“To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason?
I am a Jew.
Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,dimensions, senses, affections, passions?
Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not
If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge.
If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?
The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.”
So I don't know what to really say except I did not care for this play at all until we get to the clever solution over what to do about Shylock and Antonio's deal. Up until then I really felt like there was a lot of moving parts going on that made little to no sense and we had everyone acting as if being a Jew was the worst thing in the world. Can I understand why Shylock was frustrated and angry towards the character of Antonio? Yes. Did I think he should have been so ready to end his life in order for him to finally get back at the man who had been tormenting him for so long? No.
So this whole play all starts because a man named Bassanio needs money to court Portia who lives away from Venice. His friend Antonio agrees, but can't loan the money to Bassanio and instead tells him to get it from "The Jew" who is Shylock in Venice. Antonio and Shylock have a mutual loathing of each other and Antonio often goes and pays the loans off of people who have taken out loans with Shylock who are unable to pay him back. Also Antonio has been calling out Shylock and other Jews in Venice for usury. Shylock agrees to a loan but wants the stipulation added that if Bassanio cannot pay him back, that he is then entitled to a pound of Antonio's flesh. Yeah these guys, all are super crazy. Who agrees to a loan like that?
There is a side plot of Portia being force to go through a game of sorts in order for her to find a husband I found boring as anything. Though I did laugh at her description of her would be suitors.
So the characters in this play are either great, okay, or just plain suck. I thought Antonio was self righteous as anything and also pretty dumb in thinking that him giving up a pound of flesh would be a good business decision.
Bassanio decides he needs wealth to court Portia, when we already know that you have to play the game in order to win her, so he wouldn't be able to court her really. I am guessing this was just added as a reason for the loan to happen. Either way when you read more of the play you start to realize that it was totally unnecessary for him to do this.
Shylock I did feel for because he feels maligned and attacked by many in Venice who will take his money but still treat him as a pariah and don't even say his name. He is called "The Jew" by everyone. Having his daughter run off with a friend of Bassanio and Antonio's and stole his money and some of his possessions. Instead of anyone feeling for the guy, you have more criticism heaped upon his head. I did love his speech about being a Jew and not being really that different from Christians.
I did love Portia's character since she was the one who ultimately solved how to keep Antonio from dying in order to repay his debt to Shylock. Her speech to Shylock about mercy is ultimately ignored by him. However, I liked that she tried to get him to refuse the debt in order that he would not lose everything.
We have some secondary characters that I am still trying to work out why they were included in the story. Launcelot Gobbo I think was supposed to be comic relief, but I thought he was just horrible for the way he treated and spoke of his father and his former employer Shylock.
Jessica who stole her father's money and possessions and seemingly rejects him and converts to Christianity is often referred to as being so good and pretty that one would think she was a Christian (ugh) and who from what I can see never apologizes to her father for what she has done.
The writing was funny at parts as are much of Shakespeare's plays. Some double meaning here and there. I did think the play suffered when switching from Venice to Portia and her suitors. I just didn't care at all and it was a foregone conclusion that Bassanio would be the one to correctly solve the game.
The ending I supposed was to be a triumph, but to have Shylock lost almost everything and be forcibly converted left a bad taste in my mouth. And to go from that to humor with Portia (disguised) getting a ring that her now husband promised to never take off in order to make him plead and feel sorry for doing so was supposed to be hilarious I think, but just threw off the whole play. If the play had ended at the trial with Portia later revealing herself to her husband later on I think that would have worked better.