Dec 15 2014

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Some people come away from this play with the impression that it is anti-semitic, but Shakespeare puts such eloquent defenses and rebuttals in the mouth of Shylock, on behalf of himself and his people, that for me the charge does not ring true.  The more serious theme of this drama is the balance, at times the conflict, between law and mercy.  Of course Shakespeare makes the Christian worldview prevail, yet ironically he does this by upholding the letter of the law, in a way that utterly confounds the legalistic Shylock.  There are some memorable lines in this play, such as Launcelot’s speculation that converting Jews to Christianity will drive up the price of pork, and Antonio’s fit of melancholy at the beginning of the story, and the playful repartee between lover and beloved shows Shakespeare in his usual fine form.  The tale of the three caskets is a side plot that seems a tad out of place, and its outcome smacks slightly of insincerity, since the one who hazards all gains all without paying a price…but obviously Shakespeare deems it unseemly that his lovers should be paupers.  Yet this is a marvelous play, entirely deserving of its reputation, and every time I revisit it I am quite enchanted by it.

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