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In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock can be seen as a gentle Jew and/or an inexecrable dog. Analyse and explore Shakespeare's presentation of his character.

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Introduction

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock can be seen as a gentle Jew and/or an inexecrable dog. Analyse and explore Shakespeare's presentation of his character. It is a sad fact that people are scared of anything that seems 'abnormal', anything that they can't or refuse to comprehend. A majority of people mistrusted different skin colour, language or religions in Elizabethan times. The Jews in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' are no exception. They are also hated, despised and persecuted. For this reason, you have to ask the question, is Shakespeare anti-Semitic? Or does he simply pity Shylock? Why, if he is anti-Semitic, did he make Shylock such a strong character? Why did he allow us to see the human side of Shylock? I intend to examine whether it was Shakespeare's intention to use this stereotype in 'The Merchant of Venice' or if he was trying to show the softer side of Shylock, and allow him to be seen as a human being. Shakespeare, when 'The Merchant of Venice' was written, was competing with another playwright, Christopher Marlowe, and his play, 'The Jew of Malta'. In this play the Jew, Barabas, is treated as totally evil, a thoroughly villainous ogre. In comparison, Shylock has a few redeeming qualities and is allowed to be seen as humane. The dramatic origins of the stereotype Jew would have been influenced by Marlowe's play and also from the historical and social context. People saw Jews as extortionists, taking money from Christians as the only available profession was as a moneylender. This is why Shylock's character is first introduced as archetypal money obsessed Jew. ...read more.

Middle

The audience may sympathise because Shylock is being mocked and also because of the focus of his existence, his money, is gone. "The Jew did utter in the streets: My daughter! O my Ducats!" It seems he is weighing out his misfortune and the Ducats are more important to him that his daughter. Shakespeare influences the audience's attitudes about Shylock, and once again makes him seem like a money-hungry scoundrel who does not deserve our sympathy. However, I think he does allow us to see that Shylock is grieving the loss of his daughter too, but the emphasis is definitely on the loss of his money. His greed is more important than what is left of his family. The recent film interpretation shows Shylock to be almost completely innocent as it edits certain villainous lines and the pound of flesh bond is presented as not just a sick idea, but in a practical context. Shylock has just bought a pound of meat and therefore he is not perceived as instantly bloodthirsty, as might be seen on stage. The animalistic image pound of flesh is an unclean image, going against Shylock's religious principles. The bond takes on other purposes during the play than just a "merry sport" it becomes Shylock's outlet of revenge onto Antonio and all Christians for the suffering they have put him through. "If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge." Shylock agrees that a pound of flesh may be worthless, but it will give him his much-wanted revenge. As Antonio's fortunes decline, we see a much more powerful Shylock who can be interpreted as quite selfish. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Duke allows him to live but still wants to take his money as punishment "You take my life, when you do take the means whereby I live." Shylock is permitted to keep his money so long as it goes to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death. Possibly worst of all, he must convert to Christianity. This is a very lenient penalty, according to the Christians, compared to death. Shylock's soul has been saved so it is a happy ending. Yet by this stage, Shylock is a broken man and leaves the court early as he claims he is not well. As an Elizabethan stage production, this would be a point of humour as the tormented Shylock left the stage having experienced his just desserts for all his evil plotting. Modern audiences, however, would be sympathetic with his humiliation especially after historical events such as The Holocaust. They would also see that Shylock's 'ancient grudge' with Christians derives from their physical and mental abuse inflicted upon him, which Shylock did nothing to deserve, the Christians were merely prejudiced against him very unfairly, yet, ultimately it is Shylock who suffers. In conclusion, Shylock is a paradox. To fit the dramatic needs of the play he has to be a villain but Shakespeare created more than just a one-dimensional character. There is evidence for both sides of Shylocks character. The way Shakespeare makes Shylock such a vengeful character indicates he may have been prejudiced against Jews, but the way he gives Shylock a reason for his bloodthirstiness, indicates that at the very least he was more sympathetic towards the Jewish people than others at the time. ...read more.

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