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In Act IV of The Merchant of Venice, Shylock declares, “I stand here for law” (IVi 142). It is easy to read this as the stock attitude of a stock Jew, standing for the law of the Old Testament rather than the mercy of the New Testament. However, the law on which Shylock takes his stand is not the ancient, divinely ordained law handed down from Mount Sinai, but the secular law of Venice. He stands in the secular court, before the secular authority of the Duke, and cries, “If you deny me, fie upon your law!/There is no force in the decrees of Venice” (IVi 101-102).
What of that older law? Where does Shylock stand in terms of the responsibilities laid on him as a Jew? Much has been made of the unchristian ways of Shylock’s Christian neighbors, and the doom he brings on himself by imitating those ways and striving to “better the instruction” by being even more vicious. As many people have noted, the courtroom scene (IVi) reads well as the emergence of the true Christian value of mercy. Is it also possible to read it as the outcome of Shylock’s own conduct as considered under Jewish law?
I think it is. Read about it here.