Sunday, April 27, 2008
One of the most salient themes of The Merchant of Venice is the extent to which revenge can corrupt humans for its own sake. This spiritual thirst fuels the major characters involved to commodify their very objects. Whereas previously, these objects had not been treated as economic goods, they were thereafter transformed into tradeable commodities, all in the name of avenging, as in the context of the play.
Such is the case of Antonio who, earlier in the comedy, is portrayed as a ruthless man. While a Christian, he loathes the Jews and the usurers and the very combination of both, Shylock. He kicks and spits upon Shylock and is not even apologetic about it or about repeating the abuse if he deems it necessary. Therefore, it seems ironic that the mauled Shylock should allow himself to give loan to the very person who treated him badly. Nonetheless, the compromise reached between the two has an underpinned motive of revenge on the part of Shylock who hates Antonio so much that only the latter’s life can compensate for the maltreatment.
So here comes the point at which Antonio gets commodified: a pound of Antonio’s flesh is all that is required by Shylock so the debt may be repaid in case the money owed is not returned. Antonio agrees to the peculiar mode of payment, hopeful that his ships laden with goods will arrive before the month-long loan expires. When Antonio’s ships get lost at sea and the bond cannot be repaid in any way, Shylock affirms his resolve to maintain the carnal bond. He is bent on doing this to exact a vendetta over the cause of his miseries.
In Shylock’s demand that the unreturned debt be paid in a pound of flesh, Antonio gets treated as if he were a commodity. Antonio’s noble title should have been enough to be used as a credit but in the name of retaliation, Shylock engages in the inhuman act of compromising someone his flesh just so he can take the life of this abuser. While the Jew could justify that Antonio’s flesh is the only price to pay for his sufferings, his Draconian means displays the putrefied state to which his humanity has devolved. Meanwhile, Antonio’s willingness to stake a part of his body thinking the bond will not materialize anyway shows how the mercantile temperament of the times has changed the way people perceived themselves and their world. Then as now, people have expanded their commodity market to include otherwise non-commodities like the human flesh. In the name of monetary opportunities, one is willing (or forced by oneself or others) to trade one’s body.
The commodification of Antonio’s flesh is a ridiculous human affair whose permutations may be found in slavery and prostitution, exploiting humans like marketable commodity and taking away their human qualities in the process. The manner commodification has generated the social impact of fetishism and people’s social participation via trading their bodies is deplorable, because humans should not be sold or treated less than the dignified, free being that they are.