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date: 24 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

According to many recent critics we should think of the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice as a dramatization of the rival demands of equity and the letter of the law. But this not only leads to a misunderstanding of the structure of the scene, but to a misidentification of what is at issue in the case. The scene needs to be viewed less in legal and more in rhetorical terms. The trial hinges on Shylock’s belief that his case takes the form of a constitutio iuridicalis that is absoluta. Portia is able to show that it is not a constitutio iuridicalis but a constitutio legalis. It is the success of this rhetorical move that forces Shylock to withdraw his case.

Keywords: Merchant of Venice, Cicero, Quintilian, constitutio, judicial rhetoric, causa

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