Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Merchant of Venice

You may want to read this little intro:
[Right, before I put my review of this play forwards, I will make some things clear. One, I'm not a Jew. I was baptised Chrisitan, but am an aethist. (Feeling confused? ^-^) I did not give this play 5 stars because of the anti-semitism. I respect all religions and the people who follow them as long as they don't try to influence me. Lastly, this play is confusing. It's hard to decide whether Shakespeare was against or for the prejudice of the time.]

❝Hᴀᴛʜ ɴᴏᴛ ᴀ Jᴇᴡ ᴇʏᴇs? Hᴀᴛʜ ɴᴏᴛ ᴀ Jᴇᴡ ʜᴀɴᴅs, ᴏʀɢᴀɴs, ᴅɪᴍᴇɴsɪᴏɴs? Sᴇɴsᴇs, ᴀғғᴇᴄᴛɪᴏɴs, ᴘᴀssɪᴏɴs? Iғ ʏᴏᴜ ᴘʀɪᴄᴋ ᴜs ᴅᴏ ᴡᴇ ɴᴏᴛ ʙʟᴇᴇᴅ? Iғ ʏᴏᴜ ᴘᴏɪsᴏɴ ᴜs, ᴅᴏ ᴡᴇ ɴᴏᴛ ᴅɪᴇ? Aɴᴅ ɪғ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡʀᴏɴɢ ᴜs, sʜᴀʟʟ ᴡᴇ ɴᴏᴛ ʀᴇᴠᴇɴɢᴇ? Iғ ᴀ Jᴇᴡ ᴡʀᴏɴɢ ᴀ Cʜʀɪsᴛɪᴀɴ, ᴡʜᴀᴛ ɪs ʜɪs ʜᴜᴍɪʟɪᴛʏ? Wʜʏ, ʀᴇᴠᴇɴɢᴇ!❞

A play by William Shakespeare
A review brought to you by ѕαяαн {24601}

[My Rating] 4.5 stars Really, really liked it/It was amazing
[Goodreads' Average Rating] 3.75 Stars Liked it/really liked it
[Would I read this again?] Yes
[Genre] Shakespearean Comedy

The Merchant of Venice is a play by English playwright William Shakespeare, set in the Italian port of Venice. Highly centred around the anti-Semitic attitudes of the time, the play illustrates the story of conflict between Antonio, a Christian merchant, and Shylock the Jew. 
Before I continue, I should start off with a bit of historic explaining.

The Merchant of Venice was believed to be written between the years of 1596 and 1598 in Renaissance England. At the time, there would not have been a Jew in England. The people and citizens of England would have been Christians or nothing else, for if they should be Atheist or non-Christian. it was something that could admittedly be punishable by death. One of the few places where Jews could live was in the rich Italian port of Venice, where they were given jobs and the right to live, hence the setting of the play. However, Jews were forced to live in Ghettos and the jobs they were given were to be the equivalent of the modern day bank. They would lend out money to people who needed it and could charge interest if they wished to. It was against a Christian's guidelines to ask for interest when they lent something, and so the Jews of Venice were amongst the few who could. 

It starts off with our merchant feeling sad. Antonio doesn't know why his mood is so downcast, and his friends (Gratiano, Solarino, Bassanio, Lorenzo) attempt to cheer him up. Bassanio, Antonio's best friend, is left alone with the merchant of Venice, and confesses to Antonio that he has spent all of the money that was lent to him, and asks for Antonio's help. For Bassanio needs to be dressed in rich garments should he wish to try his fortune out in Belmont, the fortress built on the outskirts of Venice. There lives the fair Portia, who is bound to her fate by a dead father's will. She lives in near-solitude, and confides everything to Nerissa, her servant and trusted friend.
Portia is in a difficult situation. Many men have come to court her and to try to find the answer to the riddle that will then gain the man her hand in marriage. Portia wishes to leave Belmont and find her own husband, but she is loyal to her dead father and his wishes, and feels bound to this. The rite through which every one of Portia's courters must go through is named "the choosing of the caskets." There are three caskets. One of Gold, which says, "Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire." The other is of silver, which tells "Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves." And the last is of lead, which reads, "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath." 

So here comes the young Bassanio in need of money. Alas, Antonio has none to give, for all his merchandise is out at sea, on ships laden with silks and riches and bound of trading ports. But he knows just the man to go to. Shylock the Jew, the moneylender that the Christians all despise. Upon their meeting, Shylock mocks the demand from Antonio. Three thousand ducats is what Bassanio needs. Shylock responds: "Well then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say
'Shylock, we would have moneys:' you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold: moneys is your suit
What should I say to you? Should I not say
'Hath a dog money? is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?' Or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
'Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys'?"
Eventually he accepts to lend the ducats to Antonio, but on one condition. Shylock doesn't want any profit. If the sum is not returned in 3 month's time, Shylock wishes to have a pound of flesh carved from Antonio's chest, nearest to the heart, knowing that the blood loss from such a wound would kill the Christian. 

Meanwhile, in Belmont, the Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket, reflecting his wealth, arrogance and belief that status means everything, and in return is rewarded with a skull with a message through the eye socket. "All that glitters is not gold," is its message. With a broken heart, Morocco leaves Belmont. Next comes the Prince of Aragon, who chooses silver. His vanity deceives him- and he departs for a different destination with head bent low, feeling twice the fool he was than when he first arrived.
Finally, we see Bassanio enter Belmont. After spending a few hours talking with Portia, the two of them have fallen in love with one another, and Portia fears that he will choose wrong and leave her heartbroken. Of course, though, Bassanio chooses the lead casket, and picks up the portrait of his lover, and thus ensuring the marriage between the two. On the day of their wedding, Nerissa also marries Gratiano. 

Things are not going well back in Venice. Shylock has lost his daughter and his money; Jessica, who has run away with her lover Lorenzo, along with over three-thousand ducats to Belmont. Grievous, Shylock must only hope that Antonio's ships sink. Rumours spread that three of Antonio's ships have crashed against boulders, smashed to pieces and dragging down with them unfortunate sailors. 

The law calls forth and Antonio and Shylock are summed to court. Bound by law and the security of Venice's reputation, the Duke of Venice can only try to persuade Shylock to show mercy and take six thousand ducats- or more, home with him to compensate for the late return of the bargained three-thousand ducats and to save Antonio's life. Shylock, however, refuses to give in, and in stride the fair Portia and Nerissa, both disguised- one as a doctor; the other his apprentice. 
Portia tells Shylock what he would lose should he take Antonio's life, and after some talking and harassment, Shylock gives in. For Portia declares that upon this bond it states that Shylock must take a pound of flesh exactly- nothing more, nothing less and that not one drop of Christian blood may be spilt in the cutting. 

But they will not let Shylock go. Forced into a deep shame, he is stripped of his possessions and beliefs, and forced to convert to a Christian. Stripped of his faith. His faith.

This play was truly moving and superbly written. The plot was great, the characters were great. READ IT.

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