Shakespeare's Shylock misses out on his pound of flesh in The Merchant of Venice's infamous trail but would the outcome be different if the case was heard in a modern-day court in New Zealand?

Aspiring young lawyers from the University of Auckland will this week re-examine the 400-year-old case of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender, versus Antonio, the Venetian merchant, using cast members from Pop-up Globe's production to re-enact the courtroom drama in front of Court of Appeal judge Rhys Harrison.

Justice Harrison will hear the case where, in Shakespeare's 1597 play, the court found against Shylock who had demanded a pound of Antonio's flesh if the wealthy trader defaulted on his loans. Out of pocket, Shylock took the case to court but the tables turned against him when it was decided he could not collect a pound of flesh from Antonio without spilling a drop of his blood.

As a non-citizen, Shylock was accused of endangering the life of a Venetian and, as was the law of the day, was ordered to forfeit half his property to the state and the other half to the offended party. This would have ruined him but Antonio offered Shylock an alternative — keep half your property but convert to Christianity.


In modern-day NZ, it may sound preposterous to demand someone change their faith and, more alarming, that a claimant would seek a pound of flesh from a loan defaulter. So, teams from the University of Auckland's award-winning Mooting Society will argue the merits of the case and the trial outcome.

Mooting developed more than 500 years ago in the ancient medieval 'inns of court' to train young lawyers. For this moot, law students have been prepared for the courtroom battle by legal teams at law firm Anthony Harper which sponsors Pop-up Globe.

CEO Lisa Jacobs says it's one of the more unusual events the firm has been involved with but they saw the moot as a novel way to further encourage students' thinking about the law as well as courtroom presentations.

Dan Hughes, Anthony Harper's head of litigation, says the case centres on contract law and equity.

"Law does not operate in a vacuum and justice often requires consideration of a number competing factors," says Hughes. "In this case, the Venetian Court grapples with whether a contract should be enforced even when it produces an outcome which is not fair or equitable."

Students Charlie Barker, Katherine Eichelbaum, Ahana Palande and Owen Posthuma have spent several weeks researching and preparing their arguments.

Parande describes it as the ultimate combination of problem-solving and advocacy which is what the law should be all about. Meanwhile, Eichelbaum says it's an exciting opportunity for the society to be involved in something which makes the law more accessible by taking something from popular culture and turning it into a mootable issue.

David Lawrence, director of Pop-up Globe's The Merchant of Venice, has also given the students some insight into the trial scene. Lawrence believes this is the first-time in NZ that Shylock and Antonio's legal battle has been turned into a moot.

He says many of Shakespeare's plays have legal themes with the battle between truth and justice, legal and moral arguments being central to the action.

Once the students finish arguing the case, Justice Harrison will give direction and clarification and, in a slight subversion of form, invited audience members will then act as jury and announce their decision. Sentence will then be passed.

While tomorrow evening's moot isn't open to the public, if it goes well it could well be something done again in future.