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Justice and Mercy in The Merchant of Venice.

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Sam Cochrane

on 15 April 2013

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Transcript of Justice and Mercy in The Merchant of Venice.

JUSTICE MERCY JUSTICE - ''Fairness, impartiality/validity in law/with sound reasoning, people get what they deserve''. MERCY - ''The compassionate treatment of an offender or enemy who is in ones power''. Mercy is the act of treating someone with compassion or forgiveness if they have wronged you and you are in a position of power over them. This usually involves taking into account certain circumstances and having empathy; understanding what drove them to wrong you in the first place. i.e. If someone steals from you because they are starving, you are more likely to be merciful towards them than if the stole from you just to spite you. trololol The problem with justice is that many people have different opinions on what is just and what isn't. In certain states in America, it is the law that if you commit murder you will be executed. However, in Britain you would just be given life imprisonment, and maybe even a chance at parole after 20ish years. There is also the problem of people being biased. If someone is wronged who was a friend or relation, chances are you are going to want the punishment to be more severe than if someone you didn't know was wronged. This is why juries are randomly selected people who have no relation to anyone involved in the trial Justice is giving someone exactly what he or she deserves and nothing more or less. If you sentenced someone to 20 years in prison for littering, but sentenced someone else to community service for murder, that wouldn't be justice. But if you gave the murderer life in prison and the litterer a fine most people would agree that that is just. Mercy and justice often go together. In courts, mercy is often given when doing exactly what the law dictates is deemed to harsh. It is why we have a parole system, and why we don't execute people. It (theoretically) gives people a second chance, but if they commit a crime again, the punishment is often much more severe.

However, there are times when mercy and justice do not go together and, in these cases, it is often very difficult to decide which is right and which is wrong. Both justice and mercy (and the debate as to which is right) are very important themes in The Merchant of Venice. Justice and Mercy in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice "When?" Justice and mercy are not new concepts. They have been around for centuries, dating back to ancient greek philosophers like Socrates, who stated that justice was good, and therefor a just man is a good man. Mercy and justice are also heavily featured in the Bible, with the Old Testament (the jewish portion) taking the stance of "and eye for an eye". Meaning that if you harm someone, your punishment should be that you are harmed in a similar way: justice/revenge. This is the stance taken by the main Jewish antagonist; Shylock.
The New Testament (the christian part), however, states that you should "turn the other cheek". This refers to responding to an aggressor without violence: mercy/forgiveness. This is the stance taken by the play's main Christian protagonists. "How?"

Justice and mercy are both extremely prominent themes in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and play a large role in the 3rd and 4th acts, as well as the conclusion.
These themes fit with the play's anti-Semitic message as the main antagonist (Shylock) strives for justice and only justice in his lust for revenge, this eventually being his downfall; "My deed upon my head! I crave the law!". In contrast, the (Christian) protagonists, especially Portia (disguised as Balthazar), often speak of mercy and its virtues, claiming that mercy is above even kings and is "mightiest in the mightiest". Portia/Balthazar also says that it is "twice blessed", in that "it blesseth him who gives, and him that takes". She uses this to say that mercy is the highest of qualities and in being merciful you not only bless the person you are being merciful towards, but yourself as well.

This argument is slightly undermined by the fact that, in order to outwit Shylock and save Antonio, Portia/Balthazar has to be completely just and show little mercy when presenting her final argument against Shylock. Modern Day Examples of Justice and Mercy A modern day example of justice would be (obviously) the judicial system, which is designed to be as fair and just as possible in a number of ways. One of the main points is that you cannot be sentenced to any punishment without a fair trial, and that everybody is innocent until proven guilty. The trial is made fair by the fact that both the prosecution and defence have a chance to present evidence. In addition, all members of the jury must be completely unbiased and have no relationship with the accused in any way. In contrast, an example of mercy would be the parole system. This is if someone has been in jail for a certain amount of time they might be allowed parole. Parole is when, according to good behaviour and if you have shown that you have changed, you might have your jail sentence shortened and be let out of jail early. Conclusion Justice and mercy are both very important and extremely prominent themes in The Merchant of Venice, and indeed, our everyday lives. We cannot have one without the other. We cannot have justice without mercy because if you treat someone entirely without mercy, you might get caught out later, but they will now not treat you with any mercy. And we cannot have mercy without some justice, because there needs to be consequences for our actions. We must have both. As Portia says: "Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy". Bibliography •Difference Between

•Yahoo! Answers – What is the Difference Between Justice and Mercy

•Bookstove – Justice and Mercy in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice

•BBC Bitesize – GCSE – English – The Merchant of Venice

•Socrates: the Search for Justice

•Eye for an Eye

•Turning the Other Cheek

William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice By Sam Cochrane, Jonny Hinks & Callum Mckenzie
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