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Discuss the way in which Shakespeare dramatizes the prejudices of his own society in the court scene of The Merchant of Venice.

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Introduction

Discuss the way in which Shakespeare dramatizes the prejudices of his own society in the court scene of The Merchant of Venice In this essay the theme of prejudice will be carefully analysed, by focusing on Act 4 scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice, or as it is also known as the court scene. Though this play is a 'Romantic Comedy' it also highlights the darker sides of human nature: greed, prejudice, hatred and deception. Prejudice was typical of Elizabethan culture, especially anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews. This is well shown in the play as the stereotypical twisted and evil bad guy is in fact a Jew himself! In the court the judge, the god like figure is the Duke of Venice. Though he has a lot of power and respect he is as biased as anyone else towards Antonio, the accused in this case: "I am sorry for thee: thou art come to answer A stony adversary," Not only is he biased towards Antonio as he sees Shylock as "stony" and cold like a rock, or perhaps he sees his heart as "stony", unable of feel pity or remorse. Furthermore he feels pity for Antonio and that pity would definitely lean the case in favour of Antonio in the Duke's point of view. Shylock chooses to take Antonio's life rather than have three thousand ducats, which would not only make him a merciless wretch but also put him against the stereotypical Jewish money loving man. ...read more.

Middle

O will young judge, how I do honour thee!" In these lines he describes her as "a Daniel", a name that means young judge. This is prejudiced as the name Daniel, being a boy's name, perhaps suggests that only a man could be made an eligible judge. This is ironic as the most powerful person in Britain at the time was Queen Elizabeth I, yet the prejudice still existed. Also Shylock honours Portia for being a good judge when she is disguised as a man. Would she get the same respect if she were dressed as a woman? One of the greatest examples of anti-Semitism in Elizabethan society was the case of a Portuguese Jew, Dr Roderigo Lopez, who had converted to Christianity and was a fashionable society doctor in London. This description relates to Shylock as a wealthy successful man, but Lopez had given up his religion whereas Shylock had not. Despite this they both suffered the same unfair prejudices. In 1593 Lopez was convicted of treason as he plotted to poison Queen Elizabeth ? herself. Though this was doubted then and still is now, there was a lot of public prejudice against him. They saw him as a Jew and a foreigner, and they made him pay dearly as he was sentenced to death and was hung, drawn and quartered. Some believe it was because he was working as a double agent for England and Spain. ...read more.

Conclusion

Therefore this suggests that a Jew's life is worthless compared to a Christian life. Consequently Shylock cannot kill Antonio and has been beaten. Although Shylock does not go home empty handed, his life is then put in the mercy of Antonio for intending to take a life, but the Duke and Antonio are both lenient towards Shylock as Antonio says: ", That for this favour, He presently becomes a Christian;" The fact that the Christians are put across as much more forgiving and merciful than Shylock, emphases the stereotypical views of Christians and Jews which is prejudicial in itself. Also that they are giving Shylock mercy when he could not give it to them, lowers Shylock's character even more. Most of all the fact that he is made to relinquish his religious beliefs, probably the most important aspect of his life, highlights that he loves life more than his god. Also for him to then convert to Christianity, gives the suggestion that he is being reformed and that changing his religion will change his horrible characteristics. Overall I believe Shakespeare dramatises the prejudices in the play well. He makes this obvious enough to be spotted and perhaps enabling him to portray his views to the ignorant spectators. However he does this in such a way as not to make his comments too overt as to offend and insult his extremely prejudicial 17th Century audience. Dan Stembridge Page 5 of 5 ...read more.

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