Law and Justice in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

AutorJames Otis Rodner Smith - Felicity Ann Rodner - Ana Valentina Lameda
CargoLicenciatura en Derecho (Law), MSc Economy (UCAB, Caracas), JD, MBA (Harvard University Law School, Harvard University Business School), Individuo de Número Academy of Political Sciences, Caracas - MA, MLitt (Oxon.), MA, PhD (Harvard University GSAS), LLB (University of London, external) - LLB (Aberdeen University), PDPLP (University of Edinburgh)
Law and Justice in William Shakespeare’s
The Merchant of Venice
James Otis roDner smiTh*
Felicity Ann roDner**
Ana Valentina lameDa***
RVLJ, ISSN 2343-5925, ISSN-e 2791-3317, N.º 18, 2022, pp. 57-78.
William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, a play in five Acts written in
1598 for presentation in England’s popular Elizabethan theatre, is strikingly
modern. The setti ng is 16th century Venice, a prosperous, cut-throat merchant
society wherein, as today, money and commerce rule, highly dependent on
the unpredictable logistics of contemporary inte rnational trade and trans port.
A precursor of today’s banking system, moneylenders offered their inves-
tors’ funds to support mercha nts who essentially gambled on the successful
importation of material goods t hey had sourced abroad; interest, acceptable
or exorbitant, charged by moneylenders on these loans, was a point at issue
privately or in the courts of law.
Arranged mar riage was the norm in wealthy Venetian noble and merchant
families. The beautiful, intelligent and resourceful Portia, however, resorts
to tactics often featured in today’s popular TV game shows, requiring her
assorted suitors to «pick the right box» i n order to qualify as her futu re husband,
* Licenciat ura en Derecho (Law), MSc Economy (UCAB, Caracas), J D, MBA
(Harvard University Law School, Harvard Universit y Business School), Individuo
de Número Academy of Political Sciences, Car acas.
** MA, MLitt (Oxon.), MA, PhD (Har vard University GSAS), LLB (Universit y
of London, external) .
*** LLB (Aberdeen Un iversity), PDPLP (University of Edinburgh).
58 Revista Venezolana de Legislación y Jurisprudencia • N.o 18 • 2022
a prize ultimately won by her personal favourite, Bassanio, despite the fact
that his fortune a nd social status made him a poor starter i n the competition.
Racial discrimination, so much in the news today, is not confined to our
times. Exclusion, vilification and persecution, horrifically exemplified histo-
rically by the Spanish Inquisition, targeted Jews in Shakespeare’s Venice and
especially the Jewish moneylenders. Shylock’s Jewishness is key to why his
debtors dismiss him as revolting and to his own passionate resentment of his
Christia n borrowers.
Gender fluidity and cross-d ressing are all over the internet today, but Shakes-
peare foresaw the trend. Who are the «civil doctor» and the law clerk who
argue Antonio’s way out of his contract before the Duke of Venice who is
his judge? Are they Venetian scholarly gentlemen, as one might expect?
Not at all. They are the lady Portia and her handmaid, Nerissa, so cleverly
disguised that all are taken in by the impersonation, even the lady’s future
husband, Bassan io.
But legal issues –as crucial now as they were 400 years ago– are what con-
cern us in our present st udy of The Merchant of Venice. Bassanio needs cash
to fund his candidacy to become Portia’s husband. Antonio offers his subs-
tantial credit standing to support Bassanio, who approaches Shylock for
a loan. Antonio personally agrees to the amount and conditions of the loan,
including the grisly default penalty of allowing a pound of flesh to be cut
from his body as specified by Shylock. Default occurs when Antonio’s ships
are delayed beyond the date set for repayment in the terms of the contract; re-
ports that the ships are w recked make repayment seemingly impossible. The
climax of the drama hi nges on interpretation of the contract t erms by the bo-
rrower, the lender and the court: is a str ict application of the written ter ms the
only possibility following the Venetian commercial principle of pacta sunt
servanda1? Or, given that Antonio is finally able to repay his debt several
1 «L’accordo tra le part i (…) volto a regolare i rapporti commerciali t ra i due part-
ners (…) vincolava i contraenti a rispettarne il dettato e a osservarne i contenuti»,
orlanDo, E. Venezia, il diritto pattizio…, p. 4.

Para continuar leyendo

Solicita tu prueba

VLEX utiliza cookies de inicio de sesión para aportarte una mejor experiencia de navegación. Si haces click en 'Aceptar' o continúas navegando por esta web consideramos que aceptas nuestra política de cookies. ACEPTAR