the play with Antonio reassuring Bassanio not to worry because his ship will come home a month before the money is due to be repaid. This makes the audience sense that something wrong is going to happen to Antonio’s ships which will then mean that Shylock will get his pound of flesh. The audience will already know that something is going to happen to Antonio’s ships since Shylock didn’t hesitate to choose the punishment Antonio will receive if he doesn’t pay his money back on time.

Act 1 Scene 3 is an important scene because it completes the description of the two major plot lines of the play: Antonio agrees to Shylock’s bond – three thousand ducats for a pound of flesh; and second, and more dramatically, this scene introduces Shylock the Jew. In this scene, Shakespeare makes it clear at once why Shylock is the most powerful dramatic figure in the play. Even though Shylock and Antonio both have different manners and capabilities both characters are successful businessmen in Venice.

When Antonio is asking Shylock for the loan he says, “Within these two months, that’s a month before this bond expires, I do expect, return of thrice times the value of this bond.”. Shylock being a selfish businessman asks for three times the value of the loan. Antonio being a risk taker lends his good name to Bassanio to woo Portia. Antonio thinks things will be always go right for him, his business and his success will endure, this is revealed when he accepts a dangerous bond and the high interest rate if the money isn’t received.

Shylock is a wicked man who wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh if his money is not paid back, whereas, Antonio is prepared to risk his life for his friend – who happens to be in love with the wealthy, intelligent and beautiful Portia- Antonio’s sacrifice for his friend shows how different he is from Shylock. The Jewish old testaments states “an eye for an eye” which means that if someone wrongs you, seek revenge, on the other hand the Christians New Testament gives us Jesus’ message of peace, love and forgiveness “forgive and forget”.

The play shows how Christians and Jews used to treat each in the 16th century. We don’t deal with the same issues like greed, prejudice, hatred and revenge Jews and Christians showed towards each other because in today’s society everyone is equal. I feel that the scene is a very complicated scene as it explains how Christians and Jews acted towards each other in Shakespearean time as well as how Shylock tricked Antonio into accepting a dangerous bond. I feel that both views of Jews and Christians are wrong since I’m sure not all Jews and Christians acted how Antonio and Shylock did in Shakespeare time. I think the play is somewhat related to the persecution of Jews in World War as well as the killings of the genocide. Even though Shylock was represented as such an extremist by Elizabethan audience/Shakespeare, he wouldn’t be represented as such by a modern audience.


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