Last Updated 14 Apr 2020

Merchant of Venice and the Crucible Comparison

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All communities run successfully with qualities of fairness and equality. The well-being of the citizens depends on the support and guidance they receive from those with power and influence in their society. When the people become corrupt and start having intentions that do not contribute back to the community, the society will fall apart and be unable to maintain balance and stability. In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible the reader sees examples of injustice inflicted on the victims within the plays through the people with power within the community.

The Christians in The Merchant of Venice mock Shylock the Jew countless times while the high court in The Crucible believe citizens are practicing witchcraft without a proper testimony. In both situations, the Christians and the court see themselves doing the right thing and believe they are contributing to the society when in reality, they break apart the community by persecuting those that are different.

The victims in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible suffer from injustice as power being placed in the wrong hands leads to the formation of biased decision, the limited free will of citizens and severe punishments. The limited free will of the victims within the societies due to the manipulative mannerisms of the Christians and court subjects them to injustice. The way the Christians hate Shylock makes him have limited free will in the Venetian community.

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Shylock is unable to interact with the Christians due to his reputation as a moneylender. Shylock is unable to choose his occupation and as a moneylender, his only source of income is the interest he gains from it, resulting in the Christians hating him. This injustice forces him to be shunned from society and he ends up losing everything that he owns. The Jews only had moneylenders as their occupation and this injustice forces them to be unable to relate and communicate with society. “I am as like to call thee [dog] again, / To spit on thee again, to purn thee too” (1. 3. 126-127) demonstrates the abuse Shylock receives. His limitedness in his occupation highlights the lack of orientation in their community and the need to force those that are different away. Solanio is “sure the duke will never grant this forfeiture to hold” (3. 3. 24-25) and as the play continues, Shylock faces a losing battle in which the power is evident in contributing to his destruction. He is faced with injustice every time he meets a Christian and this is limiting him in his performance in the community.

Similarly, the court exerts limited free will on all citizens of Salem when they stay a devout Christian. All citizens need to be part of the theocracy and if one strays away from it, they are accused of being affiliated with the devil. “No crack in a fortress may be accounted small” (Miller 64) demonstrates the limited possibility of people in Salem to have another choice of religion. The power of the court forces those that were not part of the theocratic government to be eliminated from society. These are all landholding farmers, members of the church… they’ve known the women many years and never saw no sign they had dealings with the Devil… should be summoned” (Miller 86-87) shows how those that wanted to prove the innocence of the accused are taken in to court to be questioned. Regardless of the many times the citizens of Salem tries to tell the court about the absurdity of witchcraft, the court would not listen. John Proctor goes “twenty-six time in seventeen month” (Miller 61) and it was not enough, thus he is accused of trying to overthrow the government.

The injustice causes many people to die without being at fault. The flaws in the ruling of the government are evident throughout the play as the court refuses to listen and uses its power to determine the rules of society on its own. Due to the injustice in the communities of Venice and Salem put by the power in the wrong hands, severe punishments are placed on the victims. The punishments determined by the Christians affect Shylock severely and he ends up losing all that he has.

The injustice Shylock receives is more than enough to prove his continuous suffering throughout the play. Antonio “call[s him] misbeliever, cut-throat dog,” (1. 3. 107), demonstrating the abusive treatment he receives as the Christians make fun of him and throw hateful words at him. Shylock has no one to stand up for him, appearing alone in most scenes whereas the Christians always arrive in groups. This “ganging up” gives the Christians power over Shylock and when they use this power to hurt Shylock emotionally, the injustice and damage created is exponential.

The court is already in favour to Antonio winning as shown by the Duke saying he “think[s] so too, / That [Shylock] but lead’st this fashion of [his] malice to the last hour of act. ” (4. 1. 17-19) the power is unequal and this ruling forces Shylock to surrender and accept his defeat. It is unjust for this to happen as Shylock does not get a fair trial and ends up losing everything. Likewise, the court overuses its power and ends up killing the entire community. The power of the court enforces theocracy to a degree that results in the citizens being accused of not following them correctly and turning to witchcraft.

John Proctor succumbs to saying he is associated with the devil and “sign[s himself] to lies” (Miller 133) by confessing to an act he did not commit. The unequal treatment of the accused shows how the court enjoys abusing the abundance of power it has in its hands. The accused have no one to turn to and “God send[s] his mercy on [them]” (Miller 129) when they admit to witchcraft. The court takes pleasure in watching the citizens get accused and delved in the fact the power they owned is essential in the sufferance of the citizens. It is this cruel act of the community that makes the entire community suffer.

The punishments are apparent due to the contrast between the victims and the authoritative power in the Christians and the court, ultimately affecting the overall injustice within each society. When decisions are influenced and become biased, the opposite side of the party becomes affected. While one party might benefit and receive a positive bias, the reverse will happen for the other, resulting in the victims being wrongly accused. The choices the Christians make end up harming Shylock when he loses all of his wealth and property and is converted to a Christian.

The biased decision causes injustice on Shylock as he is shunned and hated in the Venetian community. As Shylock begins his famous speech “Hath not a Jew eyes? ” (3. 1. 54) he demonstrates that he feels the same pains and joys that the Christians feel and should be treated equally but the biased views the Christians have of him eliminates him from any form of respect he deserves. When Jessica robs him and leaves with a Christian Solanio, pretending to be Shylock, cries out “My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! ” (2. 8. 15) in a mocking manner, creating a bias on Shylock in which readers are able to agree with.

Shylock is portrayed as a cruel and revengeful character and as Solanio imitates him, no sympathy is felt for his loss. The Christians are only able to see Shylock as the Jew and do not relate any emotions to him. Similarly, the opinion of the court forces the whole town of Salem to follow suit. The young girls are able to gain power and with the help of the court, they are able to hang those they dislike. Their innocence and sense of vulnerability enables the court to believe and support them. Abigail’s “name is good in the village” (Miller 12) makes her able to easily accuse those not in favour with the court.

The court believes her and only hears her side of the story, taking all that she says as the truth. Once Abigail accuses the citizens, their chance of redemption is next to none. Proctor stands up for himself, questioning why they never “wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? ” (Miller 73). The biased opinion of the court made many innocent people wait to be proven guilty. The power of Abigail and her friends inflict injustice on the citizens they disliked, forcing many families to die in Salem.

Their lack of consideration for others makes for a bias against the accused. The communities in which abused power is present as a result is torn apart, compelling the victims to suffer. The biased decision of the Christians and the court result in injustice in their society, playing a crucial role in splitting up the community. The formation of biased decisions, the limited free will, and severe punishments is a result of injustice in the communities when power is placed in the wrong hands in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Miller’s The Crucible.

The biased decisions of the Christians and the court help them to form favoured decisions and prefer one group over another. The limited free will Shylock and the citizens receive result in the lack of choices they make in their daily lives. The severe punishments the victims in both texts receive cause the injustice in the community to grow as those with power abuse their ability and use it to harm those that did not need to be harmed. The injustice shows the need to fix problems in societies, teaching one that power used properly is essential for a community to function.

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