GCE A/L English Literature - Made Easy - Drama : The Merchant of
Venice - by William Shakespeare
Commentary: Act 4 Sc 1
The "dramatic high point" of the play is revealed in Scene I Act 4.
The "bond reaching its crisis and its resolution" Shylock faces defeat
and Antonio is released emphasising the happy ending of Shakespeare's
The speeches by the Duke and Antonio keep the audience informed of
the contrasting positions of the two opponents. The Duke of Venice
calling Shylock "an inhuman wretch" Antonio sees him as a villain.
Antonio's character rouses sympathy.
The "solitary character" of Shylock is structured in such a manner so
as to rouse "dramatic sympathy". Shylock is a lonely figure surrounded
by his enemies and his own daughter deceiving him, annoying him and
ruining him by running away with a Christian, with all her father's
There's suspense reigning as to whether Shylock will really "demand
Antonio's life" According to Shylock he "stands upon the law" and the
creator's of the law, themselves requesting Shylock to break the law.
It is the law of the Venetians that he has "sworn to have the due and
forfeit of bond" Shylock's character reveals clearly that he has no
intention or motive regarding what is right and what is wrong - what is
justifiable or what deal with injustice. These are Shylock's weaker and
His ambition and desire to destroy a man, a Christian who he says has
spat upon him in public. Antonio is aware that mercy is something
unobtainable from Shylock, a jew who demands "justice".
But to the Shakespearean audience it is clearly indicated that
"Shylock's inhumanity" and his extreme desire for revenge "the pound of
flesh - and nothing else. There's excitement when Nerissa (the lawyer's
clerk) presents the letter from Bellario.
As the Duke reads out the letter and Shylock sharpening his knife
gives a tint of "melodramatic touch" to the drama presenting Shylock as
a person bereft of humanity, a jew in a Christian community, Shylock
feels that he has triumphed.
Shakespeare has sustained tension" by making Portia "question the
legality" of the bond and Antonio agreeing to the bond.
The speech made by Portia stressing the importance of mercy. As she
studies the conditions of the bond she spots a flaw, while Shylock is
adamant that he stands by the bond - A pound of flesh from Antonio's
body nearest to his heart Portia knows that Shylock's knife won't get a
fraction of a chance to touch Antonio's body though the audience is
ignorant of it. Thus the "tension of the scene" is maintained.
Portia leads Shylock slowly into a problem which he is unable to
solve or get over. Shakespeare makes Portia to reveal "the
interpretations of absolute justice." Thus inviting the sympathy of the
audience, Antonio's dignified personality is portrayed in his last
His love for Bassanio as a true friend requesting him not to be sad
but "you cannot better be employed Bassanio than to live still and write
mine epitaph" Shakespeare maintains the trend of comedy through a strain
of tragic situations springing up. The disguised Portia and Nerissa
would not be happy to see their husbands exchange words dealing with
"ready sacrifice of lives for one another".
As Shylock approaches Antonio with his knife raised to cut off the
pound of flesh and Portia's "pronouncement" "no jot of blood" shocking
shylock for he sees the symptoms of losing the case and that his case is
now almost "irrevocably reversed" Shylock who was triumphed (as he
thought) seems to be in a different position, he, himself being
Death awaits him. He's given only a small chance to comment "upon the
judgement passed upon him." Being a Jew, defeated in a Venetian Court of
Law and could he contrive to become a Christian.
Ultimately he begs his judges, "I pray you give me leave to go from
hence. I am not well. Send the deed after me and I will sign it".
This is "master stroke of simple under stated pathos" (Cliff Notes)
The audience is able to visualize HATE getting defeated (through
Shylock's behaviour pattern) Shakespeare has highlighted the results of
hatred and how villainous motives get defeated emphasising that "the
rule of Law" is an essential factor.
ACT 4 Scene I is the central scene of the drama. The interpretations
of Shylock, Conflict between mercy and justice" and Shylock losing his
only daughter, his valuables, his property and above all his religion.
Thus Shylock becomes a "figure of Pathos".
To the Elizebethan audience Shylock seemed a villain of the "romantic
comedy" deserving punishment. Lorenzo and Jessica become the owners of
Shylock's wealth. Shylock becomes the Symbol of hatred. Justice reigns
as the wealth of Shylock goes to his daughter, Jessica and "the
courtjudgement that Shylock should become a Christian, detested by
Shylock but would have pleased the Elizebethan audience for giving a
chance to Shylock to "achieve salvation".
The pity and sadness that prevailed change into a romantic comedy
with Shylock's exit. The conflicts, unpleasant proceedings, pathetic
atmosphere fade off, paving way for an atmosphere of "Love and Concord"
Shylock's exit is one of the "most puzzling moments of the Shakespearian