The Role of Justice and Revenge in The Merchant of Venice

Revenge and Justice in the Merchant of Venice (essay)

Shakespeare's play, the Merchant of Venice, explores the human experience through various themes such as identity, reality, values, and relationships, revealing notions of revenge and justice. To explore the themes of justice and revenge in the Merchant Of Venice, this essay delves deeper into these themes, highlighting the complexity of moral righteousness versus harmful intent. The protagonist Antonio is a prime example of this interplay between justice and revenge, showcasing the darker aspects of human nature and shedding light on the consequences of such actions.

In the play, justice is portrayed differently within each character’s perspective. Such as Portia’s “mercy over justice” speech as well as Shylock “wanting Antonio’s flesh”. In Act 3 Scene 1, Shylock builds his antagonism through a tone of incredulity when stating “what’s his reason? I am a Jew”. The monosyllabic term and truncated sentence highlight the irrationality of persecuting someone based on their religious identity, creating a repetitive building rhythm and thus further conveying his intensifying anger from the cruelty he has experienced. Through his inconsistency throughout the play, Shakespeare forces us to see the complexity in Shylock and not sympathise nor hate him. Act 4 Scene 1 uncovers Portia’s search for justice through her masquerading as a man. In this stage direction of Portia disguised as Doctor Balthazar, it is clear that female’s, in this society, can only be heard when dressed as men for a pursuit of autonomy. Furthermore, women in this society are allowed certain roles but are restricted to the private and domestic life. Thus, Portia is coming out into the public world, the world of the court and Venice and she cannot be a woman. She can only be a woman through the domestic sphere. In Portia’s pursuit for autonomy, in achieving freedom thus resulting in being bound by the restrictions of this patriarchal society. More importantly, justice is depicted clearly within Act 4 Scene 1 of the play. The purpose of this scene is to illustrate the triumph of Christian values and to depict the winning of the Christians and the human experience, of which Shakespeare demonstrates it is that experience of alleviating between justice and morality. Introspectively, Portia’s ‘mercy over justice’ speech provokes the Christian doctrine of mercy and the purpose of the speech for an Elizabethan audience was to corroborate justice and mercy’s interdependence with each other.

In addition to justice, revenge is portrayed in an ambiguous way contrasting the morals of all characters however Shylock is the main perpetuator of revenge. Shylocks monomaniacal obsession with getting his bond is revealed when he repetitively says, “I’ll have my bond; I will not hear thee speak; I’ll have my bond”. The high modality language, ‘I will’, reinforces Shylocks intractability that as a character, he is stubborn as a result of his experiences of prejudice. Moreover, through his repetition of ‘bond’, suggests the idea that Shylock wanted to be heard and will not stop fighting until his bond is fulfilled.

Furthermore, when Shylock’s beloved daughter Jessica stole from him and fled with a Christian, thus disregarded her own father’s profound hatred upon Christians, Solanio expresses, “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian”. The cumulative listing of emotional responses all suggests that Solanio finds Shylock incompressible. The repeated diction of ‘ducats’ reveal that Shylock is devoted to his ducats more than his own daughter therefore suggesting the mercantile society they live in.

In conclusion, Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice (1605) displays the themes of the human experiences through the representation of revenge and justice. It is filled with ambiguity which results in the idea of both aspects being counterintuitive. More specifically, Shylock did not have a valid reason for seeking revenge, rather he did out of hatred and retribution. Determining moral righteousness through Shakespeare’s protagonist in the play is opiniated as acts of revenge which can still lead things into balance thus creating the ideology of justice. Therefore, through the exploration of all human experiences, displays both acts of justice and revenge.

16 August 2021
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