Merchant of venice

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Prejudice and Intolerance

The Venetians in The Merchant of Venice almost uniformly express extreme intolerance of Shylock and the other Jews in Venice. In fact, the exclusion of these "others" seems to be a fundamental part of the social bonds that cement the Venetian Christians together. How otherwise would the ridiculous clown Launcelot ingratiate himself with the suave Bassanio? Or why would the sensitive Antonio tolerate someone as crass as Gratiano? It is possible to argue that Shakespeare himself shares his characters' certainty that the Jews are naturally malicious and inferior to Christians because of Shylock's ultimate refusal to show any mercy at all and, as a result, his pitiful end.

Yet there are also reasons to think that Shakespeare may be subtly criticizing the prejudices of his characters. Shylock's fury comes not from some malicious "Jewishness" but as a result of years of abuse. For example, though he is criticized by Antonio for practicing usury (charging interest on borrowed money) Jews were actually barred from most other professions. In other words, the Christians basically forced Shylock to work in a profession that the Christians then condemned as immoral. Shylock insists that he "learned" his hatred from the Christians, and it is Shylock alone who argues that all of the characters are the same, in terms of biology and under the law.

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Human and Animal

Closely related to the theme of prejudice and intolerance is the theme of humanity—and the inhumanity of which various characters accuse one another. In insulting and abusing Shylock, the Venetians frequently denigrate him as an animal or devil. Shylock, in turn, seeks to reduce his debtor Antonio to the status of an animal whose body can be bought or sold. In the courtroom scene, he justifies his purchasing of a pound of Antonio's flesh as being fundamentally similar to the way in which other Venetians might buy slaves or livestock.

Shakespeare was writing The Merchant of Venice as a philosophical movement called "Renaissance humanism" became prominent. This philosophy defined humans as exceptional beings, existing outside of the chain of being of God's other creatures. Yet, The Merchant of Venice shows how this type of humanism can be used to abuse outsiders. After all, if being "human" ceases to be based on biology, then exactly who is human and who isn't becomes a matter of interpretation. The play's Christian characters clearly believe that being Christian is a primary requirement for being human, as both the insults aimed at Shylock and the Prince of Morocco suggest. In his famous speech justifying his desire for revenge in 3.1, Shylock explicitly rejects the humanist definition of "humanity," describing his similarity to the Venetians in terms of biological functions that all human beings share: tickling, eating, bleeding, dying. Constant references in the play to "flesh and blood" further highlight humans' biological, "animal" origins..

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Law, Mercy, and Revenge

Both the central action of The Merchant of VeniceShylock's attempt to revenge himself on the Christian Antonio—and the romantic subplot—between Bassanio and Portia—explore the relationship between law, mercy, and revenge.

Shakespeare's contemporary, the philosopher Francis Bacon, defined revenge as a "kind of wild justice." When one private individual decides to revenge himself on another, he is going outside the official justice system. And yet, as the phrase "wild justice" suggests, the revenger is responding to what he sees as a "higher law." The revenger takes the law into his own hands when he feels that the state is not capable of or refuses to enforce justice. Therefore, while law and revenge are technically opposed to each other, since revenge is illegal, they also overlap. Shylock, pursuing Antonio's "pound of flesh," exposes the intimate connection between law and revenge. He seeks vengeance against Antonio precisely by sticking to the letter of the law within the Venetian justice system.

In the courtroom scene of Act 4, scene 1, both the Duke and Portia present mercy as a better alternative to the pursuit of either law or revenge. Shylock explicitly refuses to show mercy, while the Christians, in sparing Shylock's life in the end, claim that they have. Yet, when they do, Shylock himself asks to be killed. He says that, having had all of his possessions confiscated and his religious identity revoked (which would also make it impossible for him to work as a money-lender, since Christians were not allowed to practice usury), he has nothing left to live for. The question of who is or is not merciful, therefore remains open.

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Greed vs. Generosity

The primary grievance that Antonio has against Shylock is that he is greedy—for charging interest to those who borrow money from him when they are in need. The Venetians implicitly contrast Shylock's greed with the generosity that they show one another. For instance, Antonio is willing to place his whole "purse and person" at Bassanio's disposal and regularly saves other Christians from having to pay interest to Shylock by paying off their debts for them.

It seems that, like love or mercy, generosity is limitless, unbounded. However, The Merchant of Venice also frequently begs the question of whether friends aren't using friends, or lovers their lovers, for materialistic reasons. For instance, why is the perpetually indebted Bassanio so intent on wooing the rich Portia? And as Portia's and Nerissa's anger over the rings that their husbands give away in the final scene reflects, even the freest gift-giving comes with strings attached, like the rules governing Shylock's more frankly capitalistic contracts.

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Love and friendship

In connection with mercy and generosity, The Merchant of Venice also explores love and friendship between its characters. The central romantic relationship of the play is that between Bassanio and Portia. Their marriage is paralleled by several others: the elopement of Shylock's daughter, Jessica, with the Christian, Lorenzo; and the marriage of Portia's servant, Nerissa, to Bassanio's companion, Gratiano. In addition, numerous critics have suggested that the strongest friendship in the play—between Antonio and Bassanio—also approaches romantic love. In addition, the play shows how strong the amicable ties are that connect all the various Venetian characters.

Given the generosity that they motivate between characters, love and friendship might seem to offer alternatives to the ugly emotions of prejudice, greed, and revenge on display in The Merchant of Venice. However, beginning with Bassanio's borrowing money from his friend Antonio in order to woo Portia, the play also demonstrates that the apparent purity of love and friendship can be tainted by selfish economic concerns. In addition, love and friendship are also at the mercy of the law, as seen in Portia's being subject to the terms of her father's riddle of the caskets.

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Stone, rings and caskets

When Shylock raves about the "stones" that Jessica has stolen from him, part of the joke is that in the Renaissance "stones" was a slang word for the testicles. And indeed Shylock's only child's renouncing her father, eloping, and converting to Christianity is symbolically tantamount to castrating him, cutting off his family name. Multiple characters undergo kinds of symbolic castration throughout the play. Antonio, who seems not to expect to marry or have children, refers to himself as a "wether," or neutered ram. Portia's suitors, who vow never to seek other wives, also forfeit their ability to produce heirs.

The chests that Portia's suitors must open, like the rings that she and Nerissa give their husbands to safeguard, none-too-subtly evoke the female genitalia. In the final scene, when Portia and Nerissa pretend to have slept with the lawyer and the law clerk to whom their rings were given, they make this connection explicit. By using precious objectsand, in the case of the stones and the rings, objects of commercial exchangeto stand for human sex, Shakespeare links the supposedly pure spheres of love and marriage to the play's exploration of money and greed.

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Shylock

A Jewish moneylender in Venice who has been embittered by years of abuse at the hands of Venetian Christians and Antonio, the merchant, in particular. Shylock's anger and bitterness lead him to sign a contract with Antonio, in which Antonio puts up a pound of his own flesh as collateral for a loan. When Antonio can't cover his loan, Shylock refuses to show any mercy and insists that the law be upheld and that he get to take his pound of flesh. The other characters, including Shylock's own daughter, Jessica, consider him inhuman—bestial or demonic. However, their treatment of Shylock helps illuminate the prejudice and hypocrisy that lies behind many of their stated ideals of human brotherhood and Christian fellowship.

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Shylock Quotes

-My meaning in saying he is a good man, is to have you understand me that he is sufficient. (17)

-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. (37)

-The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. (98)- antonio -Many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still I have borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own. (106–113)

-Let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me. (148–151)

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Shylock Quotes 2

-If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. (54

-I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you ***** us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. (58–68)

-A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel! (223)

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Antonio

A prosperous Venetian merchant, liked and admired by his fellow citizens. To help his friend Bassanio woo Portia, Antonio signs a contract with Shylock, guaranteeing a loan with one pound of his own flesh as collateral. Many critics argue that Antonio harbors an unrequited ****** desire for Bassanio. In contrast to the benevolence that he shows others, Antonio expresses an intense hatred of Shylock and the Jews, though at the end of the play he does argue that Shylock should be shown mercy and not be condemned to death.

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Antonio quotes

-I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano—
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one. (77–79)

-Many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still I have borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own. (106–113)- shylock about antonio

-The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. -his opinion on shylock

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Portia

A beautiful, clever, and wealthy noblewoman who lives in the country estate of Belmont, outside Venice. Portia is bound by a clause in her father's will, which obligates her to marry whoever solves the so-called riddle of the caskets, by choosing the correct chest from one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. After despairing over a parade of suitors whom she finds distasteful, Portia does get to marry her true love, Bassanio, who happily makes the correct choice. She also saves Antonio's life, during his trial with Shylock, dressed up as a lawyer named Balthazar. For centuries, Portia was admired as an ideal of feminine virtue. However, many modern critics have pointed out that Portia, though seemingly a genius and a perfect wife, regularly displays a vicious prejudice toward non-Christians and foreigners.

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Portia quotes

-The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'T is mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. (184–202)

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Bassanio

A nobleman from Venice, who is a kinsman, close friend, and longtime debtor of the merchant, Antonio. Because he wants to woo the noble Portia, but cannot himself afford to do so, Bassanio borrows 3000 ducats from Shylock, with Antonio as his guarantor. His status as Portia's suitor and, later, her husband, makes Bassanio the romantic hero of the play. However, his character is deeply flawed. At best clueless, and at worst consciously selfish and manipulative, he always manages to avoid earning his own way: first, he exploits the generosity of his friend Antonio, and then he freely passes on the money and gifts that Portia gives him.

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other charecters

Gratiano - A notoriously vulgar Venetian and friend of Bassanio. While Bassanio courts Portia, Gratiano falls in love with and eventually marries her servant, Nerissa.

Jessica - Shylock's daughter, who moves from merely disdaining her father to actually robbing him, eloping with a Christian Venetian, Lorenzo, and converting to Christianity.

Lorenzo - A Venetian and friend of Bassanio and Antonio, who is in love with Shylock's daughter Jessica. Lorenzo elopes with Jessica, taking money and precious items that she has stolen from her father.

Nerissa - Portia's servant and confidante, Nerissa ultimately marries Bassanio's companion, Gratiano.

Launcelot Gobbo - A clownish servant, who leaves Shylock in order to work for Bassanio.

Salerio - A Venetian nobleman, friendly with Antonio, Bassanio, Gratiano, and Lorenzo.

Solanio - A Venetian nobleman and good friend of Salerio.

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other charecters 2

Prince of Morocco - A Moorish prince who comes to woo Portia at Belmont. He asks Portia not to judge him by the color of his skin, but incorrectly picks the gold casket.

Prince of Aragon - A Spanish nobleman who woos Portia at Belmont. He incorrectly picks the silver casket.

Duke of Venice - Presides over the trial of Antonio. Although the Duke attempts to persuade Shylock to show Antonio mercy, he knows that Venice's commercial interests depend on a consistent application of its laws, so he can't make an exception to help Antonio.

Old Gobbo - Launcelot's blind father.

Tubal - A Jew in Venice, and Shylock's sole friend and confidante during the course of the play.

Doctor Bellario - Portia's cousin and a well-respected lawyer in Padua. He never appears on stage.

Balthazar - The servant Portia sends to obtain her letters of introduction and costume from Bellario. Balthazar is also the name Portia takes when she impersonates a lawyer at court.

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Disclaimer

I do not own the rights to any of this information on these cards if you would like to go and find more of this sort of information of the whole play in more detail go to this website:

http://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-merchant-of-venice

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