With reference to Act IV, scene i of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock prefers retribution to rehabilitation in the punishment of Antonio.Do you agree that it is the best way to punish the...

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The contentious relationship between Antonio and Shylock develops the plot of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock does not understand why he should even consider pardoning Antonio or allow a payment of his bond other than the one agreed - Antonio's "pound of flesh"- and Antonio, seemingly compassionate and good, applies one rule to his friends and quite a different set of rules to others - particularly "the Jew."

Antonio has agreed to the bond of "a pound of flesh" because he feels sure that he will be able to repay the money he borrows for Bassanio. He even admits to Shylock that he feels contemptuous towards him and will "spit on thee again"  (I.iii126) Antonio even says of Shylock " The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind" (173) as he mocks Shylock.

 Act IV,i covers all the different opinions and beliefs of the major characters and their reasons for being the way they are. Shylock particularly, explains his motives for being an "unfeeling man" (IV.i.63). He reminds the court that "tis mine and I will have it."(100)The law is foremost and should be obeyed. Portia, disguised as the judge, pleads with Shylock to show mercy because "tis mightiest in the mightiest" (183) but even she knows she cannot override the "strict court of Venice" but only "mitigate" on Antonio's behalf. Fortunately, Portia is good and will manipulate the situation to a more fitting conclusion. This will however, seriously compromise Shylock - somewhat unfairly - as Antonio will still turn on Shylock and not afford him the same measure of compassion that is demanded of Shylock.

Shylock's intention is to teach Antonio - and thus all the Christians - his lesson as, Shylock maintains that it is Antonio and his so-called Christian virtue that has rendered him so unforgiving as the Christians are quick to judge and they, specifically Antonio, "hates our sacred nation."(I.iii.43)  "Cursed be my tribe if I forgive him" (46). Shylock knows that it will give the Christians even more power over the Jews to forgive the bond.

So it would seem that Antonio leaves Shylock with little choice but to claim his bond. It would certainly be a way to make the arrogant Antonio more humble as he seems to have overlooked Shylock's feelings over all the years as "the villainy you teach me I will execute."(III.i.61) It is Antonio's lack of compassion for "the devil" that has made Shylock seek revenge; such as it resembles a Christian's "humility."(58)  

However, for all of Shylock's injured pride and feelings, "a pound of flesh" will not solve the problem anyway but will cause untold harm. Antonio does come across as accepting of his fate, from which one could expect him to learn his lesson when Portia manages to turn the situation around. However, Antonio calls for Shylock to recant his faith and become a Christian which is a punishment worse than death for Shylock. And so the cycle of hate and a need for vengence will perpetuate itself.  

Mercy and compassion must be administered from both sides in order for it to have the desired effect, such is the problem of human nature.



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