The Concept and Performance of 'The Code' in 'The Merchant of Venice'
14 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2008 Last revised: 3 Dec 2008
Date Written: March 1, 2008
This essay elaborates on several prior endeavors that explored the bonding of Portia and Shylock in the last two scenes of The Merchant of Venice. Both characters revere codes, in contradistinction to the insider male world of Venice, which easily traduces promises, oaths, and laws anytime the fluid situation so demands. Portia can do this, too; she plays both with her father's testamentary code and with the Shylock-Antonio contract. The trial scene as it progresses, however, teaches her the costs of such (comedic) playfulness. She responds with special antipathy when Antonio - asked to do mercy to Shylock - instead cruelly manipulates the Alien Statute utterly to destroy the Jew. By the time she returns to Belmont in Act V, she has learned from Shylock that the marriage code, symbolized by the ring, can indeed be honored. For this to happen in her own marriage, however, she must rid her husband and herself of the baleful mediation of Antonio.
Keywords: law and literature, Shakespeare, codes, codification, enforcement
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