Essay, Research Paper: Merchant Of Venice By Shakespeare


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In this world, there are many aspects of blindness whether it is mentally or
physically. Either way, each blindness brings out the disability in each person.
Such portrayal was shown throughout the play The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare
presents more than one form of blindness, which complicates the social order of
the society, and I feel that the blindness, being their imperfection, creates
tension between characters, which is weakened by blindness. When the characters
are being blind, they are corrupted by their actions and somehow they do not
care who they are hurting as long as they know they are getting the best out of
something. Whether it being valuables, love, power, or respect. Physical and
mental blindness are seen throughout this play. They play a part in each
character’s daily lives and are the obstacle that prevents happiness. Old
Gobbo, who is Launcelot’s blind and feeble father, expresses physical and
mental blindness when he approaches Launcelot and surprisingly asks him,
"Master young man, you, I pray you, which is the way to Master
Jew’s?" (Pg. 21, lines 29-30) for he was looking for his son, Launcelot.
Surprisingly Old Gobbo did not know that he was speaking to his son. Old Gobbo
is nearly blind, which is the physical part of the blindness, which was one of
the reasons why he unable to recognize Launcelot’s features. He is also
mentally blind because a father should recognize his own son’s voice.
Launcelot briefly jokes with his father before confessing "[he is]
Launcelot – [his] boy that was, [his] son that is, [his] child that shall
be," (Pg. 22, lines 78-79) but Old Gobbo still "cannot think [he is
his] son" (Pg. 22, line 80). Launcelot convinces himself that "if [his
father] had [his] eyes, [he] might fail of knowing [him]" because "it
is a wise father that knows his own child" (Pg. 22, lines 70-71). It is a
shame that a father cannot recognize his own flesh and blood. This blindness
concerns the relationship of a father and their child. Another blindness that
concerns the relationship between a father and the child would have been between
Portia and her dead father. Portia, the heroine of The Merchant of Venice, is
forced to marry the suitor who chooses the correct casket left by her deceased
father. When the Prince of Morocco, one of Portia’s suitors, comes to Belmont
to woo Portia, he daringly takes the test of choosing the correct casket. He
accepts the consequences that if he fails, he was to "never to speak to [a]
lady afterward in [the] way of marriage" (g. 19, lines 43-44). He blindly
chooses the gold casket with the engraving "Who chooseth me shall gain what
many men desire" (Pg. 35, line 37), for its appearance. Inside the gold
casket contained a skull "within [its] empty eye there [was] a written
scroll" (Pg. 36, lines 64-65), which said that the Prince of Morocco was
not wise. He overlooks the reality that not everything that seems valuable is
good. The Prince of Arragon, another suitor who hopes to win Portia’s hand,
also repeats the similar incident of choosing the wrong casket. He accepts the
terms as well, but instead of choosing the gold casket for value he chooses the
silver casket with the engraving "Who chooseth me shall get as much as he
deserves" (Pg. 40, line 51). Inside the silver casket contains a
"portrait of a blinking idiot" (Pg. 41, line 56) and a schedule saying
that he was a fool for choosing silver. Both princes are being physically blind
by appearances which leaves them empty handed and single for the rest of their
lives. Physical and mental blindness takes a dramatic effect with Launcelot and
his father and both princes because it affects the way they think and the way
they act, which prevents them from being happy. Shakespeare presents blindness
as a problem to the society in his play. Many people did not see how there was
many problems concerning their relationship between other people. In the
blindness of religion, he has the characters seeing the worst in religions that
they do not believe in. He describes how Jews are unwanted in Venice, which was
at that time a society of Christians. For Shylock, who is an illegal Jewish
moneylender in Venice, many Christians despise him for his religious beliefs and
the interest he places upon people who loan money from him. He as well holds
contempt with Christians, but he still does business with them because his life
revolves around the interest received by them. His former employee, Launcelot,
calls the Jew "the very devil incarnation" (Pg. 20, line 24) because
he was a Christian employed by a Jew. The characters in the play treat Shylock
badly because he is different and they do not respect him because he is not one
of them. The people who misjudge him are being blind by how bad they are. They
are judging him as the villain, but it is blindness that is the villain. The law
in Venice was capable of changing a person’s religion by force. This shows how
people did not care for others except for what they thought was right. Blinded
by their stubborn ways, they feel that different ways are bad. For example, the
Jewish Shylock has such a negative reputation in this society that in the end of
the trial between him and Antonio, who is the merchant of Venice, Antonio says
"that, for this favor, [Shylock] presently become a Christian." (Pg.
79, lines 399-400) In response to Antonio’s words, "[Shylock was]
content." (Pg. 79, line 407) This shows how blindness made no religious
tolerance in Venice and that Shylock did not care much about his religion when
it comes to his life being in jeopardy. In contrast of forced religion, Jessica,
Shylock’s daughter, willingly becomes a Christian, for she "shall be
saved by [her] husband (Lorenzo). He hath made [her] a Christian" (Pg. 63,
lines 17-18). Launcelot also jokingly tells her that "making of Christians
will raise the price of hogs" (Pg. 63, lines 21-22). The reason why Jessica
converts to Christianity is because she was unhappy being a Jew, feeling that it
brought despair and grief for her. There are times when a religion is not
fulfilling to a person’s religious need. In Jessica’s case, she feels that
Christianity has more to offer than staying a Jew. During the play’s time,
which was the age of Renaissance, blindness was a common flaw and was seen
throughout its society. Men were blind toward women because they did not see how
they were treating women. The men deliberately prevented women from
accomplishing anything that the men were able to do. Women did not have the
rights they wanted, such as self-worth, respect, privileges, and equality, and
Shakespeare seems to not show any signs of the women wanting respect. If he did
show any signs of women wanting respect, he would not of had the women
cross-dress. Instead, they would attend the trial portraying their real gender.
Portia, Nerissa, and Jessica disguise themselves as men to have the same equal
opportunity to walk around in public with the same respect as men. Portia and
Nerissa concealed themselves as a male lawyer and a male clerk to take part in
the trial. The reason why they will "speak between the change of man and
boy with a reed voice, and turn two mincing steps, into a manly stride"
(Pg. 62, lines 68-70) so they could have their voices heard in order to convince
the Duke to release their friend Antonio from his forfeit. Women knew that men
would only respect other men. Jessica cross-dresses to elope with her love,
Lorenzo. The reason why she dresses as a torchbearer is to be able to walk out
in public without being suspected of any wrongdoing. Unlike Portia and Nerissa,
who seemed comfortable in their disguise, Jessica felt that "cupid himself
would blush to see [her] thus transformed to a boy" and to "be
[Lorenzo’s] torchbearer" and "hold a candle [to] her shames"
(Pg. 32, lines 39-42). Portia and Nerissa dressed as men for power while Jessica
simply dressed for escape. Blindness is present here for the fact that the women
were able to get away as men shows how the society cannot recognize females.
Even though Shakespeare worked the cross-dressing scenes with his characters,
women roles were played by men, which that also shows how women were limited to
privileges. Shakespeare exaggerated men being oblivious to women’s actions and
characteristics when concealed as men. Cross-dressing was not the only blindness
between the men and women. For the women who were brave enough to dress as men
and risk their lives walking around in public, they were able to feel the brief
moment of power and dominance. Afterwards when the women returned back to
reality, they were considered as "property" to men. Men did not see
women anything more than property. For Portia, she felt that "[she] may
neither choose who [she] would nor refuse who [she] dislike" of a suitor
because she was "curbed by the will of [her] dead father" (Pg. 8,
lines 20-23). Her father left "three chests of gold, silver, and lead,
whereof [the suitors] chooses his meaning chooses [Portia], will no doubt never
be chosen by any rightly but one who [she] rightly love" (Pg. 8, lines
27-30). In her father’s point of view, he felt that the right chest chosen by
the right suitor would be the husband for Portia. It also seems that he felt
that Portia did not know how to choose a right husband because she was a woman.
Portia, on the other hand, felt that she was being forced into marriage because
her father was blind about her emotional feelings. She wanted to marry out of
love and not by force. Luckily Bassanio chose the right casket, which was the
lead casket, because Portia loved him. People were so blind that they could not
see women in men’s attire. It is ridiculous because Shakespeare seems to
exaggerate men’s stupidity. Another example of men treating women as property
would be Shylock and Jessica. Shylock also does not see Jessica as another
person. He calls his daughter "[his] flesh and [his] blood" (Pg. 44,
line 33). Shylock’s life revolved around money, not his daughter. He was
neglecting the love that he should be giving to his daughter. Now that Jessica
had ran away, and him not having any friends, he does not feel any loss except
for his "two thousand ducats in [the chest], and other precious, precious
jewels" (Pg. 46, lines 78-79) that Jessica stole when she eloped. Shylock
was blind to not notice any unhappiness with Jessica. If he did, the elopement
most likely would not have occurred secretly. Shylock was blind to not notice
his daughter’s unhappiness with the relationship between him and her as well
as the unfulfilling religion that Jessica was forced to believe in. We have come
a long way from the Renaissance Age. We now have laws that protect each citizen
from religious prejudice and gender discrimination. The reason why there was
religious prejudice and gender discrimination was because people did not see
other people’s point of view. They felt that what the majority of people
believed was considered correct and whoever broke through their barrier of
beliefs were shunned out of their society. What was the cause of blindness then
is now the thing of the past. People of all religions now enjoy the freedom of
religious tolerance because people do not see other religions as wrong. They
just accept the other religions and go on believing what they feel is the
religion for them. Women have the equal opportunity to accomplish and
participate in activities that men once forbade them to take part in. Men now
see that women are able to accomplish the same things that they could do. There
are times when in our society, we have problems concerning these laws. Most of
the times, when situations like those are taken to the fullest extent of the
law, things will be solved with justice and equality. There is no longer any
issues concerning the blindness in religion and gender. The way blindness of
cross-dressing once was is rarely seen in our society now because women do not
cross-dress for power anymore. Most of the time we hear women, and even men,
cross-dressing to make a bold statement of their inner feelings, it could
possibly relate to power, but not the power that Portia and Nerissa wanted to
experience. Women now do not have to dress as men to have equal power because
they know that what was in the past have evolved for the better. Gender
discrimination is no longer a flaw of blindness. I am please to know that I do
not have to go through what the women went through during that time. Being
unable to do what I please without being suspected of foul doing just because of
my gender. Portia plays a character that breaks out of the barrier of a
cookie-cutter expectations of women. What I mean is that Portia did not hide
behind the usual women roles but instead she had the guts to attend the trial as
a man risking public humiliation if she was caught. People were so blind, it
seems unreal to believe it because how could some of the characters be so blind
mentally and physically? I do not see any of the same blindness in this time.
However, I do feel that it is still present, but it does not have as much as the
effect it had back in the Renaissance Age. How people were in the past has
changed to what we are today. Blindness is not the cause of discrimination as
much anymore. We can think that the people acted foolish throughout the whole
play because they did not notice the obvious. For example of how the two princes
made a fool of themselves and were punished for their idiotic choices of
choosing the correct casket. Physical and mental blindness were the cause of
unhappiness. Sometimes people purposely acted blind because they were
brainwashed to believe that if the majority of people believed it, then it was
right. We do not see that blindness much in our world today. Shakespeare showed
us in his plays that blindness was normal and that blindness was the cause of
his characters’ situations. Blindness made Shakespeare’s time harsh and
unfair. Now we see what goes on and problems similar to the characters in the
play will not repeat itself. We now see what they cannot see.
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