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How Does Shakespeare Influence Audience Opinion Of Shylock in 'The Merchant Of Venice'.

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Introduction

How Does Shakespeare Influence Audience Opinion Of Shylock in 'The Merchant Of Venice' Shakespeare influences audience opinion in many different ways in 'The Merchant Of Venice'. However, some of the devices he uses may have differing effects on Elizabethan and modern audiences. Elizabethans had many prejudiced stereotypes that Shakespeare includes in his play. There was less diversity of cultures when Shakespeare wrote the play, and therefore there was a lot more bad feeling towards different races and religions. Elizabethans were also more religious than people are nowadays, so there feelings towards religion and religious beliefs were much stronger than they would be today. The Elizabethans did not like the Jews, mainly because of the stereotypes that were portrayed of them. Jews were seen to be money grabbing and the Elizabethan's disagreed with their ideas and values about life. The play was set in Venice, Italy where there was a law of equality which allowed trade to run smoothly as much of the Venetian way of life was based on trading. This would have an effect on the Elizabethan audience because Elizabethans believed that generosity was a great virtue to have, and they believed that Jews were not at all generous, something which is definite of Shylock's character. They also disliked usurers and merchants because they went against the Christian values. The play is a comedy and a lot of the humour was based on the Elizabethan reaction to Shylock's character and onstage appearance. However, in modern times society is a lot less prejudiced, thus creating more sympathy for Shylock. The Elizabethan audience would also be much more religious than a modern audience, and Shylock was a character that went against everything they believed in as Christians. Most of the Christian values are opposed to the stereotypical portrayal of Jews, especially as they are portrayed in Merchant Of Venice. Therefore, especially with an Elizabethan audience, the main feeling towards Shylock would not be sympathy, but hostility and loathing. ...read more.

Middle

This is a shocking thing to admit and it will influence the audience greatly into having a negative opinion about him, because the fact that he cares more about his money than his daughter gives the impression that he is extremely cold hearted and money is his life. Although Shylock repeatedly talks about his loyalty to the Jewish faith, it is shown to be less important to him than his wealth "[Shylock]a diamond gone, cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfurt! The curse never fell upon our nation until now; I never felt it till now" This shows that his priorities lie not with his faith which he talks about so much, but with his money because he admits that the supposed curse on his race has not affected him until now, when his money has been taken away. By saying this the audience gets an impression of him that until things affect him personally they do not bother him, which emphasises his selfish personality. It also shows that he is feeling bitter about being a Jew. He then calls his daughter a thief, which shows that he doesn't seem to have any compassion towards her because she has taken the most important thing in his life from him: money. This reinforces our opinions and ideas about his character, and the audience will continue to see him in a bad light. We then see more of Shylock's bad side when he learns about Antonio's ships. "[Shylock]What, what, what? ill luck? ill luck?" From this we see that he is keen for someone else to suffer bad luck as well as him. It also shows us that he is happy again now he knows that he will get his money. Again we see that money is extremely important to him because he has become happier when he realises that he Antonio will not be able to pay him back and therefore broken the bond. This shows us again the bitterness and selfishness of his character. ...read more.

Conclusion

The only reason that they don't accept him is that he is a Jew whilst they are Christians. To a modern audience this would seem like a minor difference because there is a much larger diversity amongst the people in Britain then there would have been in Elizabethan times. Therefore, modern audience would not totally understand the seemingly irrational hatred of Shylock, simply for the fact that he is a Jew. Then the Duke decides that Shylock must become Christian and he must leave his money to Jessica and Lorenzo when he dies. This is another example of hypocrisy because Christian's should so mercy and forgiveness and they are not showing that at all in the way that they are treating Shylock because they presume that they have the right to change his faith when it is nothing to do with them and it just highlights their prejudices. Shylock is often judged externally which means that the audience do not get to see him as he sees himself. It also means that we only get to see other peoples' views on Shylock so the audience only ever gets a 'secondary view' of Shylock's character, which will obviously affect their own opinion of him. For example, a lot of the adjectives used to describe Shylock in Act Four, Scene One vary greatly from those used to describe Antonio. Shylock is described by adjectives such as an 'inhuman wretch', 'unfeeling man', 'harsh', 'inexecrable dog' and 'the offender'. None of these are very complimentary and they would influence the audience opinion. However, Antonio is described as a 'poor merchant', 'touch'd with human gentleness and love' and 'royal merchant'. These words are very complimentary and they would affect the audience view of Shylock because they would compare the adjectives used to describe both characters. Another example of external judging of Shylock comes after his reaction to the abduction of his daughter. Salerio mocks Shylock because of the reaction that he was more concerned about the loss of his money than the loss of his daughter. This, again, will influence audience opinion. ...read more.

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