In Shakespeare`s play The Merchant of Venice, Shylock and Antonio make a contract in which Antonio loses a pound of his flesh if he does not pay the money lent to Bassanio. The two men verbally set the link and Shylock brings the contract to the notary. In Shakespeare`s time, economic contracts were social promises rather than written laws, although they are still formally and targeted to seal a deal. The contract between Shylock and Antonio becomes problematic at the end of the play, when Shylock, Portia and the Duke interpret the contract in different ways. Overall, contract law lacked coherence and religion was a strong argument, while it was defended by the courts. The problem here is that, while citizens suffer from laws that are easily misunderstood and constantly changing, the application of contracts with Shylock`s rigor and revanchist motivations is even more destructive. Shylock is a Jew who lends money to his Christian rival Antonio and puts security on a pound of Antonio`s flesh. When a bankrupt Antonio has fallen behind in the loan, Shylock claims the pound of meat. This decision is fueled by his sense of revenge, as Antonio had insulted him, physically assaulted him and spat dozens of times in the Rialto (Venice Stock Exchange), delit the « sacred » Jewish religion and had also inflicted massive financial losses on him. Meanwhile, Shylock`s daughter Jessica falls in love with Antonio`s friend Lorenzo and converts to Christianity, leaves Shylock`s house and steals immense riches from him that reinforce Shylock`s anger and harden his determination to take revenge. In the end, as a result of Antonios Gratulin Portia`s efforts, Shylock is charged with attempted murder of a Christian, resulting in a possible death sentence, and Antonio is released without penalty. Shylock was then ordered to transfer half of his property to the state and the other half to Antonio.
As an act of « mercy », Antonio changes the judgment and asks Shylock to hand over only half of his possessions – he (Antonio) for his own needs and Lorenzo, provided he keeps two promises. First, Shylock must sign an agreement that will bequeath to Lorenzo and Jessica all his remaining possessions, which will take effect after his death, and second, that he immediately convert to Christianity. Shylock is forced to accept these conditions and he leaves the disease….