In Elizabethan times Portia would have been seen as representing the Christian idea of mercy.
The New Testament advocates that Christians should "turn the other cheek" rather than exact revenge from the the person who has wronged them. Shylock's view of justice is the complete opposite: Shylock also believes that Christians are hypocritical about their mercy - that in reality they are as keen on revenge as he is: If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?
Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. The end of the play could be interpreted as underlining Shylock's point. Portia makes a very persuasive speech about mercy, yet when it come to deal out justice, she is less generous than her words. She emphasises that Shylock shall have "all justice" - and catches him out as she knows the law better than he does.
Portia refuses to let Shylock back out of the deal, saying "He shall have merely justice and his bond". Just as Shylock missed his chance to be merciful, so Portia comes back with the full weight of the laws against him and shows no mercy.
Having begged Shylock to show mercy to Antonio, she seems less than merciful to him. So - to what extent does Portia actually demonstrate justice and mercy?
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Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets CSS if you are able to do so. What he really wanted it seems was to test the orthodoxy of this rabbi from Nazareth, unsure what to make of him. What is written in the Law; how do you read it? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind ;  and he added from the Book of Leviticus, and your neighbor as yourself.
But he, desiring to justify himself ,  posed a new question: And who is my neighbor? So his next words went straight to his heart, and to those of men and women of all times. In language at once simple and solemn, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the poor man who was attacked on his journey from Jerusalem to Jericho, the Church Fathers saw Adam and, because Adam means simply man , the whole of mankind with him, wounded by its own sins—our own sins.
In the Good Samaritan they recognized Jesus, who patiently comes to heal us, after others have come and gone who had no real power to save the world. He, in contrast, can and wants to. This is how an ancient and venerable homily imagines his meeting with Adam—which is also his meeting with each one of us—when He descended into the underworld: Now it is an inn, because our life is a journey; it will be our home that we shall never abandon, once we have arrived safely in the kingdom of heaven. Meanwhile we gratefully accept the care given in the inn.
These are the horizons that our Lord wants to open up to the doctor of the Law, and with him all Christians. He does not reproach him for his limited understanding. He leads him first to reflect, and then to dream: Go and do likewise.
What had been a matter of discussion and argument in the rabbinical schools What is the limit? How far do I have to go in taking pity on other people?
We could see this dialogue with a doctor of the Law as a path from the moral teaching of the Old Testament to the fullness of moral life in Christ. Paul reminds us, the Law of the Chosen People is good and holy,  but not final and complete. Jesus complained elsewhere to the doctors of the Law that they loaded men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
Our Lord condemned the attitude of those who made their offerings to the Temple an excuse for not helping their parents. Therefore Jesus turns their eyes to what is fundamental: He thus confirmed his words that He had not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfil them.