British Soc. & Lit 1: Blog Post 2 (Merchant of Venice)

The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare (1598)

Feel free to use whatever version of the play you like– but remember that class presentations, papers, or other assignments involving the play must use the original language.

Presentations: Wednesday, April 4; Blog posts due: Thursday, April 5

Write a post here of two paragraphs (about 200 words) discussing the play. Choose one topic, or make your post a reply to someone else’s post.

For the presentations, choose one topic per group. Your presentation must present an opinion or argument; it cannot just summarize the story. You must e-mail or speak to me before your presentation to have it approved.

  1. How does money affect how people in the play relate to each other? Do you think Shakespeare is making a statement about this?
  2. A Korean professor once told me that Koreans would find Jessica’s abandonment of her father unacceptable. Are Jessica’s actions justified?
  3. Why is Shylock treated so badly? He’s mean, but does he deserve what happens to him? Discuss the anti-Semitism of the play.
  4. In the play, the women seem smarter and in charge. Is this humorous, or do you think Shakespeare is saying something in this?
  5. Is it right that the women trick the husbands into giving up their rings? What do the rings symbolize?
  6. Do Jessica and Lorenzo really love each other? Why is this subplot in the play?
  7. The climax of the play is where Portia, pretending she’s a judge, states that justice should be about mercy. The characters believe Shylock receives mercy at the end; do you agree?
  8. Most scholars agree that Antonio and Bassanio are simply good friends who show affection for each other. Some think it’s more than just friendship. What do you think?
  9. Analyze a character or scene in the play you feel is interesting or important.

16 thoughts on “British Soc. & Lit 1: Blog Post 2 (Merchant of Venice)

  1. Soyeon Kim

    Q. A Korean professor once told me that Koreans would find Jessica’s abandonment of her father unacceptable. Are Jessica’s actions justified?

    A. In Korea there are some old cultures continue to these days which is related to family, especially to parents. It is because in ancient time, Korea accepted Confucianism so it has deep roots in our society. So we learned that we have to respect for parents and older people and show politeness to them when we were young. And there are a lot of stories for kids about the felony, abandonment of parents too. So the actions that Jessica showed in the story are not easy to accept for many Koreans.
    Of course, her actions were not that easy to imagine for me but I can understand why she did that. Shylock was too strict to her daughter and even he didn’t show any affection to Jessica. The thing he cares is the money, not her daughter. He could be nicer to her. There was no reason to stay at gloomy house for Jessica. Her abandonment of her father cannot be justified but I can totally understand her and maybe I would do same thing if I was in Jessica’s place.

  2. Melanie Movileanu

    Q: Why is Shylock treated so badly? He’s mean, but does he deserve what happens to him? Discuss the anti-Semitism of the play.
    A: To me, Shylock is treated unfairly. I remember the scene when Antonio asks him for money and Shylock says something like, but you always insult me and my money, you call me a dirty dog and a heathen and you spit on me just because I am a Jewish. Antonio’s response was very rude: “I’ll probably call you those names again and spit on you, and reject you again too.” So, Antonio asks Shylock to do him a favour, but then says that he is not sorry for his bad attitude towards the Jew and he will do it again? That is very mean. I can understand why Shylock was so angry and wanted to revenge. And again, when the Jew is using the Scripture to give Antonio some examples why it is not wrong to loan money with interest, Antonio tells Bassanio: “Watch out, Bassanio. The devil can quote Scripture for his own use. An evil soul using a holy story is like a criminal who smiles at you. He looks like a good apple but he’s rotten at the core. Oh, liars can look so honest!” To call someone devil, just because he is of another religion, is very disrespectful. I imagine that everyone in Venice is treating Shylock like this and I believe him when he says that is painful for him. This makes his speech “Hath not a Jew eyes?” even more powerful.
    I can see why people find this play problematic. The remarks that all Jews will go to hell, the illustration of a Jew as the main antagonist, the hostile attitude towards the Jews, all these things make the play pretty anti-Semitic. I read that the Nazi party used this play as their propaganda against Jews. Charles Dickens also portraited Jews in a bad way in his novel Oliver Twist. I do not know why English authors wanted so much to demonize Jewish people, but I really hope that people will not generalize an entire nation or religion based on just one fictional character.

  3. Yoo Jieun

    The climax of the play is where Portia, pretending she’s a judge, states that justice should be about mercy. The characters believe Shylock receives mercy at the end; do you agree?

    A. I would say I disagree. First, the ‘mercy’ in this case means, to force a religion and take one half of Shylocks possessions. I think this ‘mercy’ is purely based on the Christian point of view.
    what Shylock tried to do, him wanting to kill Antonio for revenge, is wrong but Shylock has every reason to be furious. Shylock lost 3000 ducat and lost his daughter.
    Shylock is in a very desperate situation, there is no reason not to take revenge if he had the chance. It did get to far at the end but I believe there could have been a true ‘merciful’ ending if Shylock only hadn’t become so fetishize with revenge.

    1. Park ByungJun

      In similar point of view, I would say that the judgment of the court for Shylock is obviously a punishment than mercy. Is it really merciful to change death penalty to monetary penalty and religious penalty? Most people would agree to the statement, but for Jews? I don’t think so. Commuting death to money is definitely a mercy. However, religion is worth way more than one’s life for Jews, as I know. Characters from ‘Merchant of Venice’, or even Shakespeare maybe underestimated how religious Jews are.
      On the other hand, in my opinion, considering what Shylock did to Antonio as a ‘mercy’ is more reasonable. He was almost going to kill Antonio. Even after Portia’s condition about blood, at least Shylock could just try. But he chose not to. If Shylock knew that he was going to get those so called ‘mercy’, he could have just killed Antonio.

  4. Alina Kim

    Q. Why is Shylock treated so badly? He’s mean, but does he deserve what happens to him? Discuss the anti-Semitism of the play.
    A. I think that Shylock is treated so badly because at the beginning of the play Shakespeare describe him as a villain and can be seen as a mean money lender who wants to cut a pound of flesh from the noble merchant. Also as a father who cares more for his money than his daughter. Notwithstanding, in my opinion the attitude towards Shylock was unfair. Only looking at how Antonio and Bassanio are abusive towards Shylock and his religion. We can who is Shylock in Antonio’s eyes. He called him a “heathen”, “dirty dog”.
    I find this play anti-Semitic, because in the play we can see the Christian’s attitude towards Jews. After this play we can see a bad image of Jews in “Canterbury Tales”. Also when I read about the “Merchant of Venice” in Russian, I see how people has a stereotypes about Jews. In conclusion, I think that people should not judge others based on ones religion. And Shylock is just a figment of imagination.

  5. Hassaan Sheikh

    2. I can’t speak for Koreans, but I believe that it is okay to leave someone that treats you poorly. After Jessica stole Shylock’s money and ran away, the thing Shylock was angry about most was his losing his money, not his daughter, and that he wished she was dead and that he had his money back. Earlier during the play, when Shylock leaves to go to the dinner, he tells Jessica that he was dreaming of money the night before. When Launcelot tells Shylock about the masquerade party, Shylock tells Jessica to lock the doors and close the windows, which shows that he doesn’t let Jessica leave the house often.

    As for Jessica’s actions, taking a large amount of Shylock’s money and trading his ring for a pet monkey were pretty heartless of her. If Jessica ran away with Lorenzo and took a small amount of money, I would say her actions were fully justified. Although Shylock treated Jessica as an object worth less than his money, taking a large amount of money from Shylock would arguably be just as bad or worse as the way Shylock treated her. To sum it up, I think Jessica leaving Shylock to live with Lorenzo was justified because of the way Shylock treated her, but stealing a large amount of money from Shylock was overdoing it.

  6. Song Yoo Hyeong

    Q : Why is Shylock treated so badly? He’s mean, but does he deserve what happens to him? Discuss the anti-Semitism of the play.
    A : We can see Shylock has a bad temper. He hates Antonio and his Christian friends. He never shows any love to his daughter Jessica. And through the expression “A Pound of Flesh” we can find out how eagerly he wants to kill Antonio. Even if he says “Antonio is a good man” (He knows Antonio can pay his money back.), he expresses his hatred for Antonio using those words.
    Where did his hatred come from? I found out that he gets humiliated by Antonio. Probably, Shylock isn’t the only case when we discuss the anti-Semitism. In Shylock’s speech “Hath not a Jew eyes?” shows how the Jews in the medieval Europe got suppressed. From when Christianity was established, the Jews got branded as the tribe who killed Jesus Christ. They had to run away from discrimination and insults. Wandering all over the world, prejudged by Christians, their anger had grown bigger and bigger. I think Shylock is the good example for that. So I can feel what Shylock might feel when he is forced to be Christian. He must be disgusted that he has to be what he hated the most UNVOLUNTEERLY. I still think it’s not fair at all.

  7. Lim Byeongrak

    Q. Is it right that the women trick the husbands into giving up their rings? What do the rings symbolize?

    A. After the trial ends, Portia asked Bassanio to give his ring for his gratitude to her. And Bassanio did. In this context, I can guess Bassanio’s value, character or personality. The ring implies his promise to Portia. But he betrayed it by giving judge the ring. One of the reason he gave the ring to judge would be his pure appreciation, but another reason is, I guess, his worry about how he seemed to other people. He insisted on returning her favor. So people around him might regard him as very polite and nice person. Even though Bassanio contemplated judge’s request, finally he gave it. He valued saving his face more than his promise to Portia. So If I were Shakespeare, I would use the ring as a tool to disclose Bassanio’s character.
    In the same context, to me, the reason Bassanio wanted to help Antonio is not pure love toward him. He owed Antionio so much that if he didn’t help him, he can be seen as a very rude and bad-mannered guy.
    One of the way to check his true personality could be watching his behavior when he is isolated only with his friends in desert island, the society nobody would judge him.

  8. Park Ji-eun

    Q. Why is Shylock treated so badly? He’s mean, but does he deserve what happens to him? Discuss the anti-Semitism of the play.

    A. I think Shylock received unfair treatment compare with other christians. And It occurred because majority of people’s religion was christian at that moment. As you can see in the play, there were no Shlock’s friends or acquaintances who really care about him. Of course it is because Shlock’s unsocial personality. But, I think anti-Semitism society has had some influence on his character. Shylock always thought he is not treated like other christians and he felt that he is a pitiful person. And finally it makes him turn into bad, stubborn and unsympathetic person. And at the court, Shylock wanted to revenge for all of the unfair situation which he got in his most part of the life. However the behavior of Shylock was like a devil and it meant he was wrong. In other words, I have negative opinion about the anti-Semitism of the play and also I think Shylock is a bad figure who treated Antonio so badly. The learning point of this play is that we have to admit other opinion which is not similar with ours because it is not wrong but different. And if this concept were a widespread society, shylock wouldn’t have been this bad.

  9. Hye Joon Jeon

    From a traditional point of view, the act of Jessica is violation of culture Confucian ideas. The most important thing in Confucian society is respect for one’s parents. There is no traditional fairy tale talk about the child’s treachery against its parents in Korea. Even Her lover Lorenzo is Christian having a different religion from her Jewish father. In Korean traditional fairy tales, no matter how mean one’s parents are to them, they are not betrayed and are filial to them. For example, there is the story name “kongjwi and patjwi”. Kongjwi is a kind daughter who is doing her best to her mean parents. But in The Marcahnt of Venice, Jessica bothers her own decision.
    But in Modern point of view, Koreans can understand Jessica’s decision. Because the day is past when the parent think their child into property. And Shylock is really bad to her daughter. Even he feels despair because of this ducat not a lost daughter. Marriage with Lorenzo can translate into freedom to Jessica. Maybe Jessica really want to run away from her father more than a true love. In my opinion, Jessica’s actions are justified for herself.

  10. Lee, InKyeong

    8.Most scholars agree that Antonio and Bassanio are simply good friends who show affection for each other. Some think it’s more than just friendship. What do you think?

    Antonio and Bassanio are just good friends. They don’t have feelings more than that. Of course, Bassanio gave his ‘ring’ which were given by her loving wife to the lawyer. This behavior was not because he loved Antonio more than his wife. In fact, he tried not to give the lawyer his ring. However, the lawyer kept criticizing Bassanio’s behavior. Also, Antonio asked Bassanio to give his ring the lawyer. Ultimately, Bassanio choose to give his ring not because he loved Antonio but because he couldn’t find another way to show his appreciation to the lawyer.
    Even if it is based on the fact that Bassanio loved Antonio more than Portia, the situation is same. Bassanio had different feelings with Antonio and Portia. He deeply loved Portia as woman so that he wanted to marry her. On the other hand, he loved Antonio as a friend and not more than that. Between those two feelings that Bassanio had, the one with Antonio could be bigger. This is not because Bassanio is homosexual but because he had spent more time with Antonio.

  11. Suhyun Ji

    Q: Is it right that the women trick the husbands into giving up their rings? What do the rings symbolize?

    A: Without context in the merchant of Venice, i think it’s a little cute trick which a young couple can do. However, in context it has no problem that Portia and Nerissa trick their husbands. Bassanio had a promise with Portia by given a ring. So Gratiano and Nerissa did. The rings are not only the symbol of promise but also how much seriously husbands think about the importance of the promise wives made. Bassanio should not give a ring to a judge even though he really thanked for judge’s decision.
    So, The action Portia tested her husband by using her power as not a ‘wife’ but a ‘judge’ is quite right for woman who wants to prove something by herself.

  12. Kyungho Lee

    Q: Why is Shylock treated so badly? He’s mean, but does he deserve what happens to him? Discuss the anti-Semitism of the play.

    A: One of the reasons why Shylock is treated so badly in the play is obviously due to his background.
    His Jewish background, and reputations as a usurer wouldn’t help with the leaving impression for in a fictional world or not. But I think whether he is jew or not, anyone who fills the role of Shylock’s position in this kind of play would probably be treated badly with the relatively minor difference in terms of magnitude as I believe that someone needs to fill that role and progress the story.

    As for actually deserving what has happened, I don’t think he entirely deserved it. Although it is not clearly mentioned in the play, I believe Shylock still honored most of the things when it comes to contract as I couldn’t really find anything about Shylock being deceptive. Also, I don’t think he wouldn’t be able to continue his business if he repeatedly breaches the contract. The one he made in this play doesn’t sound like it is different from the many other that he might have made this far.

    Anti-semitism is clearly present in the other characters in the play, but in the grand scheme of things I doubt that it would make things easier for Shylock or change the outcome in a significant way.

  13. Byunghyuk Bae

    Q: In the play, the women seem smarter and in charge. Is this humorous, or do you think Shakespeare is saying something in this?

    A: I think that women seem smarter and in charge in the play is saying that Shakespeare is saying something serious message in this. it is saying that Shakespeare wanted to break prejudice about women. Because Women can also be smart as good as men. In 16th century, there were in the prejudice that ‘only men can be smart.’. But Shakesprare knew that this prejudice is not true. So he showed that the truth that women is not stupid. In my opinion, without Shakespeare, most of people still have a prejudice about women.

  14. lee ji won

    How does money affect how people in the play relate to each other? Do you think Shakespeare is making a statement about this?

    In my opinion, the main theme is not friendship or love. I think money it’s money. It plays important role in the play. Because everyone is connected to money. So I want to talk about 3 people’s point. For Antonio’s point, money is a kind of device of continuing friendship. As the play tells you Antonio borrowed 3000 from shylock for Bassanio. Even though there are no words to pay 3000, in contract So I think for friendship Antonio borrowed money for friendship. In Bassanio’s point, money is a device of living. In act one, we can know Bassanio is a person like to spend money. So to pay the huge debt, Bassanio chooses to marry Portia. In shylocks, point, money is a device of unluck. Because he is a loan shark, he was blamed for taking lots of interest. Moreover, on the court, he lost money and he lost everything and his religion. And his daughter takes his property.
    I think Shakespeare made a statement about money. Relationship is complicated. But, if the money engaged, it could be more complicated. With the money we could do anything, I want. But, without the money we cannot do anything.

  15. Dowon Kim

    Q. Analyze a character or scene in the play you feel is interesting or important.

    A. I’m gonna talk about Shylock. He is moneylender who has lots of greed. In this play, he is a negative character. In Shylock and Antonio’s contract, we can see Shylock’s evil look.
    And you can also see his cunning behavior during the trial scene. Especially in this scene, the fact that he wants a pound of flesh instead of money clearly shows his evil and sneaky side. On the whole, Shylock seems right to be criticized.

    But, we need to think about why Shylock is acting like that. In Venice society, discrimination against Judaism was widespread. In order to survive in this society, he may has to act that way. From a Christian point of view, he may be evil, but from another point of view, he could be a victim of Christian society. The trial scenes show Portia’s wisdom, but they also show her(Christian) duplicity. Portia shouts for mercy, but the mercy is restricted to Christians and that is not open to non-Christians. In my opinion, the author chose Shylock as the victim of the discrimination, and we should also see the hypocrisy of the Christian, not the victory of Christian.

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