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Two scenes whose natures contribute to the theme of the play - Merchant of Venice Essay


Notoman 20 / 419  
Nov 22, 2009   #1
I haven't been scoring well on my Shakespeare essays. I really need help! My biggest problem, it seems, it that I don't see the forest for the trees. I will get bogged down in the little details and let the big picture slip by. I will need to come up with a title as well. Thank you!!!

Here's the prompt:

Choose two scenes whose analogous and antithetical natures contribute to the theme of the play. You will need to establish the analogous nature of two scenes. Then explain the various ways in which they are antithetical. Use these ideas to help you as you discuss the ambiguity/uncertainty of characters and of Shakespeare's ultimate point. Finally, decide on the larger point Shakespeare is making through such a construction (As we have asked in class, to what does Shakespeare show allegiance/support?). Develop your discussion of theme within the body.

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare explores the concept of covenants through several motifs including marriage, inheritance, filial piety, and justice. While revenge is personal, justice intends to right societal wrongs, but The Merchant of Venice makes a mockery of justice. Jessica not only steals away in the night, but steals what she and her cohorts can carry. The unorthodox contract between Antonio and Shylock along with Portia fraudulently acting the part of a Doctor of Laws at court further derides the notion of justice. Antonio and Shylock serve as the protagonist and antagonist, but it is not always clear which one is which. Two scenes in particular highlight the ambiguous nature of justice in the play: Jessica breaking her familial bond with her father and stealing Shylock's wealth depicts a covenant bound in tradition and loyalty rather than the law; while the contract between Antonio and Shylock for a "pound of flesh" is an example of a legal, albeit an unorthodox and even unethical, contract.

Shakespeare weaves interconnections between the characters in The Merchant of Venice not only through their relationships to one another, but through contracts, agreements, and pledges. Contracts play an apparent role: Bassanio is bound to Antonio when he repeatedly borrows money from him, Antonio is bound to Shylock when he offers his own flesh as collateral to secure a loan, Portia is bound by her father's unconventional stipulations for her marriage, Bassanio and Gratiano are bound to Portia and Nerissa not only through marriage but by the rings the women present to the men, and Jessica is bound to Shylock because she is his daughter. Shakespeare writes of other pledges in the play: Gratiano and Nerissa answer to Antonio as his servants and cannot marry without his permission, Launcelot is tied in servitude to Shylock, Portia's suitors are obligated to never marry if they open the wrong casket, and Shylock is restrained by his status as a Jew and non-citizen of Venice and the sentence meted out by the Venetian court.

Jessica's elopement with Lorenzo and the courtroom scene where Antonio and Shylock meet to settle the terms of their contract elucidate facets of justice using "flesh" as both a metaphorical and a literal commodity. "My own flesh and blood to rebel!" exclaims Shylock when he relates Jessica's flight from him (3.1.30). In taking Jessica, Lorenzo has stolen much more from Shylock than ducats and jewels; he has stolen his daughter-his flesh. Not only does Shylock lose his daughter in this exchange, but his family line and ability to bestow his faith on subsequent generations is subverted. Jessica reveals misgivings about her treachery when she tells Lorenzo, "I am glad 'tis night, you don't look upon me,/ For I am much ashamed of my exchange" (2.6.35-36). On the surface, Jessica appears to be embarrassed by her appearance in boys' clothing, but Jessica could also be expressing compunction for the disloyalty toward her father. It is this loss of his flesh and blood in the form of his daughter and the authority's inability to recover his possessions that heightens Shylock's resolve to enforce the contract against Antonio. Antonio's friends are sure that Shylock will not take Antonio's flesh if he forfeits the bond because the flesh has no value. Shylock tells them that he will use the flesh as fish bait. "If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge," he says (3.1.47-48). Shylock, glad when he hears news of Antonio's losses, is certain that the Duke will enforce the legal contract and provide Shylock with his revenge in the form of a pound of Antonio's flesh.

While these two scenes establish a connection with "flesh" as a central element, there are marked differences between them. Jessica and Lorenzo abscond with Shylock's valuables in the dark of the night and with Jessica in disguise. Not only does Lorenzo fail to ask Shylock's permission for his daughter's hand in marriage, but he escapes with her under concealment. Shylock, on the other hand, demands Antonio's flesh in open court, saying, "I stand here for law" (4.1.145). Shylock has a legal contract and seeks the court's assistance in enforcing it, where the elopement seeks to circumvent the covenant between Shylock and his daughter. Lorenzo and Jessica are assisted by their friends in the elopement, and the friends come together again in the courthouse to support Antonio, but Shylock is left in his house and is again alone in court.

Shakespeare uses rings to further draw parallels and delineate distinctions in these scenes. When Jessica flees, she takes her mother's turquoise ring and then trades the ring for a monkey. Shylock laments the loss of this ring, a sentimental gift from his wife, saying, "I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys" (3.1.108-109). Portia tests Bassanio by asking for the ring she has given him. While in disguise as the lawyer Balthazar, Portia seeks the ring as a token of gratitude for her legal services. At first, Bassanio refuses to part with the ring, telling the lawyer: "Good sir, this ring was given me by my wife,/ And when she put it on, she made me vow/ That I should neither sell nor give nor lose it" (4.1.456-458). Bassanio relents and turns over the ring when his friend Antonio beseeches him to, "let him have the ring./ Let his deservings, and my love withal,/ Be valued 'gainst your wife's commandment" (3.1.464-466). Gratiano, ever the shadow of Bassanio, presents Nerissa's ring to the lawyer's clerk. Shylock loses Leah's ring through no fault of his own, Bassanio chooses to give away Portia's ring in a show of loyalty to Antonio, and Gratiano gives away his ring from Nerissa because of his desire to emulate Bassanio. As a further mockery of justice, Bassanio's and Gratiano's rings are returned to them while Shylock's ring is located, but never repatriated.

Bassanio offers Shylock 6,000 ducats to repay the original 3,000 borrowed, but Shylock refuses and instead insists on the pound of Antonio's flesh. Portia, incognito and acting as a lawyer when she is not sanctioned by the court to do so, reveals a loophole in the law that not only spares Antonio's life, but releases him from repaying the principal borrowed. The voidance of the contract for a pound of flesh and loss of the principal would be, in modern times at least, a just outcome of such a ludicrous agreement, but Portia turns the law on Shylock, claiming that the agreement is tantamount to a threat on Antonio's life. Shylock's attempt to gain recompense for the loss of his flesh and blood by taking a pound of Antonio's flesh backfires. The court metes out a sentence that further compounds the loss and humiliation Shylock suffered at Jessica's elopement. Portia stipulates terms that require Shylock to forfeit half of his wealth, name Lorenzo his heir, and convert to Christianity. Giving that Shylock has already lost a significant amount of money in the elopement, requiring more in the form of a fine is a harsh blow. By demanding that Shylock name Lorenzo as his heir, the court is forcing Shylock to legally acknowledge the marriage between his daughter and the interloper. The conversion to Christianity is perhaps the harshest punishment imposed by the court. As a Christian, Shylock would no longer be able to participate in his career of usury. In addition to this loss of income, as a Jewish man, Shylock's eternal soul is placed in jeopardy. Justice is ambiguous in this scene. Shylock has lost everything-his daughter, his wealth, his inheritance, and his religion-but to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, this ending could be construed a happy one where Shylock is forced to find an ethical means of making money, the family is reunited through the court-dictated relationship, and Shylock's soul is saved with his conversion to Christianity.

Using covenants to explore different facets of justice, Shakespeare does not seem to come to any conclusions, but would rather the audience members explore their own beliefs. Antonio is neither the hero nor the villain, Shylock is detestable and sympathetic at the same time, and the justice system cannot be relied upon to right society's wrongs.
OP Notoman 20 / 419  
Nov 22, 2009   #2
My Shakespeare grades have been sucking! I will be lucky if I can pull a B. This teacher is incredibly tough and I am not able to satisfy the guy (now, now Faisal, get your mind out of the gutter).

Would someone mind taking a look at it?
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Nov 23, 2009   #3
Two scenes are particularly useful for highlighting the ambiguous nature of...

I wonder what the problem is... What does the prof say? When you have a prof that gives poor grades even to students who write well and try hard, doing well is often a matter of following advice and showing improvement, appreciation, and respect.

I am interested to know what the feedback was thats/he gave.

...rather than the law; while the contract between Antonio and... ----> when you use a semi-colon, it hs to work like a period. You should have an independent clause on each side. I'm talking about this use of it, not semi-colons used in lists. I hope I am correct, and not misleading you.

Important: I don't see a clear thesis statement. I see what you say in the long sentence with the semi-colon, but in any essay that compares 2 things you should have one profound "zen master" sentence that makes a profound statement about both. As I look to the last paragraph to find out the main idea... I can't really find one... is it all about the contracts/covenants?

I probably told you this before, but I see it like this: What do you call it when you have rings inside of rings, like a dart board? That thesis sentence in para #1 ... oh, yes, it is all about the covenants.

I think you just need to use the important words.. for example:

antithesis, analogy... use those words that the prof uses. That is how to score well, showing that you are explicitly answering the prompt.

And the thesis should focus on covenants, right?
Two scenes are particularly useful for highlighting the Shakespeare's use of covenants ambiguous nature of justice in the play:

I hope I am understanding correctly, and not doing more harm than good. I also suggest adding additional topic sentences at the front of paragraphs to use words like antithesis and analogy so the prof sees that they are being covered..

Good luck! Tell me about her/his specific criticisms! And make sure they give specific criticisms; otherwise, maybe they need to be challenged!
OP Notoman 20 / 419  
Nov 23, 2009   #4
Thanks Kevin!

Your advice helps a lot.

I don't think that it is a particular problem--just a lack of perfection. This is the toughest class I have ever had. The teacher is passionate about Shakespeare and really wants to make sure we get it. The prompts are hard for me ... I am used to things like: Compare and contrast two scenes or two characters, OR talk about the theme of justice--things that are much simpler! My thesis does get lost because the prompt is convoluted in my mind. Compare and contrast two scenes, talk about the ambiguity of characters, and tie all of this into theme and then into the big picture. It isn't an issue of respect or appreciation--this guy is one of the best teachers I have ever had. I am learning a lot; I am just not scoring well. I don't think anyone is. *SIGH*

I'll keep you apprised of how this essay scores.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Nov 24, 2009   #5
Well, I did notice that you did not use the impact words -- the words that the prof used.

In hypnosis, the therapist notices words that the client tends to use, and s/he uses them while inducing hypnosis. In class, you do smething similar, only it is to show the prof he is being taken seriously! Use those important words I mentioned, and make sure your thesis statement can be refined to a single sentence.

In this essay, it sort of looks like your first sentence in the essay was the theses statement.
linmark 2 / 328 7  
Nov 25, 2009   #6
Hey, just saw this too (buried under the rubble.) I wrote this quickly so hope this is still in time!!:)

The prompt "analogous and antithetical" is basically compare and contrast in fancier terms, no worries here. And I interpret the "ambiguity/uncertainty of characters" to refer to the many roles and contradictions of the characters. I think you have gone in depth to answer both - I really liked your analysis of the final courtroom scene when Shylock receives his sentence. Where you might need to add some weight is for the final prompt:

"Finally, decide on the larger point Shakespeare is making through such a construction"

Your conclusion of Shakespeare not reaching "any conclusions, but would rather the audience members explore their own beliefs" is good - but doesn't answer what you think he hopes to achieve/convey from the structure (construction) of the plot and characters.

Antonio is neither the hero nor the villain, Shylock is detestable and sympathetic at the same time, and the justice system cannot be relied upon to right society's wrongs.

i.e. here you describe the character of the characters. Should you also include an analysis of the construction of the charecter's relations in the plot? I'm just trying to double guess your teacher here. Mine stressed a lot on structure of charecters in Shakespeare's works.

Oh and if you didn't already catch this typo:

GivingGiven that Shylock has already lost a significant amount of money in the elopement, requiring more in the form of a fine is a harsh blow.
OP Notoman 20 / 419  
Nov 25, 2009   #7
Thanks Kevin!

Well, I did notice that you did not use the impact words -- the words that the prof used.

True! Part of his instructions said this: "-Notice how the prompt gives you other words for the AAA (analogous, antithetical, ambiguous). You demonstrate comfort with the topic and control over your own writing when you do not overuse these terms." I tired to only use one of the terms in the introductory paragraph. I did rework things before submitting it per your suggestions. I never know with this teacher! I ignored the concept of "topic sentences" with the last essay because I thought we were beyond the five-paragraph essay format and didn't think that I needed them, but my first sentences of my paragraphs did lack focus, transition, and an introductory element and I lost points for that. I tried to be better about those things this time around.

He also said: Generally speaking, high scoring essays delve into various possible interpretations ("On the one hand, Shakespeare seems to favor milk chocolate. However, he also seems to see it as nothing more than empty, unneeded sugar."). I tired to hit on that with this essay. I think I got that aspect.

Yeah, my thesis is weak because I was trying to cover so many of the elements of the prompt in the first paragraph. I reworked it a bit before turning it in. It is stronger, but still far from perfect.

Thanks Lin!

Your conclusion of Shakespeare not reaching "any conclusions, but would rather the audience members explore their own beliefs" is good - but doesn't answer what you think he hopes to achieve/convey from the structure (construction) of the plot and characters.

ACK! You are right. I did not go into that. I tell ya, I don't always see the forest for the trees. How could I miss such a point? I should have had a whole paragraph just on this. I totally missed talking about the way that Shakespeare uses parallels between the characters and his structure with the contracts to emphasize his point. I did need more of an analysis of the construction. The instructions that he hands out with each essay run to two pages. I read them twice, highlight what it is that I think I need to do, and then refer to them again and again (and again and again) while I am writing, but it still seems like there are things I "forget" when all is said and done. I am betting I will lose a letter grade for not discussing this. I am hoping for a "B." We'll see. The essay has to be at least 700 words. Mine are usually double that, but it seems like the prompt calls for triple.

And ... no "Giving," it wasn't a typo and I didn't catch it. It was a flat-out error. If it is the only egregious error in the essay, it shouldn't count against that part of my grade. He did tell me on my last essay that I have solid grammar and good word usage.

I should know my score soon. This teacher is very dedicated and grades things in a timely manner.

Othello is next.
OP Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 3, 2009   #8
ARGH! I scored a 77%. The good news is that I can rewrite and turn the paper in again for more points. Some of the teacher's comments make perfect sense to me (hindsight is 20/20), but I still don't know what he wants on other issues.

His general comments were: "The theme must be a significant part of the body. Allow Shakespeare to land somewhere on the topic. Also, your first and final body paragraphs do not clearly explore the two scenes. Make sure you address all parts of the prompt and maintain focus on that prompt. Your ideas are sophisticated, and your writing style is solid."

The comments within the body of the paper seem mostly positive, but I need to focus more on just the two scenes. I thought he would say that I lacked comparisons between the characters, but he didn't mention that.

I'll work up a rewrite over the weekend and post it here before I turn it in again.

Here's one thing that I don't know how to fix. He highlighted the last sentence of this paragraph and says, ""This idea is engaging, but on the surface, these events occur after the trial is over. Clarify how they tie to that scene." Here's the paragraph:

UGH! Okay ... so can I tie that concept to the scenes? Do I need to just delete the last sentence or find a way to incorporate it because the "idea is engaging"?

Man, I worked *hard* on this essay. I thought it would score better than a 77%. I feel like quitting school and living in a van by the river (hyperbole is the best thing EVER!).
linmark 2 / 328 7  
Dec 4, 2009   #9
Your teacher is being very technical here pointing out that the rings were returned AFTER the two scenes you chose to write on. As for "how they tie in," you can spell out how justice is unjust (antithetical) i.e. all wrongs are righted (rings returned) for everyone EXCEPT Shylock, the ONLY one with a legal contract that the court does not enforce. In fact, Shylock at the end, is punished and suffers the most for believing in and abiding by the law (not only from the court's harsh sentence but by losing the ring, his daughter, etc. does his ring remain with the monkey owner?) Everyone gets away with "murder" but him.

To what whom does Shakespeare show allegiance/support?: everyone but Shylock (lawllll)

Oh, the first example of Gratiano is repeated in your paragraph.

Gratiano, ever the shadow of Bassanio, presents Nerissa's ring to the lawyer's clerk. Shylock loses Leah's ring through no fault of his own, Bassanio chooses to give away Portia's ring in a show of loyalty to Antonio, and Gratiano gives away his ring from Nerissa because of his desire to emulate Bassanio. As a further mockery of justice, Bassanio's and Gratiano's rings are returned to them while Shylock's ring is located, but never repatriated.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Dec 5, 2009   #10
Yep, so the first and final paragraph have to use the words analogous and antithetical about 2 scenes...

In that problematic paragraph, you gave all story and no analysis. The topic sentence of that para is vague --

draw parallels and delineate distinctions

and the rest of it is all retelling of the story. Pretend you are in an argument about the play and that you are trying to make your point to a stubborn person -- see how that changes your topic sentence and conclusion sentence for the paragraph. Argue your point!

I see this is a case where you have a smart teacher who can really benefit you. But everyone has different ideas about how "good composition" should look. Anyway, always treat these situations like a Simon Says game. Make a game out of being able to show the teacher how deftly you followed (and benefited from) her/his instructions for revision. That's my recipe for getting an A, ha ha. teachers love it when you take them seriously.
OP Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 5, 2009   #11
In that problematic paragraph, you gave all story and no analysis. The topic sentence of that para is vague --

I'll rework that whole paragraph. I thought that I just needed to redo the last sentence, but after reading your comments and what Linmark says, I see I need even more work.

I see this is a case where you have a smart teacher who can really benefit you.

The man is brilliant and *very* dedicated. He is passionate about Shakespeare, English, and teaching. I am learning a lot, but I am afraid that I am hitting my personal wall. I have been able to coast to a large extent in my school career, but now I feel like I can't make headway regardless of how hard I paddle. I work *really* hard for this class ... I watch a production of each play on video, listen to an audio version, and then read the play--at least twice. I take the class and the teacher very seriously. The teacher knows that I am really trying and has cut me some breaks, but I still don't know if I can pull a B in this class.

I am going to work on the rewrites for a good part of the day tomorrow. The good news is that I only had one grammatical error in a five-page paper. That's the bad news too. Grammatical errors are much easier to fix than flaws in content.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Dec 7, 2009   #12
I work *really* hard for this class .

Yeah, when you are the sort of person who does not have to struggle to do well in school, a challenge can take you by surprise. One thing I recommend for you is questia, because that site has lots of journal articles that you can read, and... if you read some good peer reviewed scholarly articles about a shakespeare play or anything else, you can't not become an excellent writer. It's just like when someone gets good at Aikido because of growing up around people who practice Aikido. Because you are serious about mastering academic disciplines, I recommend trying questia some time. You can pay 20 bucks for a month of access. I recommend it only because you are such a promising scholar.

When you read the articles, you'll notice that they tell the reader what they are going to say, then they use topic sentences to make everything perfectly clear for the reader, and then they discuss all kinds of related research articles, books, etc., and then they make a little argument that makes a logical contribution to the study of whatever the heck the subject is.

Remember, none of this is all that complicated, because human beings are not that smart. Emotional upset interferes with what we try to do, so we have slow progress. With this scholarly composition... you know, in a few years it will be effortless, like driving becomes effortless. It only takes a short amount of time to go deep into a subject and become something of a master of it... BUT you have to read the scholarly journal articles.

you are lucky! You are one of the rare sorts of people that can focus well enough to master subjects!


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