Was Shylock treated fairly or unfairly by the laws of Venice at the time?

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Venice, as represented in the play, is a fictitious reconstruction by William Shakespeare. His careful construction of the play enables him to raise, though not answer, some fundamental questions about Venetian law as he imagines it. One of those unanswered questions is the legality of the contract that Shylock made with Bassanio and Antonio. In the courtroom scene, Balthazar, the lawyer whom Portia is impersonating, concentrates on the relationship between flesh and blood and on the legal ramifications of causing bodily harm.

Balthazar points out that flesh cannot be taken without drawing blood, which is not specified in the contract: this absence makes the contract void. He raises another legal issue: the citizenship status of Venetians. As a Jew, Shylock is excluded from that category. Therefore, if he were to harm a Venetian citizen, he would be liable to prosecution. If convicted of harming a Venetian, as a foreigner, he would likely incur the death penalty. Even if spared execution, he would be required to forfeit his property. Ultimately, an agreement is made that Shylock did intend bodily harm; while forfeiture is required, it is only half his property, not all of it. Shylock does not see any justice in this settlement, but given that his life and half his property was spared, an argument could be made that his treatment was fair.

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