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How does the theme "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" apply to The...

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purpleswimmer... | Student, Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted June 17, 2013 at 3:24 PM via web

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How does the theme "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" apply to The Merchant of Venice

Please provide both good and bad examples so that I can be quite elaborate in my thesis paper :)

Hi there :) I am writing a paper on the many themes of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. 

 

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:36 AM (Answer #1)

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The Merchant of Venice explores the conflicting emotions within each of us as we strive to do the right thing but, when others do not do the same, it's very hard, (to use a biblical reference in keeping with the question), to "turn the other cheek." 

The inward struggles of mainly Antonio and Shylock reveal the self-absorption that accompanies selfish motives. Shylock attempts to show that Antonio is not all the "Christian" he makes out to be and claims that Antonio is representative of the flaws in Christian compassion that he finds hypocritical. "I hate him for he is a Christian"(I.iii.41) compounds the mistrust and "I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him" serves to develop the plot.

A Shakespearean audience would have no doubt supported Antonio as "the Jew," Shylock, represents the opposite of Christian values which claim that mercy and compassion are "mightiest in the mightiest"  (IV.i.188)and "earthly power doth then show likest God.."(196) when  justice is evaluated in terms of mercy.

Portiareveals a Christian attitude, overlooking any religious differences when she tries to reach Shylock in her reference to mercy, hoping he will relieve his bond of "a pound of flesh" against Antonio but Shylock claims that he basically does "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" because "the villainy you teach me I will execute"(III.i.61) infers that Shylock is emulating the so-called "Christian example" (59). The Christians so despise the Jews and, it seems they reserve their compassion and mercy for Christians but Jews also "bleed" and  Antonio has "scorned my nation" (50)

Antonio does seem to be the epitome of goodness in his dealings with Bassanio, for whom he is willing to risk all and "pay it instantly with all my heart."(IV.i.276)He remains calm and submissive as he prepares to meet his faith. However, he has been hypocritical in approaching Shylock in the first instance as he as he is highly critical of Shylock's business but willing to participate in it when it suits him - "producing holy witness...a goodly apple rotten att the heart."(I.iii 94-5) Antonio actually thinks he has persuaded Shylock to show "much kindness" in agreeing to a "pound of flesh" rather than interest on a bond. He is proud that "The Hebrew will turn Christian"(174) and his pride prevents him from seeing the contradictory nature of his dealings.

The duplicity of Antonio is further emphasized when he has the opportunity to show compassion for Shylock, after Portia, realizing the animosity between Shylock and Antonio, has actually manipulated Shylock into a corner warning him not to splii Antonio's blood when taking his bond. Antonio could show mercy but takes from Shylock the most treasured piece of heritage - his religion, by insisting that he "become a Christian"(IV.i.381) as part of his punishment.

Shakespeare is warning his audience of the dangers of pride - regardless of religion.  

 

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