User Review - Flag as inappropriate
wow first time I read Shakespeare and I was expecting much more. I was ready to kill myself holy shit he is horrible. how utterly boring never again
User Review - Flag as inappropriate
This is the fifth play I’ve read in my return to Shakespeare after so many years, and it my favorite so far. I found it’s several interwoven plots to be fascinating and well done. Shakespeare’s psychological insight into the human character is impressive and the passion involved grabbed me right away. I didn’t find as many “quotable” lines in this play as some others, but I did have my favorites, a couple I cite below. Ironically the main character is not Antonio, the merchant of Venice. Rather, it is Shylock, the Jewish money lender. While I think there is no way one would consider Shylock a nice fellow. I came away believing that he was more wronged than anyone in the play whom he harmed. He is presented as a nasty and greedy money lender. No doubt that portrait played well in a time of rampant anti-Semitism, but I came away with great sympathy for him. Even Antonio, the merchant, is just horrible in his judgment of Shylock, much more based on his race and religion than his money-lending practices.
The plot of the play is a set of complex and interwoven actions. I enjoyed that. Where does it actually begin, is it in Bassanio’s desire to win the hand of Portia, the rich and beautiful young heiress, or in Antonio’s hatred of Jews and money-lenders? I guess both are the setting that makes it all work. In any case Bassiano, Antonio’s friend, needs to borrow 3,000 ducats in order to have the money he needs to seek Portia’s hand. Antonio is perfectly willing to lend the money to him, but has all his capital tied up in his business. Since Bassanio has no collateral, Antonio goes to Shylock to borrow money. Shylock hates Antonio because of the latter’s treatment of him and his attitude toward him, so, he extracts a contract in which were Antonio not to repay the debt on the designated day, then Shylock gets a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Obviously an odd, even perverse demand, but Shylock is deeply smarting from the verbal abuse he has received from Antonio for years.
The Bassanio / Portia story is wonderful. Her father had died but left a very strange will. He has three “caskets” one of gold, one of silver and the last of lead. One of them has a portrait of Portia in it. Any appropriate suitor may come forward and pick one of the caskets. Her father has left strange clues for the suitors. If the suitor doesn’t guess correctly and opens an empty casket, then he must leave without a single word and must never marry for the rest of his life. If he opens the casket with the portrait, then he marries Portia. She has nothing to say about it.
A third plot line is a love affair between Lorenzo, a friend of Bassanio, and Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. These two have no problem with the Christian/Jewish union, and Jessica even steals a great deal of her father’s wealth to elope with Lorenzo. In the end, of course, Bassanio wins Portia, Lorenzo and Jessica escape, but Antonio can’t pay his debt on time and Shylock demands his pound of flesh in the court of law.
In the courtroom Portia gives her famous “quality of mercy” speech, one of the well-known Shakespeare speeches which is often excerpted. However, I was much more moved by Shylock’s defense of himself against the prejudices of Antonio and others:
"I am a Jew/ Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs/ dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with/ the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject/ to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means/ warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer/ as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?/ If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you/ poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
While I don’t like Shylock’s bitterness and sense of revenge, I can understand it for exactly the reasons he gives and I have more sympathy for Shylock than for the difficulty that Antonio got into. My other favorite lines in the play are in no way special poetry and have virtually nothing that advances the plot. I love the lines for