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Ever so interestingly, William Shakespeare mixes ponderous themes with comedy and romance in his Merchant of Venice. Shylock, a character whose prose rivals that of Falstaff, is both threatening and ridiculous in his spirit of resentment while Portia's and Jessica's romantic deceptions are entertaining. All of these elements pale, however, with the high drama of life and death as Shylock calls in his loan to Antonio, and is first chastised by Portia's eloquent speech on the quality of mercy:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown-- (4.1)
and then defeated by her astute argument that Shylock can take only one pound of flesh, not less or no more, and the conditions of the bond do not allow any blood to be shed. This defeat leads to yet another defeat for Shylock as Portia then cites a law under as a Jew and considered an "alien" in Venice, must forfeit his property because he has attempted to take the life of a citizen. Therefore, half of Shylock's fortune must go to the Venetian government and half to Antonio, leaving his life at the mercy of the Duke and the court.
Finally, as the renowned Shakespearean critic, Harold Bloom, comments, "Shakespeare was up to mischief" with his defeat of Shylock, who agrees to the order that he must become a Christian, which Bloom (who is Jewish) declares is as ridiculous as "Cleopatra's consent to become a vestal virgin at Rome."
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