The human experience in literature are themes about life and society that are relatable to readers. They can include a range of characters, themes, and motifs that play a role in helping illustrate the ideas of human experience in novels and plays, within particular Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Within Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ he uses a variety of themes and characters in order to exemplify the ideas of human experience present in the play. For example; the hatred of Shylock, love between many characters and the divine quality mercy, these themes and characters assist to represent the human experience and the complex nature existing in ‘The Merchant of Venice’.
Throughout the play, Shylock is seen to fit the profile of that era’s most stereotypical nemesis, the “Jew.” Shylock is believed to be a victim to these views of hatred and anti-Semitisms because the Christians believe that they value human relationships over business ones, whereas Shylock is only interested in money. Christian money lenders lend money free of interest and put themselves at risk, whereas Shylock and they “Jews” charge interest and agonize over any loss of money. For example, “O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” (II.viii.15). Shylock screams this down the streets when he discovers his daughter has left and abandoned him and taken his money and jewels. This, therefore, reinstates the Christian idea that Shylock values business relationships just as much if not more as human relationships. However, within this hatred of Shylock Shakespeare created a sense of ambivalence in his ideas as it could be portrayed that Shylock was driven more by revenge than outright evil. In fact, he appeared to be act in this manner due to his own exploitation and judgement from the Christian citizens he lived with. Therefore, despite being this evil, villain-like character he was also someone the audience to relate and sympathize towards.
The struggle between the Christians and Shylock really came to peak over the dispute of mercy. The Christian characters were seen to have acknowledged that the law was on Shylock’s side when Antonio could not pay his debts, however, they pleaded him to take mercy, which he ultimately refused to do. Portia says to Shylock, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” clarifies what is at stake in the argument (IV.i.179). “Human beings should be merciful because God is merciful.” Conversely, once this is said and done Portia also contradicts her beliefs of the Divine Quality of Mercy as she too has the chance to show Shylock mercy but instead backs him into a corner and strips him of his bond, his estate, and his dignity, forcing him to kneel and beg for mercy. Antonio then takes away Shylock’s religion and profession again questioning whether the Christians are as merciful as they may seek to be. By stripping Shylock of his faith, it hinders him from practicing usury, which according to Antonio is the prime reason for him spitting on and criticizing Shylock. Mercy, as conveyed in The Merchant of Venice, never manages to be as sweet, generous, or full of grace as Portia presents it.
These themes and characters presented all have the common role of helping to exemplify the common universal human experiences present in ‘The Merchant of Venice”. These experiences about life and society are the tools available to make the play relatable and to be able to understand the play.
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