One of Shakespere’s most famous works, The Merchant of Venice, focuses on prejudice, racism, and discrimination. The conflict between the Jews and other people in Venice is revealed in the opening scene of the film, which provides us with a context of the background and social issues in Venice. Intolerance of Jews leads to discrimination against Jewish people as the beginning of the film states. A Jewish guy is thrown into the river, and Antonio spits onto Shylock… these are all the contexts that the film provides us with prior to the story in order to let us have a basic knowledge and experience of society’s moral — intolerance of Jews. This opening scene prompted me to ask what causes humans to be prejudiced and judge each other. Prejudice is judging people based on their background or values such as race, and religion, and having strong feelings for them. Different education and different backgrounds cause prejudice. Prejudice is still a social issue nowadays, thus, people should try to understand each other to reduce prejudice. This also reminds me not to judge people by stereotypes, and try to understand each person’s differences.
The quality of mercy is not strain’d
It droppeth as the gentle rain form heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him the gives, and him that takes (act4 scene 1)
The quote above is spoken by Portia, who dressed up as a man for the judge of the court. This is my favorite quote throughout the film. It points out the benefits of being merciful and the best part — it blesses both parties, the giver and the taker. However, it raises a controversial question — is mercy more important than justice? Justice and mercy are contradicted at some point: justice allows people to face consequences for their actions; mercy tolerates people’s actions and allows people to escape from their consequences in some situations. In my opinion, justice and mercy are not completely opposite, they are complementary. A philosopher, Saint Thomas Aquinas stated, “… justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice, profusion…”, which I strongly agree with. Thus, we should balance justice and mercy at once as they are both important to humans and society. People should forgive each other in order to maintain a peaceful society. Yet, people should also get their penalties if they have done something that violates other people’s natural rights.
In terms of diction, The Merchant of Venice is one of the most confusing films I have watched as the English that Shakespeare uses is confusing. It puzzled me a lot when I was watching the film. The imagery and acting help me to comprehend the plot of the story. It also raised questions for us to reflect on afterward. Even though this play is written years ago, the social issues that are raised in the film, for example, racism and prejudice, still occur nowadays, which connects to the modern world.