THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
The Shakespearean tale of evil versus evil, and the triumphs of injustice over mercy is described as one of the most important piece of western literature ever written. Published in 1596, The Merchant of Venice tells the story of a Venetian businessman, Antonio, who is asked by his friend Bassanio to lend him three thousand ducats in order to assist him to curry favour with the rich and beautiful Portia of Belmont, Lady of an estate on the outskirts of Venice. Antonio's own money is tied up in business ventures that depend on the safe return of his ships from sea, so he borrows the money from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender whom he has previously fallen out with for his high rates of interest. Shylock lends the money against a bond. Failure to repay the loan on the agreed date will entitle Shylock to a pound of Antonio's flesh. When Antonio defaults, Shylock's claim to his pound of flesh is heard in court before the Duke. But during the trial, Portia - disguised as a man - defends Antonio in court, and ultimately beats Shylock with wit. His oath entitles him to a pound of Antonio’s flesh, she argues, but not his blood, making any attempt at collecting the fee without killing Antonio, basically impossible. When Shylock realises he’s been outsmarted, it’s too late. He is charged with conspiring against a Venetian citizen, and therefore his fortune is seized. The duke pardons Shylock only on condition that he gives half his wealth to Antonio, and half to the state. But Antonio surrenders his claim on condition that Shylock converts to Christianity and leaves his property to his daughter Jessica, whom he has disinherited for running away with her Christian lover, Lorenzo.
Over the years there has been a lot of debates about what motivated Shakespeare to write this play, and whether it is a comedy or a tragedy. Nicholas Rowe, one of the first Shakespearean editors, wrote in 1709 that even though the play had up until that point been acted and received comedically, he was convinced it was “designed tragically by the author.” There is so much evil in defending a man who doesn't pay back his debt, as it is in stripping a moneylender of half his wealth, and then forcing him to abandon his belief to save his skin. In true Shakespearean genius the playwright addresses the issues of prejudice and social injustice in society. Certainly, The Merchant of Venice is not an easy work to read - it is both complex and controversial - punctuated with racism and the darker side of humans take center stage. Two years ago, the writer Steve Frank argued in the Washington Post that the play shouldn’t be performed at all. And recent productions of the play started to manipulate the context and change the words. But what most critics are focusing on is hiding the nature of discrimination in The Merchant of Venice, which is a big mistake. I have no doubt Shakespeare wrote the play for a purpose. It addressed the issues of the era. So, instead of blurring the words and meanings of old literature and condemning it's naked truth, it might be more beneficial to embrace the unadulterated message it tries to relate. Discrimination won't go away by smouldering it. Only through presenting ideas, agreeing and disagreeing, accepting or rejecting, society could then reach a middle-ground on controversial moral issues. Society is also missing the point that young people today are growing-up with a whole new set of rules and ideologies. Through travel, the internet and social media they have become more affiliated with cultures like never before.