If you asked me why I didn’t post yesterday, I have no idea what I would say, because I really don’t know.
So, the trial. I have to say, I physically did a fist-pump in the air when Portia made the case that Shylock could have Antonio’s flesh by law, but not his blood. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
The tension of this scene, if we look at it as two principles fighting each other, is between mercy and justice. And to a large extent, mercy and justice are diametrically opposed. Justice–for the sake of this argument, let’s define it as “getting ones due”–is on, I suppose, Shylock’s side, while every other character in this play with a shred of feeling is on the side of mercy, which goes beyond justice. I love that Portia points out the scale to weigh the :pound of flesh” (ugh, gross), because it’s a wonderful little symbol for justice. But mercy doesn’t have a scale, it doesn’t have a set guide of rules and guidelines. As Portia lovingly points out,
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. (IV.i.182-200)
I think Portia says it better, so I’ll leave the mercy/justice tension to her.
Now, what do we make of the lie that Nerissa and Portia are at a convent praying? Don’t get me wrong, the disguising to save Antonio’s life thing is pretty awesome, but does anyone else feel a little bothered? I suppose I could go really really allegorical, and say that their testament to truth at Antonio’s trial is a kind of prayer, if prayer is said to align our will with the will of God and devote our lives to Truth. Ha. That’s going a little too far.
Now. The rings. I am having a bit of difficulty on the meaning of Portia and Nerissa taking their lovers rings while in disguise, and then getting upset with them for it. Was this some kind of womanly test? I don’t like to chalk things up so easily, and while I can see it as a test to their devotion, I think it only scrapes the surface to leave it at that. The rings symbolize an oath, and they were asked to forfeit them as payment for Antonio’s life. Well, marriage is a giving of oneself, the giving of a life, and rings as payment for a man’s life…Here you see my interior dialogue tousling around this question. However, I must begin to get ready for work, so I cannot continue. Thoughts from the audience?