Back to: UP Board Class 12th English Guide and Notes
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Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ brings forward an interesting case of two merchants from Venice, Shylock and Antonio with a very thrilling and fortuitous ending.
Antonio was an Italian trader who lived in Venice. Sea excursions were dangerous in those days, which was around 500 years ago. At the time when the story begins, Antonio was waiting for his ships to return with the merchandise. He’d invested nearly all of his savings in the ships. Antonio’s best friend Bassanio wanted to marry Portia, a young and wealthy lady but he had no money to visit her and win her hand. In order to win Portia’s proposal, he had to go to Portia’s estate and choose between a gold, silver and lead casket.
The caskets each had an engraving and were deceiving with only the lead one being the right choice. Bassanio wanted to try his luck with the caskets. When Antonio learned of this, he felt compelled to help. Antonio urged Bassanio to take out a loan in his name. They took money from a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. He was not generous and disliked Antonio, so he agreed to give money on the condition that if Antonio failed to return his money within three months, Shylock would cut off a pound of Antonio’s flesh.
Antonio agreed to this and borrowed the money for Bassanio. Bassanio made his way to Belmont. He chose the lead casket and thereby earned Portia’s hand. Meanwhile, Shylock learned that Antonio’s ships had been lost. He was relieved that Antonio would be unable to pay the debt. He brought Antonio to court and forced him to comply with the unusual and terrible demand.
The Young Lawyer
When Bassanio and Portia learned of this, they immediately returned to Venice. To save Antonio, Portia advised Bassanio to pay Shylock twice the sum. Shylock, on the other hand, was resolute. Only a pound of Antonio’s flesh was demanded. The Duke asked Shylock to show compassion towards Antonio, but Shylock refused. He thought Antonio and others had wronged him in the past, and he desired vengeance. Just then, a young lawyer entered the court. He said that he would fight Antonio’s case. The lawyer told that mercy is a quality that God possesses. When someone grants mercy to another, they are both benefited.
All of this, however, had little effect on Shylock. The young lawyer then stated that Shylock was allowed to take a pound of flesh. At the same time, the lawyer warned Shylock not to shed a drop of Antonio’s blood while cutting off the flesh. He should also cut exactly one pound of flesh – no more, no less. The law would not permit otherwise.
Shylock realised he couldn’t do what the young lawyer had requested of him, and he accepted defeat. Antonio was saved. The young lawyer was later revealed to be Portia dressed as a young man. Later, it was learnt that Antonio’s ships were safe, and so he had not in fact lost his money. Thus, the story which could have ended in a tragic manner ended happily.
We must learn to be compassionate and kind towards others. Money and greed are not good traits to have, they never reap good results. On the other hand, we must learn a lesson on friendship from Antonio. He put his life at risk for Bassanio’s sake. Such true friends are precious and rare to find, we must be such a friend.