Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Responsibilities in William Shakespeares Merchant of Venice Essay

Responsibilities in William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice The small and seemingly insignificant details in a story often hold together an entire theme of the work. This phenomenon is recognizable in the plays of William Shakespeare, as a speech or incident with a minor character can point the audience to a much larger truth about the work as a whole. The Merchant of Venice contains such a minor character, Lancelot, whose story gives a clue to the reader about the roles of the other characters in the play. Lancelot abandons his servitude to Shylock, and thereby weakens his own value as a member of society fulfilling a role. Lancelot’s decision is noteworthy because it represents a conflict of responsibilities that can be found in some of the main characters. These other characters (with the exception of Portia) behave similarly to Lancelot, and Lancelot’s story helps to illuminate their shortcomings. Lancelot’s speech about running from Shylock captures the greater conflict between inconsistent responsibilities that is present throughout The Merchant of Venice. Every servant has a responsibility to his master before he is responsible to himself. Lancelot violates this basic principle of servitude, and thus brings shame upon himself. Not only is Lancelot under a contractual obligation to Shylock, he has both social and religious obligations to remain in Shylock’s service. It is no surprise that the one who counsels Lancelot to leave Shylock is â€Å"the fiend† himself. â€Å"To be ruled by my conscience I should stay with the Jew my master who, God bless the mark, is a kind of devil;† reasons Lancelot (2.2.17-19), thinking that it is probably a better idea to stay with Shylock. He also knows that â€Å"to run away fro... ... ones. Because The Merchant of Venice is a comedy, no real harm comes to Lancelot or Bassanio because of their poor choices, but they are all made out to be foolish in comparison to Portia. These characters are lucky—in comparison with some of Shakespeare’s other characters that are faced with inconsistent responsibilities (such as Hamlet or Juliet, who both die), the non-role-fulfillers of The Merchant of Venice have extraordinarily happy endings. It is interesting to note that most of Shakespeare’s plays that include conflicting roles or responsibilities are tragedies, while the happy resolution of The Merchant of Venice makes it a comedy. The mistakes in The Merchant of Venice are all fixable, so even though the characters neglect their roles on occasion, the quick thinking of Portia allows them to retire with their spouses safely as a new day is breaking.

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