Essay on Merchant of Venice

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Mercy v. Justice – Old Testament v. New Testament

While the conflict between justice and mercy plays a key role in determining the outcome of The Merchant of Venice, this conflict is even more important because it provides a setting for the contrast between the rigid law and rules of the Old Testament and the concepts of mercy and forgiveness as taught by Christ in the New Testament. It is in the climactic trial scene that The Duke, hoping Shylock will excuse Antonio's penalty, asks him, “How shall thou hope for mercy rend'ring none?” He is referring to expectations of judgment in the afterlife. However, so is Shylock, when he counters, “What judgment shall I dread doing no wrong?” This exchange perfectly presents this conflict between
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Shylock, for his part, has indeed become fierce in his desire to extract vengeance by forcing the death of Antonio.
The trial scene is constructed from a Christian perspective, and it highlights the dichotomy of Old Testament legalism as opposed to the New Testament gospel of grace and forgiveness. The Duke, Bassanio and finally Portia, all plead with Shylock to show mercy, but Shylock's hate has made him immune to reason, as he is totally absorbed by a passion for revenge.
The Merchant of Venice draws upon laws and rules of Venice and those stipulated in contracts and wills. Two things are emphasized when the trial begins. Firstly, it is clear that Shylock will not show any mercy and relinquish his right to a pound of Antonio's flesh as stipulated in the bond, and secondly, that Shylock has the rule of law on his side. Antonio himself says, “The Duke cannot deny the course of law: For the commoditie that strangers have / With us in Venice, if it be denied, Will much impeach the justice of the State, Since that the trade and profit of the city / Consisteth of all Nations.” Shylock demands the strict interpretation of those laws, and seeks justice in its most severe and uncompromised form. He demands Antonio's death for forfeiting his bond. "The pound of flesh which I demand of him / Is dearly bought, 'tis mine and I will have it".
In response to Shylock's Old Testament cry for bloody justice Portia answers with a speech that rivals
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