It is therefore not surprising that the interdisciplinary study of law and Shakespeare has become a fully recognized field, with leading law schools offering advanced degrees. This interdisciplinary review opened up a new perspective of understanding. The Merchant of Venice “produced more commentaries by lawyers than any other play by Shakespeare” (Cornstone 66). One can easily find a discussion of each legal concept raised during the play (White 111-46), a detailed legal dissection of the trial scene in Act Four (Keeton 132-50), and even an imaginary calling strategy on behalf of Shylock (Cornstone 83-85). Act IV, scene 1 from Shakespeare`s The Merchant of Venice takes place in a courtroom. Antonio, our relatively low-key title character, cannot afford to repay the loan he took out with Shylock, and Shylock asks the Duke to honor his contract, which grants him a pound of Antonio`s flesh if it expires. Portia, acting as Antonio`s lawyer for complicated reasons regarding the play`s love story, grants Shylock`s legal right to the flesh, but asks him to renounce his request in the name of mercy. It is a famous discourse: Portia contrasts divine mercy, something like grace, with temporal justice and urges Shylock to reflect “that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation” (IV.1.197-8). We are all sinners, in other words, redeemed only by God`s mercy, so isn`t it our duty to show mercy and forgiveness to others? Apparently, Antonio is openly defaming Shylock, an act that could probably be reprimanded by law.
However, there is no mention of the protection of the law for Shylock, even though his livelihood is threatened by Antonio`s actions. While the story takes place in Venice, Shakespeare wrote in England from the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries. The extent of Shakespeare`s understanding of the law is unclear, but at that time there was a criminal offence of defamation in Anglo-Saxon law, with cases heard by royal courts until 1641.  Arguably, one person`s reputation has been legally protected against defamation by another. In this case, however, such protection was not available because Shylock was a Jewish person who was inherently discriminated against by the state. In fact, Jews living in Venice in the sixteenth century faced state-imposed oppression. For example, they were forced to live in ghettos locked up at night, which clearly delimited their status as submissives compared to Christians who had no physical mobility. As Susan Oldrieve explains, “Jews were the property of their leaders.”  Assuming that Shakespeare adhered to English law in writing the play and “placed his story in Venice within the framework of his poetic freedom.”  He refers to Edward the Confessor`s mid-twelfth-century laws, which state: There are certainly white Americans who actually agree with this sentiment, but I don`t talk to them. Instead, I speak to those who agree that Wilson and Pantaleo should have been charged, but who are uncomfortable with the scale, urgency and radicalism of the protests across the country. Or to those who believe that these cases are due to a relatively small number of racist police officers rather than a broken system. Or to those who have doubts about the legality of Brown and Garner`s murders, but feel that if the victims broke the law — even the most petty laws — it somehow makes up for it. To these white people, I say: I know where you come from.
The law seems fair to us; We are more inclined to believe that an individual has transgressed that the law itself is blind to such a fundamental crime as the murder of human lives. It`s really scary to think that the law could be enforced and prosecuted so unevenly, but it`s equally scary to think about a systemic change in the justice system, because what will happen to our safety – the safety of white people, right now the greatest good recognized by law? The Merchant of Venice was written in late sixteenth-century England and is a revolutionary work of Elizabethan literature. At the center of the coin is the link between a Jewish lender, Shylock, and a Christian merchant, Antonio, on whose credit his friend Bassanio acquires the loan. Fulfilling the obligation would allow Shylock to take a pound of meat from the merchant if he did not repay his loan. When the trader is unable to meet these demands, Shylock demands the value of his deposit. Antonio is tried, where Antonio judges cannot exempt Antonio from his agreement by a codified law. Although the Duke of Venice urged Shylock not to take the pound of meat, he refused to give in. At this point in the play, Portia, Bassanio`s love and rich wife, appears in court in the guise of a lawyer. She continues to prevent Shylock`s knife from cutting Antonio`s flesh when she reminds Shylock that he can only ask for her binding for a pound of meat, and nothing more, not even a drop of blood.
I hate him because he is a Christian, but even more, in a low simplicity, he lends money for free and lowers the rate of practice here in Venice. If I can grab him on the hip, I will feed the old resentment I have towards him. He hates our holy people, and he rebels: Even where most merchants gather, over me, over my belongings, and over my well-deserved savings, which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe, if I forgive him!  Portia refers to her late father`s will, which does not allow her to choose her own husband.  The will testifies to how men exercised control over women. As Oldrieve points out, “Portia is her father`s property: even from the grave, he has the legal and moral right to decide the most intimate matters of his life.”  The fact that she must then comply with her will is evidence of how the law has discriminated against women by giving the force of law to such documents. Even in the context of inheritance law, a will must have been drawn up by the testator in a condition of conscience. However, the play suggests that Portia`s father developed his oppressive will on his deathbed. Regardless, patriarchal Venetian society values a man`s will more than the agency of his living only daughter. In addition, Portia also tries to respect his will, an example of internalized oppression. Foucault`s panopticon theory describes a prison structure in which a circular arrangement of prison cells is overhung by a single watchtower at a certain point of view.  The prisoners can all see the watchtower, but not the guards inside, but they are aware that they may be under surveillance.
With this idea of constant surveillance in mind, prisoners change their behavior and act in such a way that they monitor themselves.  Theoretically, the idea of constant surveillance leads the prisoner to internalize surveillance, in the same way that Portia tries to respect her father`s will, because it is her duty as a Christian maid to do so, and because she has internalized the supervision of an omniscient Christian God in her own mind. Ultimately, it depends on reading the play whether Portia chose to honor the will because she sees no other option or because she feels compelled by the account of good Christian duty. A critical reading might lead to the conclusion that Portia, a young unmarried woman, wants to honor the will because she knows that her position in society is quite precarious without a husband or other patriarchs in her life. This unnecessary restriction of female autonomy is at the heart of the humanist reading of the play. Ask the lawyers to identify Shakespeare`s greatest play on law and lawyers, and they`ll likely name The Merchant of Venice.