Merchant Of Venice Analysis

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Register to read the introduction… Portia thus articulates the fundamental conflict between law and equity; while justice can be found in each separately, there is a better form of justice to be obtained when mercy and fairness become considerations in the administration of the law.

Shylock soon learns, of course, that strict construction is a double-edged sword. When her appeal to equity fails in the force of Shylock's lust for vengeance, Portia must retreat to the battlefield of law, and here the moneylender is undone. Shylock's defeat on a legal technicality makes for good drama, but the legalities are based on a false premise, and even here the effects of equity in consideration of law can be seen. Shylock is awarded his pound of flesh, but is enjoined from taking any accompanying blood; since he cannot take the one without spilling the other, he is forced to abjure his forfeiture. It is a tenet of the common law, however, that any granted right must also entail any incidental powers necessary to its exercise. One jurist has likened Portia's winning argument to a judge granting an easement but denying the right to leave footprints on the ground, since the subsidiary right is not expressly granted in the contract (White 142n1). It is inconceivable that any codification of law could possibly cover all contingencies; that the law is, or even can be, flexible at all is a function of the principle of
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In the 1980 BBC production, Shylock enters the courtroom carrying a balance, a bit of stage direction that does not appear in the play script (IV.i.15sd). Of course, the obvious inference is that he intends to use the scales to weigh out his forfeiture, a pound of Antonio's flesh. Yet the scales have long stood as a symbol of justice; Homer's Iliad may be the first use of this symbol (XXII.249, for example), or it may be even older. If we view the two scales as representing law on one side, and fairness on the other, the point at which they balance is equity. When strict adherence to the law outweighs basic principles of fairness, there can be no justice. Bassanio may have the most poignant statement on the nature of equity when he urges the court to temper justice with fairness; should the law contain no room for mercy, he

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