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If a man has prejudged, negative opinions against a group of people, because of race, colour, wealth or any other reason, can he be considered to be “uneducated” in the modern world or has society merely educated him with narrow-minded views?

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Introduction

The Merchant of Venice If a man has prejudged, negative opinions against a group of people, because of race, colour, wealth or any other reason, can he be considered to be "uneducated" in the modern world or has society merely educated him with narrow-minded views? The concept of racism, prejudices and inequalities is dealt with throughout Shakespeare's "A merchant of Venice" and although it was written around 1598, like most of Shakespeare's works the themes are universal and timeless which makes them very relevant to contemporary society. The main themes of the play are justice and mercy and how these is given and received in the bitter relationship between Antonio, the Christian merchant and Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. "The merchant of Venice" is considered to be one of Shakespeare's comedies as it has a happy ending for most of the characters and an Elizabethan audience would find Shylock's tragedies amusing, but in the last four hundred years society has drastically changed. Would a modern audience have a different opinion on the treatment of Shylock or would the Elizabethan values remain? Fear of the unknown is part of human nature and the Jewish religion and its followers were very unknown to the vast majority people in Shakespeare's time. Jews started to enter England in 1066 and in the course of a generation they established communities in Bristol, York, Canterbury and London, and began to prosper by trading and lending money. However, in 1290 under the reign of Edward I, 16'000 Jews were expelled from England although a few managed to stay in England by hiding their identity. This expulsion led to 350 years of Jewish exile from England, which means that there had been no Jews in England for about 300 years before Shakespeare was born! Few people knew a Jew and the majority of people were quite simple, uneducated and illiterate. It was easy to categorize Jews and stereotype them. ...read more.

Middle

He would most likely speak in a sardonic, scornful tone as Shylock for probably the first time, has power above Antonio. Again, the audience are angered. After Shylock has spoken of his suffering, Antonio blatantly tells Shylock that he will most likely call him again! Antonio does not care about the pain Shylock has to go through because of him and his friends, because Shylock is a Jew. He obviously does not like the tone Shylock has spoken to him with and so he is trying to regain his power. Antonio and Shylock settle on the bond and Act One, Scene Three ends, with Bassanio disliking the terms of the bond. The dramatic tension increases as throughout the play as Antonio's ships fail to return home and the audience informed of this revelation by the use of two minor characters. Shakespeare often used this technique, as it is an effective way to move on in the story. Salerio and Solanio are the minor characters used as in Act Two Scene Eight, they joke about Shylock's misfortune (his daughter Jessica has stolen a lot of his money and has ran away to marry Lorenzo, a Christian) and then Salerio informs Solanio of how a "vessel of our country richly fraught" has crashed, and Salerio suspects it may be Antonio's. The audience would presume that it was Antonio's ship, as this would have to happen for the sake of the plot, and it is also clear that with his recent misfortunes, Shylock's need for revenge upon the Christians would be greater. Shylock's vindictiveness feeds on the news of Antonio's sorrow and the conclusion of the story is the trial scene, Act Four, Scene One. Antonio could not pay the 3000 ducats back in time and Shylock demands that he takes the pound of Antonio's flesh, it seems that no one can stop him by persuasion nor legally can they stop him. ...read more.

Conclusion

But the genius of "The Merchant of Venice" is that it allows us see past the surface of the religious identity that defines Shylock the Jew; beyond that Shakespeare allows us to glimpse Shylock the man who hates and bleeds as does any Christian. Shylock proclaims this when he asks, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" Shakespeare's genius gave the Elizabethan audience what they wanted but looking back we can see how this is very ironic and sarcastic in its tone towards anti-Semitism. This Jew is no longer a caricature and though he remains the villain, the evil is on more than one character. Shylock is a paradox because he is both the bloodthirsty, ravenous wolf Gratiano described him as and also the human victim of abuse that makes his revenge understandable. With this in mind, I doubt that a modern audience would be glad of Shylock's downfall. We would recoil from the hatred he expresses but we would sympathise once we hear of the way he is treated by Antonio. Yet in the courtroom scene these mitigating circumstances were ignored and so Shylock did not receive a fair trial by modern day standards. This adds to a contemporary audience's compassion towards Shylock and I think many people would find Shylock's punishment too harsh. Religious freedom is taken for granted by many in the western world and I also think that many people would want Antonio to be given some kind of punishment. We can see the man behind the murderer and although two wrongs don't make a right, Shylock's actions are understandable if we see him as a human being. So when can we call someone "uneducated"? In my opinion, a person with unjustified prejudices is educated, but with narrow-minded views. The most uneducated point of a person's life is when they're a child; when they are first born. Elizabethan society fed their children these views and so we cannot blame Antonio directly. Shylock may have been a "cut-throat" usurer but he was not a dog and did not deserve to be spat at. ...read more.

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