What are your feelings about Shylock at the end of the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice?

One's feelings about Shylock at the end of the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice may be that he's the victim of an appalling miscarriage of justice. Shylock may have been cruel and vindictive in insisting on the terms of his "merry bond" being carried out to the letter, but that doesn't justify the trial's being conducted in such a blatantly biased manner. Nor does it justify his being forced to convert to Christianity.

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Though it might be pushing it to suggest that Shylock is generally a sympathetic character, most people regard him as having had a raw deal at the end of the trial scene. Whatever our sympathies may have been prior to the trial scene, there's no escaping the fact that Shylock is treated abominably in what, by anyone's standards, is a pretty blatant miscarriage of justice.

For a start, the odds are stacked against Shylock, making it impossible for him to get justice, however one defines it. Portia is certainly no honest broker; she has a vested interest in ensuring that Shylock gets well and truly shafted. And the very idea that she is the living embodiment of justice isn't just laughable; it sticks in the craw.

Of course, there's no doubt that Shylock has been petty, cruel, and vindictive in insisting that the terms of his
"merry bond" are fulfilled to the letter. But that in no way justifies his shabby treatment by what is supposed to be a court of justice. Nor does it warrant his being forced to convert to Christianity, which is an outrageous example of antisemitic prejudice at its worst. Shylock may have overplayed his hand, but nothing that he's said or done can possibly justify forced religious conversion.

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The trial scene in The Merchant of Venice (IV.i) opens with the Duke remarking on Shylock's merciless inhumanity. The abuse he receives from the Venetians, Gratiano in particular, makes it fairly clear why he sticks to the letter of his bond, not through greed, for no sum of money would be enough, but in anger and hopes of revenge.

By the end of the scene, Shylock is a broken man. He has lost his daughter and at least half his wealth, been forced to convert to Christianity and narrowly escaped death. His final words before he leaves the stage for good plead a sickness which he may very well feel and confirm that he will comply with the court's judgment.

It would be difficult not to feel some sympathy with Shylock's plight at the end of the scene. How much depends on how much sympathy one felt for him at the beginning. In 1995, a famous production of the play occurred in Weimar. This was set in the nearby concentration camp at Buchenwald. Setting the play in a concentration camp obviously renders Shylock a more sympathetic character, but perhaps an accurate appreciation of the position of Jews in renaissance Venice would have much the same effect. Shylock is not an admirable character, but he does encounter terrible hatred and contempt throughout the play. One would have to be as harsh as he is to feel any satisfaction at his fate.

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After learning that Antonio's merchant ships have been lost at sea, Shylock excitedly anticipates the payment on his contract with Antonio. It appears as if Shylock's wish for the demise of Antonio will be realized.

Shylock makes his formal appeal to the Duke of Venice for fulfillment on the bond he has made with the Christian merchant. When the Duke sees Shylock, he tells him that he fully expects that Shylock, out of humanity and love, will not demand payment of Antonio's flesh, and that he will also forgive some portion of the debt. However, Shylock replies,

I have possessed your grace of what I purpose,
And by our holy Sabbath have I sworn
To have the due and forfeit of my bond.
If you deny it, let the danger light
Upon your charter and your city’s freedom. (4.1.35-39)

Even when Bassanio tries to offer Shylock twice the amount of the loan, the usurer refuses. He justifies his demands, saying that the Christians refuse to release those that they use "in slavish parts/Because you bought them." The angered Duke replies to Shylock by saying that he would dismiss the court were it not for a learned doctor of law's expected arrival.

Soon, Portia, disguised as a lawyer, appears with a letter from Dr. Bellario, stating that "he" is to represent the learned Bellario. Approaching Shylock, Portia offers him triple the amount of the debt, but Shylock insists upon the strict interpretation of the agreement. So, Portia agrees, cleverly noting that the "strict" interpretation allows no spillage of blood.

Also, Portia cleverly informs Shylock that there is another legal hold on Shylock: Since he is an alien in Venice, who seeks the life of a citizen, Shylock has broken Venetian law and his wealth can now be divided between the public treasury and the injured citizen, Antonio. Moreover, Shylock's own life is in jeopardy because of what he has attempted.

Falling upon the mercy of the court, Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity and loses half of his possessions.

Here are some points to consider in forming an opinion about this scene:

While there are different reactions by readers to this scene, even though Shylock has made terrible demands upon Antonio, Antonio did agree to them. But, when the Duke urges him to be merciful and offers him twice the monetary amount, Shylock has the opportunity to save himself the misery which he is finally dealt.

Shylock is blind-sided by the legal punishments dealt him by Portia. Nevertheless, when he makes a logical point about the Venetians' treatment of their "slavish" workers as not much better than his demands upon Antonio, his punishment does appear to be very harsh. Certainly, forcing him to convert to Christianity is extreme, and does not seem to serve any practical purpose. Still, Shylock has had the opportunity to accept three times the debt, so he has only his own greed to blame for his fate. 

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