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In this lively comedy of love and money in sixteenth century Venice Bassanio wants to impress the wealthy heiress Portia but lacks the necessary funds He turn. Many years ago I believed this play to be an early experiment in tragi comedy featuring Shylock a nemesis of almost tragic proportions who both because of the sympathies he evokes and the evil determination he represents unbalances the play making the last act in Belmont seem like a hollow exercise in formal completeness More recently I believed that Shylock was essentially a comic villain one dark splash on a predominately sunny canvas that embodies f0r us the fallen world of Venice transformed by the magic of Portia s Belmont I also believe our knowledge of the Holocaust makes it impossible to appreciate the play fully in this way Now after my recent re reading I m no longer sure what to think For one thing taking the title seriously this time I feel that Antonio the merchant both in his unexplained sadness his love whether erotic or paternal or both for Bassanio and his unredeemed solitariness is extremely important to the meaning of the play I think that Antonio and Shylock in their preoccupations and loneliness are similar but that Antonio unlike Shylock is able to look beneath the surface of things to peer beneath our muddy vesture of decay and hear the music of the spheres as it echoes in the human heart Thus Antonio becomes capable of love and mercy through choice in much the same way that Bassanio chooses the right caskets and Portia chooses the mature way to respond to Bassanio s giving away of her ring Shylock however by willingly suppressing his compassion for another and insisting strictly on justice puts himself beyond mercy and beyond love

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The Merchant of Venice

S to his merchant friend Antonio who is forced to borrow from Shylock a Jewish moneylender When Antonio's business falters repayment becomes impossible and by. Although the most famous speech from this piece is deservedly and understandably Shylock s prick us monologue I think that the useful speech to talk about what I felt about the play is Portia s only slightly less famous uality of mercy speech in the court room scene The uality of mercy is not strain dIt droppeth as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath it is twice blest It blesseth him that gives and him that takes Tis mightiest in the mightiest it becomesThe throned monarch better than his crown His sceptre shows the force of temporal powerThe attribute to awe and majestyWherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings But mercy is above this sceptred sway It is enthroned in the hearts of kingsIt is an attribute to God himself And earthly power doth then show likest God sWhen mercy seasons justice Therefore JewThough justice be thy plea consider thisThat in the course of justice none of usShould see salvation we do pray for mercy And that same prayer doth teach us all to renderThe deeds of mercy I have spoke thus muchTo mitigate the justice of thy plea Which if thou follow this strict court of VeniceMust needs give sentence gainst the merchant thereThat speech above is the reason why this play has received three starts instead of the five that it deserves for the brilliance of its rendering the writing the amazing commentary the bravery of putting it out there complication of its presentation and really everything else about it Actually let me be precise the fact that none of the characters in this play lived up to that speech is the reason is the reason for the three starsHere s the thing I did not like a single person in this play Not one It was an absolute chore to read this play and took much longer than it should have to get through the same reaction I have to reading Russian novels or George Bernard Shaw plays where the characters are mere mouthpieces and their sometimes jaw droppingly awful actions should be excused by their overall message There were so many absolutely horrifying things going on in this play and not one plotline to redeem it or attach me to the story Not one Piles of racism nationalism religious preaching a Christ complex or two mildly offensive gender politics the whole thing was an absolute morass there s as always too much to deal with in a Shakespeare play to cover it all which is why I have chosen the uality of mercy speech and perhaps I ll be able to touch on everything spiraling out from thereNot one person in this play particularly stuck to the above defined idealized presentation of justice or mercy Nobody particularly deserved mercy either Shylock as subversive a condemnation of anti Semitism as he might be is forced to take his revenge too far for the sake of wrapping up the plotline so that the Jew doesn t win Antonio despite his surface presentation of goodness is a deeply cruel probably racist prick who plays the martyr as it benefits him and I have a deep suspicion gave to his friend Bassiano due to the fact that he is in love with him and so is selfish not selfless As for our supposed romantic leads Bassiano is one selfish jerk who teaches the audience that its totally cool to cheat people and take advantage of people if you re young and hot Gratiano expresses his desire to lead a lynch mob and thinks going off on racist rants is fun and Lorenzo can t wait to spend the rest of his life lording his generosity over what he believes will be his slavishly grateful Jewish wife As for the women Jessica cares for rising in the world out of her inferior Jewish position than her father or really anything else and makes a sickening speech about how awesome her Jesus lovin fiance is Nerissa starts off potentially interesting and winds up very uickly as a mere shadow and eventually literal echo of her employer like Shakespeare forgot what he put her there to begin with And as for Portia she s the only character in this play that I have a bit of a struggle with I do want to like her I certainly appreciate the fact that she starts off as independent as it is possible for her to be supposedly living her life in accordance with her dead daddy s wishes and yet her own mistress for what seems to have been a very long time She s smart witty uick and definitely not afraid to stick up for herself She pretends the submissive wife when her husband runs off five minutes after they get engaged pretending to go to a convent and instead goes on a cross dressing everyone saving adventure But here s my thing with Portia she is not merciful She s mean man I started to feel sorry for all those poor princes who show up to try to claim her hand I know they re just plot points and there to be made fun of but good God They re not people at all they re just countries being made fun of cause dumb national stereotypes are fun Shakespeare was in all likelihood playing to his audiences nationalistic sympathies at the time the two Princes who actually appear are of Arragon and Morocco The English were not huge fans of Spain at the time given the current and past political situation and making fun of black people well why not The ones who are just talked about are Palatine French English and Neopolitan Princes all except for the English which is dealt with below countries I m sure England was totally cool with them looking a bit ridiculousI did actually love the description of the English prince it was a humorous sharp commentary on English power and imperialism What say you then to Falconbridge the young baronof EnglandYou know I say nothing to him for he understandsnot me nor I him he hath neither Latin Frenchnor Italian and you will come into the court andswear that I have a poor pennyworth in the EnglishHe is a proper man s picture but alas who canconverse with a dumb show How oddly he is suitedI think he bought his doublet in Italy his roundhose in France his bonnet in Germany and hisbehavior every whereAnyway just another example of the cardboard people thing that helped to add up to a deeply unlikeable play even if the observations were funny and did help to set up Portia as a witty woman their other uses cannot be ignored The above is the nicest thing she has to say about anybody btw And after she gives an admittedly brilliant performance in the courtroom Shakespeare feels the need to end the play with her as the nagging scolding wife who deliberately sets her husband up to be caught Cause that s what the wimmens are like Just waiting to claw your eyes out at any opportunity dontcha know Also the action directly contradicted everything she had just said in the courtroom as it was exactly like or worse than what Shylock supposedly did to Antonio She spends this whole speech talking about how mercy does not mean keeping to the letter of the law and it means understanding human frailty and how mercy is better than justice etc etc and then literally two scenes later she s all but Bassianno you saaaaaaid and takes huge self righteous delight in ripping down the man she supposedly loves after setting him up to lose I suppose you can make the feminist argument that at least she doesn t give in totally to her man and she still reminds him constantly who is in control it is her money that allows Bassiano to put on a brave face in the courtroom it is her words that get him out of it it is her ring that shows him how close he can come to being tossed the fuck out Even if she can t do that once she s married she s made her point But I don t know if this is a positive stereotype of women than the woman who wilts into her husband immediately after her marriageAs for the anti Semitism in this play it is a delicate subject but I definitely come down on the side that Shakespeare meant this to be a subversive commentary on the popular views of the day If the prick us speech didn t open that window the treatment of Shylock and how other characters talk about him throughout the play does Shakespeare gives his audience exactly what they want or what he believes they do and believe all while showing them why it is wrong every step of the way Even the way that Shylock is caught is absolutely wrong these Christians are as mentioned above worse than anything that Shylock could possibly have been even with the exaggerated traits given to him by Shakespeare His punishment is elegant and far cruel than just shooting him in the face would have been And it certainly does not have that uality of mercy whatever Antonio would like the audience to think Shakespeare s poignant rendering of the realities of life as a member of an inferior sect in domestic or world society and what those in positions of power feel entitled to do to you is both subtle and in your face and draws both laughter and anger at once Beyond brilliant reallyIn any case this is worth reading as a brilliant very brave social commentary as an interesting historical document and as a beautifully written treatise on a number of very touchy subjects It is absolutely worth the read and I will probably read parts of it again as I wrestle with what I feel about it but don t come in here looking for a story or for people for you will walk out uite disappointed I don t think this is a bad thing knowing the play s focus and limitations rather at least for me allows one a window into appreciating a hidden manic brilliance that might otherwise have remained hidden in the muck and sewer rotting garbage And such a want wit sadness makes of meThat I have much ado to know myselfAntonio s lines open the play I choose to read this as a disclaimer from Shakespeare perhaps a statement of his own mind in setting these sometimes ugly complicated thoughts to paper A plea to look under rocks and among the worms if we must to find the beautyDo It is worth it

Read The Merchant of Venice

The terms of the loan agreement Shylock is able to demand a pound of Antonio's flesh Portia cleverly intervenes and all ends well except of course for Shyloc. If this had a secondary title delivered in the parlance of our times it would be THE POUND OF FLESH I liked this for many reasons but the element that stands out most is Shakespeare s focus Many of his plays have various complex and intertwined sub plots some being interesting than the theme itself TMOV is focused and almost relentless we have one simple course of action that the story leads inevitably towards and which keeps the reader and the audience entranced will Shylock really remain intent on claiming his bond Even the Duke seems ready to predict that Shylock will relent at the end and just take the money Other fascinating themes explored are the love of money and love itself both in romantic terms and in friendship While Antonio and Portia present complex and thoroughly entertaining Shakespearean characterizations Shylock of course steals the show


10 thoughts on “The Merchant of Venice

  1. says:

    Many years ago I believed this play to be an early experiment in tragi comedy featuring Shylock a nemesis of almost tragic proportions who both because of the sympathies he evokes and the evil determination he represents unbalances the play making the last act in Belmont seem like a hollow exercise in formal completeness More recently I belie

  2. says:

    3 12 starsThis review contains huge spoilersWell I certainly did not expect that ending I didn't imagine Portia to be one to give second chances especially after seeing her scheming to discover who is important to Bassanio herself or

  3. says:

    Maybe because I read this play with the famous controversy of its antisemitism on my mind or because I expected a true hearted villain “Iago fashion” in the Jewish usurer Skylock but I reached the last scene of the play with the extraordinary sensation that the Jew’s failure to execute the bloodthirsty bond was of an anecdote than a climatic victory over evilShakespeare’s precise wordplay presents a f

  4. says:

    The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare is the old classics selection for catching up on classics for September 2016 This comedy first printed in 1609 five years prior to Shakespeare's death offers many pressing issues of its day that are unfort

  5. says:

    Although the most famous speech from this piece is deservedly and understandably Shylock's 'prick us' monologue I think that the useful speech to talk about what I felt about the play is Portia's only slightly less famous 'uality of mercy' speech in the court room scene The uality of mercy is not strain'dIt droppeth as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath it is twice blest;It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

  6. says:

    ‘’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 t

  7. says:

    The pretty islands of Venice in the shallow lagoon atop the blue Adriatic Sea as the blazing rays of the Sun shine down on the brilliant colors of the homes the calm canals full of boats with cargo from faraway lands a glorious past but an uncertain future the rise of Portugal worries the people The city once powerful a short distance from the Italian mainland vastly wealthy is in declineAntonio the most successful merchant in Venice and

  8. says:

    If this had a secondary title delivered in the parlance of our times it would be THE POUND OF FLESH I liked thi

  9. says:

    “One had best state this matter very plainly To recover the comic splendor of The Merchant of Venice now you need to be either a scholar or an anti Semite or best of all an anti Semitic scholar” Harold BloomSee how yond justice rails upon yond simple thiefHark in thine ear change places and handy dandywhich is the justice which is the t

  10. says:

    Book Review 3 of 5 stars to The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare My review is an excerpt from a paper I wrote on appearance

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