The Merchant of Venice Act 4 Scene 1 ICSE Questions and Answers

Question 1 : Read the extract below and answer the questions that follow.

Shylock :   My deeds upon my head! I crave the law,
The penalty and forfeit of my bond.

Portia :       Is he not able to discharge the money?

Bassanio : Yes, here I tender it from him in the court;
Yes, twice the sum: …………………..
And, I beseech you,
Wrest once the law to your authority:
To do a great right, do a little wrong,
And curb this cruel devil of his will.

(i) Where are Shylock, Bassanio and Portia at this time? Why are they there? Why does Shylock say “My deeds are upon my head!”?

Answer :  At this time, Shylock, Bassanio and Portia are present in the court of the Duke. They have come to attend the hearing of the case between Shylock and Antonio and Portia is disguised as a doctor of law.

Portia tells Shylock that he should have mercy on Antonio as that is required of him at such a moment. However, Shylock replies that his deeds are upon is head, which means that he is ready to take responsibility for his actions.

(ii) What does Bassanio go on to say immediately after “Yea, twice the sum”?

Answer : Portia asks the court if Shylock is ready to accept the money or not. Bassanio immediately replies that he has been offered twice the sum. Moreover, Bassanio even says that if that also doesn’t suffice Shylock, he is ready to pay ten times the sum and sign a bond by giving his hands, head and heart as security. But if that doesn’t appeal to Shylock, it means that it is a malice that overcomes truth.

(iii) What does Bassanio mean by “Wrest once the law to your authority: To do a great right, do a little wrong”? What reply does Portia give?

Answer : Bassanio wants to save his friend from the evil that is planned by Shylock. He asks the Duke to exercise his authority and alter the law so that Antonio could be helped. He sought mercy for Antonio and wanted the Duke to do a ‘great right’ by doing a ‘little wrong’.

However, Portia denies such a request. She says that the already established laws cannot be changed to help Antonio. If something like that is done, it would hamper the proper functioning of the state.

(iv) What is your opinion of Shylock in this scene?

Answer : In this scene, we observe the height of Shylock’s malice. He wants to have  his revenge at any cost and pretends to be on the right side of the law. He loves only money and prefers dying than handing over all his belongings. He is inhuman and merciless and the end befits him.

(v) Hos does Shylock react to Portia’s reply? Who reacts in a similar saw as Shylock, later in the scene? What does that person say when Portia asks Shylock to “down therefore and beg mercy of the Duke”?

Answer : When Shylock sees Portia taking his side and saying that justice must be awarded to Shylock, he calls he Daniel, a Biblical character known for wisdom and judgement.

Later, Gratiano reacts in a similar way and calls her Daniel as she turned the tables on Shylock and proved his malice. She tells him to ask for mercy from the Duke for his life. Gratiano says that Shylock should ask to be hung by the state because he wouldn’t be left with any money to buy a rope for himself.

Question 2 : Read the extract below and answer the questions that follow.

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

(i) Why does Portia speak about mercy in the extract?

Answer : Portia knew that the laws favoured Shylock. It was true that the bond had no logical reasoning behind it but it had been signed by Antonio upon consent. The law stated that its terms must be followed. Therefore, she tried to persuade Shylock to show some mercy on Antonio and be noble.

(ii) Give the meaning of the following.

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

Answer : Portia appeals to Shylock to have mercy on Antonio. She says that the king’s scepter represents his earthly power, the symbol of majesty, the focus of royal authority. But mercy is higher than the scepter. It’s enthroned in the hearts of kings, a quality of God himself.

(iii) Who else had appealed for mercy earlier? What was the outcome of the appeal?

Answer : Earlier, Bassanio had requested Shylock to show mercy on Antonio. He tried to reason with him and told him that just because we hate someone, we don’t try to take their lives. However, Shylock was unmoved. Even Bassanio’s curses could not deter him.

(iv) When Shylock refuses to show mercy, what legal tactics does Portia use to free Antonio?

Answer : Shylock wanted revenge and there was no saving Antonio from his malice. Then Portia asked Shylock to produce the bond. She was able to find a loophole in it. The bond talked about only one pound of flesh of Antonio. It said nothing about blood being spilled or consequent death. She used the tactic and warned Shylock that if these two things happened, the bond would become void. Shylock got perplexed and ultimately, Antonio was saved.

(v) One should stand for justice. Referring only to the extract, state why, according to Portia, mercy should temper justice.

Answer : Portia says that no one shows mercy because he has to. It just happens, the way gentle rain drops on the ground. Mercy is a double blessing. It blesses the one who gives it and the one who receives it. It is strongest  in the strongest people. It looks better in a king that his own crown looks on him.

The king’s scepter represents his earthly power, but mercy is higher than the scepter. It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, a quality of God himself. Kingly power seems most like God’s power when the king tempers mercy with justice. Therefore, mercy should temper justice.