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Mercy and Justice in the Merchant of Venice by Samira Avdic The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeares most famous

plays as it portrays two different worlds, the Christian world with its laws and foundations and the laws of Judaism and how these two religions along with other factors such as social status and gender, influence how mercy and justice is delivered in a difficult situation. The play is set in Venice in the 16th century with the main plot circulating Antonio, a merchant who borrows three thousand ducats from a Jew named Shylock. Instead of interest, Shylock demands that if the debt remained unpaid when three months have past, that he have a right to obtain three pounds of Antonios flesh and Antonio foolishly agrees. Many see this offer of Shylock to be barbarous and cruel but few see that the pound of flesh was only an excuse to sentence Antonio to his death. As he states, Antonio is not a good man, he has time after time offended him, calling him an abundance of cruel named just because of the fact that he is a Jew, something he was simply born into, with no choice but to embrace it. Because of the city in which they lived in, Shylock, thought to be a filthy, cursed, dangerous Jew had but only one choice to end Antonios mocking, make him die. When bringing Antonio to court, he was expected to show mercy, as it was something that Christianity is more or less famous for, but Judaism strictly emphasizes justice and following the letter of the law so by letting Antonio off, he would not only betray himself but also break everything his religion stood for, as there are different meanings to the phrase a good man in every society and religion. As time goes by and Antonio becomes desperate, he tells Shylock that he will pay him a great sum of money just to keep his life, he begs for mercy, forgetting that he, himself had never shown any mercy towards Shylock and that he just might not deserve it in this situation. He will not give mercy in this situation because he feels that it is finally his turn to receive some justice for everything he had gone through. The Duke, who follows this case through believes that Shylock should show some mercy toward Antonio, that it was enough that he scared him with his blood lust and desires for revenge but in the end they both believe that to show mercy one has to gain mercy, only they both have different ways of portraying this but it is Shylocks lack of mercy and hunger for justice that destroys him in the end. Portia actions in the play can be seen in two ways. She disguises herself as a judge and fails to give Shylock what he craves. In one way we see this as common meddling in matters that are not her own, even is she has a profound knowledge of the meaning of justice and mercy, how could she in this situation be completely objective as it was her husbands doing that started this mess in the first place. She denied Shylock his justice because she, as a Christian woman, believes that those hunting for revenge are not worthy of salvation. If it were

another situation between two Christian men and Portia was the judge of it again, I firmly believe that the one that lawfully deserves justice would probably gain it. If she so firmly believes in mercy and its part in the upholding of morality in men; how is that she so coldly tested her husband when she took the ring from him and then later confronted him and saying that she had lain with the judge to get her ring back, he had given his ring and broken his promise but as a loving husband who had done the impossible to win her heart, hadnt he deserved a speck of mercy in this situation? For a man in love, these are harsh words and the test was unnecessary and pointless. On the other hand, by doing what she did, Portia saved a mans life. Her speech on gaining mercy and denying justice is a profound one. She states that any man able of giving mercy to his foes shares some characteristics with God. Her punishment of Shylock was too hard though, losing half of his estate and having to convert to Christianity is a hard blow. If she is so merciful, how is it that she let him be condemned to the worst fate he could possibly imagine? Overall, Shakespeare successfully showed the ties between mercy and justice in this play. It is hard to say which characters were right and which are not because there are so many ways of looking at this play. I myself feel that Shylock, even though he was a bit harsh on Antonio, deserved Justice as it was the only thing that could comfort him after years of being treated like he was an animal. There is no right and wrong in this play because every person has a different definition of what is acceptable and what isnt and this masterpiece of a play portrayed those different definitions in a beautiful way.