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Essay on Justice vs. Morality in Measure for Measure and Merchant of Venice

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Justice vs. Morality in Measure for Measure and Merchant of Venice

There are many similarities shared between Shakespeare's plays, "Measure for Measure", and "The Merchant of Venice". The underlying theme of each work is well defined by the phrase "Justice without the temperance of mercy, is power misused". I will support this claim by drawing upon some of the characters and situations that are consistent in each story.

In each story a man's life depends on the interpretation, and sanctioning of justice. In the, "Merchant of Venice", Antonio (who I believe represents mercy), had sealed a bond with Shylock offering a pound of his flesh for the loan of three thousand ducats. Unfortunately he forfeits this bond, (Merchant
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For Antonio it was his love of Bassanio and his strong desire to see him prosper, (Merchant I,i) "... My purse, my person, my extremist means, Lie all unlock'd to your occasions.". Cladio too acted out of love and devotion to the woman he meant for his wife, yet didn't hold the papers for.

In both situations cases are made not necessarily to debunk justice, however instead to allow for judgment interwoven with mercy. For Antonio's sake Portia (acting as Balthazar), offers Shylock a plea of humanity, (Merchant IV,i) "The quality of mercy is not strain'd,... 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest... It is enthroned in the heart of kings, It is an attribute to God himself...", yet none of this causes Shylock to sway from his original position, (Merchant IV,i) "My deeds upon my head! I crave the law, The penalty and forfeit of my bond.". In, "Measure for Measure" it was Isabella attempting to soften the heart of Angelo, (Measure II,ii) "... Go to your bosom, Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know That's like my brother's fault...". Now the plot in this story is much thicker, and Angelo had another agenda (i.e.. getting Isabella in bed), her plea's ended with the same result as those of Portia, (Measure II,iv) "Nay, but hear me, Your sense pursues not mine...", "Then must your brother die".

In both situations there is a strong, and legitimate case for either argument. On the one hand you have
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