Educate exam papers pages 9-12 (40 marks)
Choose a Shakespearean play you have studied where a character delivers a soliloquy or monologue.
Title of play: ‘The Merchant of Venice’
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Describe the situation that occurred prior to the soliloquy or monologue, which gave rise to the characters thoughts.
In the play ‘The Merchant of Venice’, the character of Shylock is the victim of appalling sectarianism because of his Jewish religion. Shylock is treated as subservient to his Christian counterparts. He is marginalised in his society because of his Jewish faith. He is called ‘a cut-throat dog’, an ‘ inexecrable Jew’, ‘a misbeliever’, ‘a faithless Jew’, ‘the Jew is the very devil incarnation’. Antonio spits in his face in the streets. Despite this appalling behaviour, Shylock is willing to lend Antonio the money that he asks for. Quite shockingly however, Antonio does not respond in a very grateful manner stating that he is ‘to spit on thee again and spurn thee too’ despite Shylock’s wish to be reconciled with him: ‘I would be friends with you and have your love’.
Antonio comes across in a very unappealing manner here. It strikes me that he is implacable and obstinate and I think Shylock is completely justified in his enmity against Antonio. It isn’t any wonder that Shylock has become embittered and bears a grudge against Antonio.
Give an account of the thoughts revealed to the audience by this character in the soliloquy or monologue.
In Act 3 Scene 1 Shylock delivers his famous ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’ speech. In this monologue, Shylock is attempting to justify his insatiable desire for revenge against Antonio. He stresses his shared humanity with all present in the courtroom. He employs a number of rhetorical questions in an attempt to give his argument the appearance of reason. He asks ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not be revenged?’ He asserts that if he as a Jew resemble them in all ways, then is it not right that the same principles apply to him as well? Antonio entered knowingly into the bond of his own volition. Shylock takes great pleasure in lording this over Antonio. This monologue reveals Shylock’s sense of entitlement. In Shylock’s mind, he views the pound of flesh as some small measure in appeasing the wrongs committed against him. His punctilious nature compels him to adhere strictly to the terms of the bond declaring that ‘the villainy you teach me I will execute’.
Write a letter to the character who delivers the soliloquy or monologue in which you explain how the speech influenced your thoughts and feelings towards this character.
I was deeply moved by your speech in court yesterday. I am not writing to hurl abuse at you. Nor am I writing to condemn or judge you. I can clearly see how you’ve already suffered. As a Christian living in Venice, I was never fully aware of the plight of the Jewish population in our city. I never really thought about the way Jews are treated in general. I’ve never stopped to ask myself what it must be like to be insulted in public and spat on. I’ve never thought about what it must be like to be labelled a ‘cut-throat dog’, or ‘a faithless Jew’ or worse still ‘a misbeliever’ in front of my peers. I’ve never thought about how embarrassing and humiliating it must be going about your daily business, only to be accosted and affronted in the streets because of your religious beliefs and ethnic background. I’ve never really thought about what it must be like to be treated as a second-class citizen in the city that you were born and reared in. I’ve never really thought about what must it be like to be marginalised, indeed ostracised because of my religious affiliation and it is for this Shylock that I am deeply ashamed of myself.
You indeed have a right to be angry and hurt. You are completely justified in your grievance. I am not going to tell that what you feel doesn’t matter or is of no consequence simply because you are a Jew. Nor am I going to tell you to shake Antonio’s hand and say forgive and forget.
What I am going to say to you Shylock and please I beg of you not to dismiss this as a pithy platitude but two wrongs do not make up a right. What do you hope to achieve by executing the forfeiture? A pound of Antonio’s flesh? His guaranteed death? What will this serve? What will you gain by this? Will it make you happy? Will it undo all the hurt you feel? Will it undo the past? Will it make the future rosy? Will it bring you peace? Will it give you closure? Revenge, just doesn’t work. Tit for tat, ad infinitum.
More hurt, more pain and more suffering. Revenge is degrading. You belittle yourself by seeking revenge. You think you want this. You don’t. This quest, this crusade for revenge will rob you of your humanity and compassion. Shylock, I implore you, be the bigger person and rise above this, find another way. In hating others we only harm ourselves. Think on it man, this tit for tat cannot go on ad infinitum. It just can’t! I really feel sorry for you. I know that you’ve been hurt but I can’t condone this blood- hungry desire for revenge.