The Concepts of Peace and Justice in Shakespeares Merchant of Venice

The Concepts of Peace and Justice in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

“If you want peace, work for justice.” Unknown

In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Portia’s defense of Antonio is considered a wonderful, noble deed. She is not considered the villain (that distinction falls to Shylock), but her deed, which is considered right, proper, and good by her fellow Venetians, is actually more reflective of the naughty world than the brightly lit candle.
Shylock is a man that has been mocked, spat at, and reviled by Antonio and his coterie. When he is approached by Bassanio for the money, he sees his opportunity to take revenge upon Antonio, but almost as a representative of the society at large and not Antonio as an individual. Small wonder that he takes his chance; revenge is a very powerful human emotion. Antonio, being dependent upon his ships at sea, had to be fully cognizant of the risks involved with each shipment and therefore fully aware of the fact that he might not be able to pay Shylock back. He signed his name in agreement with the terms laid down by Shylock, and that granted Shylock the right to take a pound of his flesh if he should default on his loan. When he defaults, he just expects Shylock to forget the agreement and forgive the loan, which of course Shylock cannot do, as he himself is not in good economic conditions. It was ridiculous for Antonio to sign the agreement in the first place, much less to assume that Shylock would not hold him to it.
Therefore, when Portia defends Antonio, she takes the part of someone who is in the wrong. Since Shylock is not a prominent Venitian citizen, and the terms of the agreement quite unrealistic, he is on shaky ground, even though his position is logically correct. However, when she wins, it is not merely a victory for her and Antonio, it is also a bitter defeat for Shylock. Deprived not only of the money due to him from Antonio, his own money is taken away and split between Antonio and the state, and he is almost deprived of his life. All this as a punishment for seeking what was legally and rightfully his. Portia did, of course, save her friend, but she also completely destroyed the life (figuratively and almost literally) of someone else.
Portia may have thought that, in defending Antonio’s life, she did him the ultimate favor. However, her actions have other consequences. There was a reason for Shylock’s disgust and hatred towards Antonio and his friends, and this surely cemented those feelings not only in his mind but in the minds of all his circle. Her actions may have had beneficial repercussions for Antonio, but they did not contribute to justice and social relations within Venice. Her deed was on a small scale good, but seen in a larger context only contributed to the hatred and strife already present within the society.