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Essay/Term paper: The merchant of venice

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Merchant of Venice

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The Merchant of Venice

"Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is still relevant today because it
deals with issues which still affect us. Show how two of those issues are
discussed in the play."

Throughout the play a distinction is made between how things appear on the
outside and how they are in reality, or on the inside. The issue of appearance
versus reality is demonstrated in varied ways, mainly by the use of real-life
situations. The first representation of this is Shylock's generosity with his
money and eagerness to make friends with Antonio when he says, "I say, to buy
his favour, I extend this friendship," when all he wants is to take a pound of
Antonio's flesh and end his life, "If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will
feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him." Shylock pretends to want to be friends
with Antonio, but only wants revenge against the Jew-hater.

The choosing of the three caskets is used as the main explanation of
appearance versus reality. The suitor of Portia must choose either a gold,
silver or lead casket, where the right choice will allow the suitor to marry her.
The Prince of Morocco, on choosing the beautiful gold casket with the
inscription, "Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire," sees the message,
"All that glisters is not gold," and is thus turned away by Portia. The Prince
of Arragon, on choosing the silver casket with, "Who chooseth me shall get as
much as he deserves," receives a fool's head, and is told that that is what he
deserves. Bassanio however, on correctly choosing the lead casket with the
inscription, "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath," says, "The
world is still (constantly) deceived with ornament." He chooses the lead casket
so as not to be fooled by the dull appearance, and receives the beautiful Portia
and all her wealth who, in reality, contrasts with the ugly lead. The two
princes, however, were deceived by the ornament of the gold and silver caskets.

Another way that Shakespeare discusses appearance versus reality is with
the use of Portia and Nerissa in disguise, plotting to take Bassanio's ring, the
former dressed as a Doctor of Law and the latter as a Clerk. They save Antonio
and Bassanio from their problem with Shylock, and Portia (Doctor of Law) asks
for Bassanio's ring because she knew he had promised, "When this ring parts from
this finger, then parts life from hence." Bassanio, after some encouragement
from Antonio, reluctantly parts with his ring. When they arrive home, Portia
pretends to be angry at Bassanio for losing the ring but then explains what has
happened and forgives him. Bassanio was deceived by appearance of Portia as a
Doctor of Law and her apparent good intentions to take the ring as a payment for
her services.

The issue of racial discrimination is mainly displayed through Shylock,
a Jew who is proud of his religion. The play was written at a time when there
was much fear, distrust and ill-feeling against the Jews, and therefore Shylock
experiences much discrimination, chiefly from Antonio. Jews were banned from
most occupations and were there for usurers (lenders of money in exchange for
interest on the loan). This only made Christians hate Jews even more, because
usury was a practice looked down upon in those days.

Antonio believes that the only true faith is Christianity, and he
constantly tries to convert Shylock to Christianity. As Shylock conceals his
feelings about Antonio, he finally reveals his true feelings to Salerio when
talking about the taking of a pound of Antonio's flesh in his bond, "If it will
feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He 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 enemies, and what's his
reason? I am a Jew." Shylock has been abused so much by Antonio that all he
wants is revenge against Antonio, "And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If
we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a
Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what
should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why revenge. The villainy you
teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the

The discussion of racial discrimination reaches a climax when Shylock
says, "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses,
affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the
same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If
you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you
wrong us shall we not revenge?" In this, he makes a comparison between Jews, a
rejected minority, and Christians, an accepted social class. He shows that Jews,
Christians, and all people are equal.

The issues of appearance versus reality and racial discrimination are
surely two issues which are still relevant today. They are discussed mainly
through the characters' interactions with one another throughout the play.
Appearance versus reality is explored when Shylock pretends to be Antonio's
friend, with the choosing of the caskets, and when Portia and Nerissa go to
court in disguise to help out Antonio and Bassanio. Racial discrimination is
shown in depth with the confrontations of Antonio and Shylock. Overall 'The
Merchant Of Venice' explores both appearance versus reality and racial prejudice,
which are two issues that still hold importance in present-day society.


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