Shakespeare has portrayed there to be distinct shifts of power within the characters of the play. In Act one scene three Shakespeare portrays Shylock to be powerful in the sense of money, as Antonio is seen to request money from Shylock for his friend Bassanio. But Shylock is reluctant to offer any money to Antonio as he is a Christian and Shylock is a Jew. Shylock will not socialise with Christians especially Antonio as he publically insults Shylock. This can be shown when Shylock says “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following: but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.” This shows that Shylock differentiates between business and religion, as it shows that he draws a line between the two. Shakespeare uses repetition of the word “you” to emphasise that Shylock will not socialise with Christians but he will “buy...sell...talk...and walk” with them, only for business purposes. He also uses direct address in order to secure the attention of the reader to Shylocks speech of the difference between the Christians and the Jews. This also shows that Christians were the ones with the power, as Jews may have been rich and wealthy but they were not equally treated.
In Act three scene one Shakespeare shows a shift of power, as Shylock is treated unfairly by Salarino. Shylocks daughter Jessica has eloped with Lorenzo and Salarino is mocking Shylock of his loss. News reaches Shylock of the loss of Antonio’s ships and that he may not be able to come to terms with his bond. Shylock then releases all of his anger and overpowers the audience. This is shown when Shylock says “He hath disgraced me....laughed at my loses, mocked at my gains....and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes...hands, organs.” In this speech Shylock is making a statement that no matter what religion you come from we are all human and we should all have equal rights. At the end of his speech he then says “If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.” This quote shows that Shylock has power to change the way that people think. Shakespeare has portrayed this using rhetorical questions to be ironic and to state the obvious, he has also used repetition of the word “revenge” to highlight one of the themes of this play, as Jessica stole Shylocks money and Antonio publically humiliated Shylock, this also shows that Shylock wants to take “revenge” on the Christian society.
In Act four scene one Shakespeare presents Portia to have the most power in the court scene. In Shakespearean times women had little legal power, and in the play it shows Portia to have the most power in the court scene as she dresses a man in order for her argument to be heard by all those that are in the court. This is shown when Portia says “Then must the Jew be merciful.” This quote shows Portia asking Shylock to be merciful upon Antonio, she is telling Shylock to think what he is going to do before he regrets what he has done. She also says “There is no power in tongue of man...to alter me”, this quote is seen to be ironic as Portia is saying that no man in the court can change her judgement but she is not a man she is a women dressed as a man. At this point the play is shown to be amusing