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Background to the "Merchant of Venice."

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

Background to the "Merchant of Venice." During the 16th Century, William Shakespeare wrote an extraordinary play and called it the "Merchant of Venice." Elizabethans of this time, were extremely anti-Semitic and because of their anti-Semitism the subject matter of the play alone would have grabbed the audiences' attention. Inspirations for the "Merchant of Venice" came from two different places for Shakespeare. Firstly there was a play showing called the "Jew of Malta." In this play, written by Christopher Marlowe the Jews were portrayed as monsters. Again, prior to Shakespeare's play Dr Lopez-who was queen Elizabeth's physician, was accused of attempting to poison the Queen. The events only added to the Elizabethans Semitism and because of these events the Elizabethans were not happy or pleasant towards the Jews. The "Merchant of Venice" seemed to be a perfect opportunity to express their hate for the Jewish nation. "Lopez" is the Spanish word for wolf. A wolf is a type of dog and throughout the book we read of Shakespeare referring to the Jews as dogs. Once again the Elizabethans would not have seen anything wrong with this, for that was how they referred to the Jews themselves. What we need to realise is that there isn't only one audience; in fact there are two- the 16th Century audience and the 21st Century audience. Whereas people of the 16th Century agreed with Shakespeare attitude towards Jews, the attitude of the 21st Century has completely changed. This change in attitude has happened due to the events of World War II, where Adolph Hitler and the Nazis treated the Jews in unimaginable, inhuman and unacceptable ways. Over thirty thousand Jews were sent to concentration camps. Six million Jews were murdered, many were shot, but this method was too slow for the Nazis, so they started to build chambers and in these chambers they would send up to two thousand Jews to be gassed. ...read more.

Middle

The audience may have got excited here for they may have been thinking that the duke has Shylock caught in a headlock. Once again Shylock bites back with an absolutely fantastic answer: What judgement shall I dread, doing no wrong? (Line 89) Morally this answer would be wrong but it would not be legally wrong. For Shylock to come back with such a great answer, he must still have been full of confidence. At line 123 we see a pun, which is said by Gratiano. Not on thy sole, but on thy soul, harsh Jew, Thou mak'st thy knife keen; (Lines 23 &24) Gratiano is trying to tell Shylock that he may be using the leather of his shoe but he should really be using his soul for that is the hardest of the two. Once again Shylock is referred to as Jew. Enter PORTIA, dressed as BALTHAZAR, a doctor of laws. This portion of the play would be extremely funny to the 16th Century audience because as women were not allowed up on stage during Elizabeth's time, Portia would have been played by a boy dressed up as man. Here Portia needs to disguise herself from Bassanio, which is the reason they would find it funny because Portia would be a man dressed as a man dressed as a woman. Now in the 21st Century it would be funny to see a woman dressed as man but not to the extent of the 16th Century. There is also an element of dramatic irony here because the husbands up on stage do not know that Portia and Nerissa are there as their representatives whereas the audience does. Therefore this irony would make the audience feel very superior within them. Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew? (Line 170) Perhaps Portia is trying to pretend to create a sense of justice by not wanting to show any favourites, but indeed she does actually know whom the Jew and merchant are. ...read more.

Conclusion

Antonio shows extreme bigotry- he orders Shylock to become a Christian. After all the wonderful work Portia has put into grant mercy for Antonio it seems he hasn't taken a blind bit of notice, or is it just his pride is too great to overcome. Here I would like Portia to turn away in utter disgust at Antonio's ultimation. She must have mixed feelings running through her mind. Portia may have been happy that she succeeded, but on the other hand disappointed because her extraordinary quality of mercy speech had gone to waste. Antonio has not shown Christian behaviour towards Shylock but what's confusing is that if Antonio wants Shylock to become a Christian; he should be setting a good Christian example. Shylock is not well and is leaving with nothing not even a dram of dignity. Exit SHYLOCK This is where I would have Shylock walk feebly off stage picking his knife up along the way. Once he was out of sight I would like to be a horrific, piercing scream that would indicate the end of Shylock. If I were producer I would end it this way because I feel Shylock had suffered enough and I wouldn't want him to have to go through the ultimations also. It's likely that this would be the feeling of other 21st Century citizens but I can't imagine the 16th Century feeling the same way. The "Merchant of Venice" is written in poetic form and throughout the whole book we witness different forms of poetry. In Act IV scene I there is dramatic poetry such as when we have a serious of one-liners between Bassanio and Shylock. There is emotional poetry in the quality of mercy speech. Without the poetic writing I don't feel this scene or play would be as effective as it is. The 16th Century audience wouldn't think about its language as much because that was the way they spoke themselves. Whereas if it were re-written for the 21st Century in our language there would be huge disappointments all over the land. ...read more.

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