Which topic out of the following should be the easiest to write for an essay on The Merchant of Venice? law,prejudice,mercy,appearance&reality

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whenever students write critical essays about a work of literature, they should reflect upon the theme that is most salient to them.  That is, after reading, which ideas and which character traits and which passages affected them as readers?  Certainly for many Portia's famous passage on the quality of mercy is memorable:

The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath.  It is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes,

'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The thorned monarch better than his crown,

His scepter shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty... (4.1.183-190)

Of course, Portia's Christian sense of mercy is in contrast to Shylock's sense of justice in his usury.  He defends the iniquitous practice of usury by citing the Old Testament; he insists upon the bare letter of the law and ignores the spirit unlike Antonio and others who generously loan money without interest.  This concept of mercy, then, sets up the dichotomy between the Jew and the Christian concept of mercy and justice, a motif that runs throughout Shakespeare's play.

With greed running the world nowadays, there are certainly relevant motifs and themes in this play of Shakespeare's.  The recent collapse of the housing markets are examples of the greed as banks have sold homes to people whom they knew would end up losing their home when interest rates changed; then, they would turn the paper over to others and make another quick profit as people were left homeless and financially destroyed just as is the practice of Shylock whose usurer's rates are so high that people are left penniless after trying to repay him.