Religious Values or Religious Biases?

In the remainder of the Acts of The Merchant of Venice, we are repeatedly reminded of Shylock’s inhumanity and his unwavering passion to carry out his deal. The Duke implores Shylock that perhaps he only means to carry out this bond till the last minute until mercy and pity overpower him. Bassiano also attempts to elicit some form of mercy from Shylock by stating, “Do all men kill the things they do not love?” (275) and offer him triple the wealth of the debt. What the Duke and Bassiano do not do is try to convince Shylock by humbling themselves in front of him. They resort to attacks on Shylock’s humanity and likening his behavior to animals. Perhaps things would not have gone so far if they had admitted their past mistakes (as didn’t Antonio spit of Shylock publically) and asked for forgiveness. Their sense of superiority over Shylock because they were Christian and he was a Jew prevented them from considering the idea of humbleness.

What comes to mind is the proper way of asking for mercy in Christianity and Judaism which is to humble one self, to repent, and then to ask for forgiveness and certainly not to demand mercy when one is at fault themselves. Rather, the Duke even goes further in his efforts to make Shylock feel horrible by asking him, “How shalt thou hope for mercy, rend’ring none?” (pp. 275) which brings about confusion because what is the Duke implying? Does the Duke intend to convert Shylock into Christianity or does the Duke accept Shylock as a Jew and his methods go from attacking Shylock to reminding him of his Jewish values? In general, what Shylock is doing is not at all that horrible as he neither compels nor threatens Antonio to agree to the bond in the first place. Rather, the one at fault is Antonio who agrees to the bond even after knowing that if he is unable to pay, a pound of flesh will be Shylock’s right. All this was placed in a contract, and by law, Shylock should not have to forfeit his right just because Antonio was foolish enough to agree to the “inhumane” bond. Yet, typical of the Christians in The Merchant of Venice, they would never dream of admitting the wrong they committed or got themselves into.

Furthermore, Shylock points out to the Duke the hypocrisy at play. He reminds the Duke that what he is doing is exactly what they already do, like how they purchase slaves and misuse them like animals just because they bought them. He states, “Shall I say to you, / ‘Let them be free! Marry them to your heirs! / Why sweat they under burthens? Let their beds / Be made as soft as yours, and let their palates / Be season’d with such viands?” and likens their treatement of the slave to his right over the pound of flesh which, unlike their slaves, Antonio agreed to willingly. This contradicting methodology which Antonio and his companions follow reveals that Shylock’s unduly intentions go hand in hand with their own, so why the biasness and hatred?

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2 thoughts on “Religious Values or Religious Biases?

  1. Celina Strater

    This religious lens on the text really entices my understanding of the play, and as we went over in class, the ironic use of mercy as revenge on Shylock reveals the true character of the Christians. Actions speak louder than words, and in the court room we witness just that. When Portia uses Shylock's lack of citizenship against him, the idea of "flesh" being of monetary value and "blood" being the value of one's religious lineage, we see the vitality drained out of him.

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  2. Ally Farzetta

    Great points. I, too, am deeply troubled with the Christians in this play. Something that really bothered me is that they forced Shylock to become a Christian. Firstly, it is extremely cruel to strip away a human being's identity and values. However, Antonio's vicious decree bothers me for a completely different reason, as well. As a Catholic, I have been brought up to view baptism as a celebration filled with a spirit of warmth community. The Christians in this play are making baptism a sentence and a punishment. Personally, I find that very insulting and demeaning. If they treasured their religion as much as they lead others to believe, then they certainly would treat a baptism as an honor and a blessing; they would never force a person into their religion as a punishment.

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