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LAW AND JUSTICE IN THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Submitted By-

Akshansh Singh Bhadouriya

SM0115003

Faculty In Charge

Mrs. APRAJITA DUTTA

NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, ASSAM

GUWAHATI

31 OCTOBER, 2015
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. Research Problem


1.2. Literature Review
1.3. Scope and Objective
1.4. Methodology

2. LAW UPHELD: LAW INCORPORATED IN PERSONALITY OF DIFFERENT

CHARACTERS

3. SIGNIFICANCE OF LAW AND JUSTICE IN MERCHANT OF VENICE

4. LAW OF DRAMATIC PROPERTIES IN MERCHANT OF VENICE

5. CONCLUSION

BIBLIOGRAPHY
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CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

Law and Justice are two of the most prominent features in the Play "Merchant of Venice" by
William Shakespeare; we find many an instances of Law and Justice being exemplified in the
Play. The concept of Justice and Law at that time and in that background, were particularly
dominant in context of the traditional Christian law and the royal laws Of Venice. Though the
concept of justice and law at that time were a little bit different from what they are today, the
laws were a little bit Rigid and Punishments were quite harsh. There are many instances in the
story where Citations of Rule of Law, Justice must prevail, Burden of Truth, Weight of Words,
and other legal maxims have been used. For e.g. When Portia asks Shylock to take out exactly 1
pound of flesh neither less nor more (which practically is impossible), then the legal maxim of
Word to word execution is used. Portia using the loopholes in the contract between Antonio and
Shylock saves Antonio in the trail and frames Shylock for Crimes, including Malice, Dangerous
Intentions, and even a threat to the state. According to the present day scenario law is
appropriately used in Merchant of Venice, wherever justified it is executed, but At certain
instances Justice is not delivered in a just way, Like Shylock is tried with a pre conceived notion
that Jews are Selfish and Cheaters, as well as Traitors to the state and Harsh over Christians.
When Shylock is asked to convert to Christianity to evade the Punishment, it is a clear violation
to the Principle of Justice as his personal liberty to choose his Religion is violated. Also Justice
delivered to Shylock is pre dominantly harsh, it is quiet apparent in the play that If a Christian
would have been standing at the place of Shylock, then the Judgment would have been more
lenient, but since it was Shylock, everyone out there were taking out their personal Grudges
against him, Thus, Law is Equal for all and Justice has a balanced view, these maxims of Justice
are clearly not followed.
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CHAPTER 1.1

RESEARCH PROBLEM

The researcher here tries to understand the importance and the functionality of two recurring
aspects of law and order in the play, The Merchant Of Venice. On careful study, it is found that
Merchant Of Venice has a lot of legal obligations attached to it. In regard to this, the researcher
seeks to understand the legal aspect of the play and to bring to light the role played by the
characters which has given shape and form to the legal aspect in the play.
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CHAPTER 1.2

LITERATURE REVIEW

1. William Shakespeare; The Merchant Of Venice; London (1600):

This book is a tragical comedy which largely talks about racism, love, secrets, loans and law and
justice in Venice. This tells us that law in that time was also as strong and powerful as it is in
todays world. It helps us a lot to understand the law regarding the judgment given in favor of
Antonio. It was somewhere unjust as Shylock was not able to recover his amount. Nonetheless
the book finally ends on a good note.

2. Josh Nisker; Formalism in The Merchant of Venice; Toronto:

William Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice addresses various legal issues and Themes, with
perhaps none being so pronounced as the struggle between formal Positivism and Natural Law.
Ostensibly, The Merchant of Venice dramatizes the Dangers of rigid adherence to formalism and
the triumph of Natural Law through Portias Legal defeat of Shylock. On a more profound level,
Shakespeares portrayal of the Venetian trial scene raises grave concerns about the essential
nature and manner of that Defeat.
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CHAPTER 1.3

SCOPE AND OBJECTIVES

SCOPE:

The project work is an effort to gain knowledge about Law And Justice in Merchant Of Venice.
The scope of this project is very limited to the reasons that the topic is very specific i.e. Law and
Justice in The Merchant Of Venice.

OBJECTIVE:

The objectives of this project are as follow:

To study the nature of law in Venice.


To study the role of Portia as a lawyer and a female.
To study the significance of law in the characters.
To analyze law and justice in this drama.
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CHAPTER 1.4

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

In this project, researcher has adopted Doctrinal research. Doctrinal research is essentially a
library-based study, which means that the materials needed by a researcher may be available
in libraries, archives and other data-bases. Various types of books were used to get the
adequate data essential for this project. Researcher also used computer laboratory to get
important data related to this topic. Researcher also found several good websites which were
very useful to better understand this topic.
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CHAPTER 2

LAW UPHELD: LAW INCORPORATED IN PERSONALITY OF


DIFFERENT CHARACTERS

All the characters in Merchant Of Venice played a significant role in the drama. But role of law
can be seen only in some characters of Venice. Judges in the court of Venice played a great role
in representing the law of Venice, with the help of their decision only the readers were able to
understand that the law in Venice was biased towards Jewish. The second character related to
law in Venice is Shylock. Shylock was the Jewish merchant; shylock first commits a crime by
asking for a pound of flesh from Antonios body, which is considered to be outside the capacity
of the contract and unlawful at the same time. But later in the Drama proper justice is not
delivered to shylock, as when he asks for Antonios flesh when Antonio is not able to repay the
loan then Portia comes in between resembling a male lawyer and fights the case against Shylock
and the judgment delivered was in favor of Antonio as Portia says that no Jewish can kill a
Christian, and at last neither Shylock receives pound of flesh nor he receives his money back.
This happens because the law at that time was biased. There was another character which
represents law in a beautiful way it was Portia. Portia at the last of the story appears as a mal
lawyer in order to protect Antonio from Shylock. Although the law was unjust to Shylock but
Portia played her part beautifully by giving valid arguments in order to protect Antonio and that
to according to the laws prevalent at that time. Her arguments were very influential such as the
conversation between her and shylock you can take the part of flesh but without shedding a
drop of blood from Antonios body, as according to law no Jew can hurt any Christian1.
Antonio to an extent was related to law as well, as he was a law abiding citizen of Venice. And at
last he was ready to give a pound of flesh to Shylock before the arrival of Portia. So we can say
that characters of Merchant of Venice also depicts about what kind of law was prevalent in
Venice and how it worked for different class of society.

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Josh Nisker; Formalism in The Merchant of Venice; Toronto.
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CHAPTER 3

SIGNIFICANCE OF LAW AND JUSTICE IN MERCHANT OF


VENICE

Law plays a major role in the play The Merchant of Venice where the cycle runs of the forum
of law and justice such that they form a concrete base of the play. Major area of the system of
life and death revolve around the system of law in the play The Merchant of Venice. The bond
of flesh between Antonio and Shylock twisted the plot in a finest clause and restriction relation.
Though the city had formed strong law, there existed a religious favourism due to which in the
closing stages Shylock was asked to bestow mercy. Again, there also existed laws that clearly
mentioned killing of a Christian in the city as the highest form of sin.

Asserting the case of Portia, who altered the entire case by saving Antonios life by twisting the
law and its provisions depicts that law was used as a tool that was used to rectify several
mistakes but at the same time works like an icon that is used by some people to break bonds and
rules. Same can be cited in the case of Portia and Nerissa. Law at that time could be considered
as highly unequal as though Portia and Nerissa worked as women advocates and fought the case
to save Antonios life, but the point that they had to disguise themselves for performing the
action demarcated the unequal position of women in the eyes of law. Justice was also delivered
but not as it has to be although it saved the life of Antonio but it was unfair to Shylock by not
compensating him neither with the money nor with the flesh2.

2
William Shakespeare; The Merchant Of Venice; London (1600).
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CHAPTER 4
LAW OF DRAMATIC PROPERTIES IN MERCHANT OF VENICE

Merchant of Venice is one of the most popular plays of Shakespeare not just because it is a tragic
comedy but it also gives an overview of the law in Venice at that time. There may be no more
reality than in the world of law than in the world of play, but there is at least a real connection
between those worlds. Dramatic properties of law in Merchant of Venice can be depicted by
certain incidents in the play such as the act in which Portia exchanges ring with Bassanio or
when the ring was given to Portia when she comes as a male lawyer, it all depicts law of
marriage and the law of equal exchange which means something in exchange of something. The
scale in which if they have to purchase a property or something they have to put an equal amount
of copper, this depicts property law was prevalent at that time. The next law can be cited from
the incident when Shylock asks for Pound of flesh which depicts presence of contract law and at
the time of court proceedings when Antonio was about to give his pound of flesh 3 and Portia
save him shows that law in Venice was to protect everyone, excepts a few as it the law was
biased too.

3
Paul Raffield and Gary Watt; Shakespeare and The Law; Mohan Law House (2010).
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CHAPTER 5
CONCLUSION

The researcher would like to conclude the research paper by stating the fact that law in merchant of
Venice was prevalent but was biased towards one class of society. Merchant of Venice gave an overall
view of how law was at that time by showing some events in the drama such as the judges giving decision
in favor of Antonio, but all the readers and critics as stated know that Shylock was unjust in asking the
pound of flesh from Antonio in case Bassanio will not be able to pay the loan back as it was outside the
capacity of contract but at least Antonio should have paid his amount back. This shows that justice in
Venice was not delivered fairly to everyone. So the point of conclusion is that Merchant of Venice depicts
that law and justice delivered to Jewish people and Christian people are not same but biased.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

William Shakespeare; The Merchant Of Venice; London (1600).


Josh Nisker; Formalism in The Merchant of Venice; Toronto.
Paul Raffield and Gary Watt; Shakespeare and The Law; Mohan Law House (2010).