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Merchant of Venice: Justice in a Christian Society

            In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, justice and mercy are distinct opposites, with the former personified by Shylock, and the latter by Christians such as Antonio. One need look no further than Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes" soliloquy spoken in prose (III.i.52-72), which stands in counterpoint to Portia's speech on the "quality of mercy" in iambic pentameter (IV.i.190-212), to see the two at war. As seen by Shakespeare's intended Christian audience, here is the battle between the God of the Old Testament-Yahweh, a deity who rules according to Law-and the God of the New Testament, a loving, merciful Father. While Shakespeare believes justice to reign supreme (for no one is exempt from the law), he believes that an individual's worth is determined by his (or her) propensity to forgive, agreeing with Portia that "the quality of mercy is not strained" (IV.i.190). Shakespeare contrasts Antonio, a kind and merciful Christian, with the mean and merciless Shylock and his fellow Jews; It is only Portia, showing charity and kindness in her role of arbiter and judge, who is able to reconcile justice with mercy, showing that both are necessary.
             While not rejecting the law outright, Antonio and his fellow Christians show a disregard for the absolute rule of law, and praise mercy in its stead. Respected by his fellow believers as "the kindest man" (III.ii.304), Antonio is generous with not only his money but also his faith in his friends. While Bassanio repeatedly fails to repay loans he receives from Antonio, the latter, as a merciful Christian, continues to forgive his friend's debts and extend even more credit. So soft-hearted is Antonio that he feels offended when he believes Bassanio would "doubt" (I.i.162) all he would do for him. In fact, Antonio's selfless and merciful character is precisely that which Shylock despises: "[Antonio] lends out money gratis and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice" (I.

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