Is Shylock treated fairly in the court of Venice in The Merchant of Venice?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes and no--how's that for an ambiguous answer?!  Yes, he is treated fairly in the sense that when he arrives in the court and makes his case, he insists on the letter of the law.  He will accept no other form of "payment" for Antonio's debt to him other than what his contract (bond) states.  He knows that the court of Venice is renowned for his sense of legal exactitude and tries to use that to his advantage.  So, when Portia points out exactly what the letter of the law would be in regards to his contract, Shylock should admit that that is fair since he insisted on following it exactly earlier.

On the other hand, Shylock is not treated fairly in the sense that he must make his case in front of a hostile audience, and Antonio's treatment of him (spitting on him, cursing him, trying to hurt his business) is never addressed by the court.  In fact, Shylock's punishment, which could have been death, is still extremely harsh, and Antonio leaves the court with his wealth and reputation intact. Shakespeare's audience most likely would have laughed at the Jew's fate and punishment, but for today's audience which recognize the rampant discrimination against Shylock, his last scene in the court is saddening and pitiful.

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The Merchant of Venice

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