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Ministry of Education.

Exemplar essay

Annotate where the student:

  • addresses the question
  • sets the context of the speech
  • links ideas
  • uses supporting evidence
  • analyses
  • links paragraphs

Then decide what it would get for NCEA 3.3 and how it could be improved

Act three, scene three, lines 1-17

Using a close analysis of the extract, discuss how fully it reflects the major themes of "The Merchant of Venice"

This scene comes after Bassanio hears that Antonio's ships have failed to return on time. Antonio tries to reason with Shylock, but he remains obdurate and demands justice. The extract reflects the themes of mercy, religion (Christianity and anti-Semitism), revenge, law and justice. These are all major themes in "The Merchant of Venice."

Shakespeare shows the hypocritical nature of society through the theme of mercy. The theme of mercy is reflected in the extract as Shylock boldly states "tell me not of mercy". Shylock refuses to be merciful and urges the bond be forfeit. Beyond the extract Portia speaks strongly of mercy:

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed" (4,1,180-182).

Portia believes that mercy should not be forced, and that it should come naturally. Yet in the play there is a great lack of mercy. After talking this way about mercy, she does not show Shylock any and treats him harshly. "Thy lands and goods are confiscate." If indeed "the quality of mercy is not strain'd" and it "droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven" should Shylock beg for mercy? "Down therefore, and beg mercy of the Duke." The theme of mercy also ties in with the theme of religion. Portia says, "it is an attribute to God himself" and refers to the God of the New Testament, the Christian God, who is seen as merciful. The idea that Christians are merciful is repeatedly enforced in the play. In the extract Shylock says that mercy is for fools, or Christians, "I'll not be made a soft and dull-eyed fool, to Christian intercessors." Earlier in the text he says that all Christians are fools, "To gaze on Christian fools" possibly because they are seen as merciful. The Duke further portrays this idea of Christians being merciful when he says "That thou shalt see the difference in our spirit." The word 'our' refers to all Christians. And finally, Antonio supposedly shows Shylock mercy by merely turning him into a "merciful Christian."

"The Merchant of Venice" portrays anti-Semitic views and Jews are highly prejudiced against by Christians. The principal bearer of these pre-judgements is Shylock. In the extract Shylock says "Thou call'dst me dog before thou hadst a cause." The 'cause' is that he is a Jew. The theme of anti-Semitism in the play is reflected through the harsh treatment that Shylock receives from others, especially Christians. He is called "Misbeliever", "cut throat dog" and is spat on. Often Shylock is referred to accusingly as "The Jew". For example "To be taken at thy peril, Jew" and "We all expect a gentle answer Jew." He is also continuously conveyed as the Devil, "Lest the Devil cross my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew". Anti-Semitism was a feature of Shakespeare's world as it is a feature of our world today. In the play, however, it functions as the principal cause of Shylock's desire to have revenge on Antonio and also allows the audience to have some sympathy with his predicament.

In the extract Shylock continues by saying "But since I am a dog, beware my fangs" which shows how his treatment by the Christians fuels his desire for revenge. This idea is seen prominently in his most famous speech:

"...If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge; he hath disgraced me, and hinder'd me half a million, laughed at my losses, mock'd at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies - and what's his reason? I am a Jew." (3,1,47-52)

Shylock's prose shows how he absorbs these hurtful acts until he can no longer. His hurt and sadness caused by Antonio turns to anger and then manifests itself in revenge. By taking revenge on Antonio, he will be taking revenge on all Christians. The listing of eight powerful verbs in this speech shows the build up of his emotions. The theme of revenge is inextricably linked to the theme of religion as Shylock believes that revenge is a Christian quality (just as Portia believes that mercy is a Christian quality).

"If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? - why revenge!" (3,1, 63-64)

The harsh anti-Semitism can be seen as a sort of revenge. It is the Christian's way of getting revenge on the Jews for their belief in the Old Testament. "He hates our nation", Shylock will therefore execute the 'villainy' and 'better the instruction' by using the law against Antonio and pressing that 'justice' be done.

In the extract Shylock says, "The Duke shall grant me justice" and repeats "I will have my bond" five times. He uses the words 'shall' and 'will' to declare his bond be forfeit under all circumstances and to show that the law must be obeyed. Shylock desires the law when it is in his favour. "I crave the law, the penalty and the forfeit of my bond." He uses it as the primary means to exact the revenge he so desires from Antonio. "If you deny me, fie upon your law." Venice was renowned in Shakepeare's day as a place where the law was upheld fiercely and rigidly. The theme of law and justice is further reflected in the play as Portia. In a similar fashion to Shylock, Portia manipulates and enforces the law strongly.

"The Jew shall have all the justice, soft no haste!
He shall have nothing but the penalty." (4,1, 317-318)

Shylock seeks revenge by exploiting the power of the law, and Portia manipulates the law to turn the tide of it against Shylock.

In conclusion, this extract reflects the major themes of mercy, religion, revenge and law and justice. All of these themes are intertwined and one is the cause or result of another. The overlapping makes the themes more complex and is a reflection of the complexity of human nature. And it is human emotion and passion that dictates our response to these issues.

"So can I give no reason, nor I will not,
More than a lodg'd hate, and a certain loathing
I bear Antonio." (4,1,59-61).

Published on: 10 Dec 2010