Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare


Summary: (spoilers) When Bassanio asks his merchant friend Antonio for money to court the fair Portia, his friend agrees wholeheartedly. Only he doesn’t have the money to lend. So he borrows from Shylock, with the understanding that if Antonio forfeits, Shylock can choose to get a pound of Antonio’s flesh instead.Antonio assures Bassino that he has some ships that are sure to bring in the money soon. Bassanio takes the money and goes to woo and eventually win Portia. Meanwhile, Antonio’s ships go astray, leaving him with no finances. Shylock demands his pound of flesh, and the judge hears his case. Bassanio returns to Venice for the hearing, bearing three times the amount Antonio owns – because Portia is rich. Shylock refuses the money because he wants his pound of flesh. Unbeknownst to Bassanio, Portia follows him, dressed like a man. Portia comes to the hearing bearing a letter from a powerful lawyer friend. The letter says she is a young lawyer. Portia argues that Shylock, indeed, should get his pound of flesh, but he must do so without shedding even a drop of blood – since that is not in the contract. If Shylock sheds a drop of blood, he will be executed for murder. Defeated, Shylock asks for his money, which Portia says he can not take because he has refused it in open court. Furthermore, she says that since Shylock has tried to murder Antonio, he has forfeited his lands – half to Antonio and half to the government – and Shylock’s life is at the mercy of the Duke. The Duke Spares his life. Shylock leaves in humiliation and despair. There was much rejoicing.

My thoughts: Wow. This was so anti-Semitic! I know it was written in a different time, but it made me cringe all the way through. Plus, I’m not sure exactly why this is considered a comedy rather than a drama? I didn’t find it very funny. I understand that this was a different time, and anti-Semitism was accepted at the time, and that I should view the play through that lens. But it was pretty hard to do that. I am thoroughly tainted by my own time, I guess. 🙂 Otherwise, of course, this was a fantastic bit of literature. Obviously, it is a very powerful story. It contains “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” speech, which has a moving message.

3 and half snowflakes

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