Date of publication: 2017-09-04 21:16
The trial in the court of the Duke of Venice contains the great climax of the play. Unwilling to simply nullify a contract, the Duke calls upon Portia, disguised as a male lawyer, to argue on behalf of Antonio. When Shylock refuses to show mercy, she finds a flaw in the contract: Shylock’s agreement with Antonio mentioned flesh but said nothing about blood. If, in the process of collecting Antonio’s flesh, Shylock were to be guilty of shedding Antonio’s blood, then Shylock’s property would have to be confiscated by the state of Venice.
Shylock, wretched and having lost everything he owns, tells the court that he is content to accept these conditions. The Duke leaves and tells Antonio to thank the doctor who has saved his life. Bassanio and Graziano go to Portia and thank her profusely, and Bassanio offers the doctor anything he wants. Portia decides to test her husband s trustworthiness, and asks him for the engagement ring, the ring which she made him vow never to part with. He refuses, and Portia and Nerissa leave. However, at Antonio s urging, Bassanio takes off the ring and gives it to Graziano, telling him to take it to Portia and invite her to dinner that night at Antonio s.
But Shylock is not so simple a character. On the surface, he is cruel, stubborn, and greedy and he has a grotesque fixation on redeeming Antonio 8767 s flesh bond. But Shylock also has emotional weight, expressing his angst in one of Shakespeare 8767 s most eloquent speeches:
Two symbiotic sociopaths play obscurely deviant mind games with each other while engaging in perversely brutal acts of violence against victims apparently chosen at random.
Antonio is brought before the Duke and the magnificoes of Venice to stand trial for failing to pay off his obligation to Shylock. The Duke is upset about the penalty, a pound of Antonio s flesh, but cannot find any lawful way of freeing Antonio from his bond. Shylock enters the court and the Duke tells him that all of the men gathered there expect him to pardon Antonio and forgive the debt.
The essence of doubling is reinforced even more with the double exclusion of the two men at the end of the play. Antonio, having received half of Shylock s wealth, essentially takes over for Shylock by using Shylock s money. Scholars have debated about the nature of the merry bond between Shylock and Antonio. Some have suggested Shylock meant to circumcise Antonio, others think he meant to make Antonio take over his place. The fact that Shylock accepts a Christian condition of taking no interest is supposedly offset by the fact that if Shylock wins, Antonio must act Jewish.
I feel that another significant symbol in this play is Portia's ring. Although it is not mentioned in the symbols as given above, it is definitely an important symbol. A ring was given to Bassanio by Portia in Act III, Scene II, when Bassanio passes the casket test and is authorized to marry her. Portia gives Bassanio a ring stating that this ring signified their love and that she is handing over herself and her worldly possessions to Bassanio when she gave him that ring. However she lays the condition that the day that he loses, sells or gi. Read more
Here Shylock insists on the fact that Jews and Christians share a common humanity. He also exposes the hypocrisy of the Christian characters who are always talking about love and mercy but then go out of their way to alienate Shylock because he is Jewish and different.
So the play may simply be a product of its time, which means a certain amount of anti-Semitic sentiment is to be expected. Whether this measure of anti-Semitism should be tolerated is a different debate.