Before we watched Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, we were tasked to give a verdict regarding a bully and his victim. Although I sympathize with the victim, I had given the victim a harsh penalty. The verdict was based on the criminal code of Canada/B.C. As humans, we are very bad and discussing what is right or wrong, hence we have laws regarding what is right or wrong. This question of “what is right or wrong” is an important topic of which Merchant of Venice addresses. In Merchant of Venice, we are confronted by a dilemma regarding a Jew’s justice and Christian mercy. The dilemma arises from the misfortunes that struck Shylock and his desire to exact revenge against a Christian man, Antonio. The misfortune of Shylock arises from the prejudice and discrimination he faced for being a Jew and later losing a large part of his wealth and his largest asset, his daughter, Jessica, which can all connect back to Antonio. After the loss of his daughter, Shylock used his bond to attempt his revenge against Antonio by “killing him”. Although the bond was absolute, the Christians have a philosophy of mercy, unlike the justice philosophy of the Jews.
Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, faces prejudice and discrimination throughout The Merchant of Venice, particularly at the hands of Antonio. From the outset of the play, Antonio expresses his disdain for Shylock at the opening, referring to him as things such as a “cut-throat dog” and spitting on him in public. Although these actions reveal Antonio’s bigotry, it also addresses the wider societal discrimination faced by Jewish people in Christian Venice. When Shylock demands his due under their bond, Antonio offers to pay him in installments with no interest. The breach of their bond by failing to pay ultimately led to the famous trial scene, where Shylock seeks to extract a pound of flesh from Antonio as revenge under his collateral. While Shylock’s desire for revenge is certainly problematic, it is impossible to overlook the fact that his actions are a direct response to the prejudice and discrimination he has experienced at the hands of Antonio and others in the play. In this way, The Merchant of Venice highlights the pernicious effects of prejudice and discrimination, and how they can drive individuals to extremes. The extremes of which Shylock was willing to go to connects back to the victim taking a bat to break the kneecaps of his bully.
Connecting to the revenge of Shylock, it also raises an important question about the nature of justice and mercy. While Shylock’s desire for revenge is understandable, given the discrimination and misfortunes he has faced, his willingness to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh is a morally difficult dilemma. In the trial scene, the Duke of Venice implores Shylock to show mercy, asking, “How shall thou hope for mercy, rendering none?” In this moment, the play highlights the idea that mercy is essential to the notion of justice, and that true justice cannot be achieved without it. Ultimately, it is Portia’s argument about the bond that enables Antonio to be saved and for Shylock to be punished. However, this resolution is not without its own problems. The punishment meted out to Shylock seems to be excessively cruel and harsh, and highlights the danger of privileging retributive justice over mercy. Hence, The Merchant of Venice ultimately presents a complex and nuanced exploration of the interplay between justice and mercy. The court connects back the personal responses regarding the verdict towards the bully and his victim.
The Merchant of Venice has showed me another point of view regarding the never ending dilemma between “bullies” and “their victims”