Justice - Merchant of Venice

796 Words4 Pages
The idea that justice will prevail is one of the most important beliefs of any society. What is justice is dependent on the social and cultural values and attitudes of society where factors such as morality and politics often provide the foundation on which it is designed and implemented. The belief that justice will be served is essential for the well being of a society; however, while this is a noble value, the practical application of justice is often flawed by factors such as wealth, race, religion and gender. Shakespeare explores different attitudes to justice in his play The Merchant of Venice (1596) as he contrasts the literal ‘eye-for-an-eye’ style of justice with the Christians in the play who advocate the importance of mercy and compassion. However, while technically justice prevails at the end of the play, the Christians fail to show mercy and compassion with the result that Shakespeare shows how justice without mercy and compassion can often result in more injustice. Shakespeare highlights the importance of mercy through Shylock’s pursuit of justice with Antonio. Shylock’s attitude reflects Old Testament values of an ‘eye for any eye’, where justice requires punishment in kind for the crime committed. This is contrasted with Portia’s emphasis on mercy and compassion reflected in the New Testament teachings on forgiveness. These conflicting perspectives on justice provide the driving tension and complication within the play. Shylock is depicted as victim of anti-Semitic prejudice. Throughout his speeches he regularly quotes Antonio’s pejorative (insulting) language and abusive treatment of him to highlight the injustice of Antonio’s request to borrow money. Shylock describes how Antonio, “Hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
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