Tuesday, June 10, 2014


How does the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice demonstrate the triumph of good over evil as order is restored from chaos.


The trial scene in the Merchant of Venice is the chaotic climax of the play as Shylock, the Jew, has 
taken Antonio to court, as due to losing his ships, he has not paid back the money he borrowed to assist his best friend Bassaino's wooing of Portia of Belmont.  Even though there are those in the court willing to pay back the bond triple fold, Shylock wants the pound of flesh that is the forfeit of the bond concerning the money Antonio borrowed from him.  Other than his hatred for Antonio and Christians, Shylock’s main motivation for wanting this forfeit is as his daughter has stolen his money and run away, he is taking out his spite on Antonio and this blinds him as he does not watch what he is getting into during this scene. Shylock's actions label him as the evil character, while all others are portrayed as good.

From the point where Shylock enters the courtroom everyone opposing him is appealing for mercy for Antonio and this is what the scene demonstrates, a need for mercy.  Portia, who has disguised herself as a young legal advocate says shortly after she has entered the scene: ‘Then the Jew must be merciful’ she is not saying that this is what the law says he must be, but that he should do this because it is the only thing he can do morally. Portia is speaking from the Christian perspective where it would be expected that the complainant would show mercy.  The mercy theme runs all the way through the scene and many opportunities were offered by the Duke of Venice, Bassanio and Portia for Shylock to take the moral course of action, but he constantly refuses saying he should get what he deserves not by moral justice but by the law. 

Shylock does have the right to the forfeit of his bond and it is Antonio’s fault that he is in this situation because he signed the bond of his own free will. even though warned against it.  He knew the consequences if he couldn’t pay it back as Shylock made it clear from the start, but Antonia, in the throes of depression, signs anyway.  This is shown by when at the start of the court scene when Antonio says: ‘Make no more offers use no farther means, but with all brief and plain conveniency let me have judgement, and the Jew his will’.  When he did not pay Shylock the money he owed him, Shylock had a right to Antonio’s forfeit by law.  The problem was he did not choose the moral path where he probably could have gotten a lot of money and become a very rich man, but chose the forfeit out of spite over his daughter. 

This theme is also repeated through the scene that Shylock deserves his justice by the letter of the law and the forfeit of his bond.  This is shown when he says phrases like ‘My deeds upon my head I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond’.  Portia lets Shylock have the chance to take the moral path or the letter of his bond and Shylock chooses to have his pound of flesh.  Shylock does not realise he is being played into a trap as he is blinded by spite, so by choosing the forfeit of the bond he is also choosing execution or to have all of his estate forfeit by the letter of the law he so craved.  This means Shylock has been tricked into choosing a certain course of action and he did not know of the consequences until after his decision. Shak

Portia plays on this drawing him further and further towards the inevitable knowing he is stumbling blinded by spite towards a consequence that he is not expecting.  This is the point when the balance of power in the trial changes.  Portia has an obvious knowledge of the law as she is using it to trap him, Shylock has no representation and obviously has little knowledge of the law as he puts up little argument. 

This results in an ironical justice.  Portia, after Shylock has chosen his course of action, informs him of the consequences, she says ‘If thou dost shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are by the laws of Venice confiscate unto the state of Venice’. Antonio receives his moral justice and Shylock is shown little mercy by the letter of the law that he demanded for himself.  As Shylock refused to show mercy to Antonio when he had power over him, he is shown the same treatment and apparently gets what he deserved as he is shown no mercy.  Shylock tries to go back and get the money he earlier refused to take but Portia stops him by saying ‘The Jew shall have all justice, he shall have nothing but the penalty.’ It is shown to the reader that Shylock gets what is due as the play is written in favour of Christianity, and so all sympathy is lost for Shylock.  This is because of the way he is taking his anger out on Antonio, because of his daughter stealing his money and running away.  Also he doesn’t care that his daughter has run away only that she has stolen his money. 

This demonstrates a prejudice towards him as a Jew and so none of his characters like him because of his religion and one of the consequences of the course of action he has chosen is that he is forced to become Christian.  In the end the reader is shown that justice is carried out as Antonio and Bassanio are good Christian people and so good has triumphed over the immoral Jew, Shylock. Order has been restored from chaos.


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