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Discuss the presentation of Shylock and Antonio asconflicting opposites in 'The Merchant of Venice'

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Introduction

Discuss the presentation of Shylock and Antonio as conflicting opposites in 'The Merchant of Venice' Shakespeare personifies the juxtaposed themes of this play; justice and mercy, forgiveness and revenge. He contrasts characters of Shylock and Antonio to represent these key ideas. Shakespeare's character representations of these themes certify that they are constantly played out against each other throughout the play. The play presents anti-semitic ideas, depicting Shylock, a Jew, as evil and Antonio, a Christian, as good. Stereotyping in this play is used to portray Shylock as malicious, selfish and hateful man who only cares about money. Antonio, on the other hand, is portrayed as the 'perfect Christian'; merciful and kind. Shylock only appears in a couple of scenes in the play, but the audience can gather an opinion of him by the way the other characters on stage talk about him. Shylock appears to be disliked by those who are closest to him, for example his daughter, Jessica (in act 2). This is one of the reasons the audience see him as the evil character. On the other hand, Antonio appears to the audience as a very merciful man. When he does not appear in a scene, those closest to him talk about him highly emphasising his good features, this makes Antonio appear in a better light than Shylock. Every time Shylock is talked about or seen by the Elizabethan audience in a bad manner, consequently, Antonio's good qualities are emphasised. ...read more.

Middle

The first line of Antonio is "in soothe I know not why I am sad". From this line the audience are entered into the conversation immediately, which makes them take note of what is happening straight away. "It wearies me, you say it wearies you;" This line and "and such a want-wit sadness makes of me" expresses how sad and unhappy he is feeling and therefore instantly conjures up empathy with the audience. The audience are instantly engaged with Antonio's very human dilemma and from this he appears to be a man of emotion and therefore appear more in a good light. Antonio is surrounded by friends in this first scene who are helping him to work out the cause for his misery, "Or as it were the pageants of the sea, Do overpeer the petty traffickers, That curtsey to them, do them reverence, "As they fly by with woven wings." By referring to Antonio's ships in this manner with the metaphor, 'woven wings' create a god like image of Antonio, that creates and imagery of great prosperity. There is a clear reference to Christianity, portraying Antonio as holy. The visual imagery of 'curtsey to them' generates a respect for Antonio. Although it suggests Antonio is powerful man, Shakespeare uses assonance to create an atmosphere of love surrounding Antonio as a Christian. When Salarino and Solanio leave just after Gratiano, Bassanio and Lorenzo arrive, Salarino final line is, "I would have stayed till I had made you merry, If worthier friends had not prevented me" This lines shows how he cares for Antonio. ...read more.

Conclusion

The idea that Antonio stands also as a father figure in this play, means that the audience are aware that Antonio is very protective over those he loves. Consequently they are also left to view his considerate and caring nature. He has therefore taken on the responsibilities of this role. For example, when Antonio offers to get to sufficient funds to cover the cost of Bassanio's conquest for Portia's love, the audience know that he does not have enough. "Neither have I money nor commodity, To raise a present sum; therefore go forth, Try what my credit can in Venice do," This shows Antonio's generosity, and also further supports the fact that he has taken on a father like role in his and Bassanio's relationship. As Antonio appears in such a positive light in his first appearance, Shylock will be instantly compared to him when he appears. He is Antonio's rival, who expresses hate for him, and therefore appear in a negative light due to this. Antonio is shown to have lots of companions who all care for him and display affection; he is always surrounded by some of his friends in the scene. This fact helps demonstrate how Antonio is a good-natured and caring man. This is done via what people think of him and how they are willing to help him. It shows the audience that as he is surrounded by so many compassionate friends that he must too be a caring and loving friend to them. When Shylock first enters in act 1 scene 3 ...read more.

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