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Merchant of Venice - Comparing and Contrasting Antonio and Shylock

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Introduction

Comparing and Contrasting Antonio and Shylock The play is mostly built on racism against Jews around 1290 when Jews were expelled from England. "The Merchant of Venice" is one of Shakespeare's most accessible plays. The play is a comedy, however a modern audience consider it a tragic-comedy, and the play has an underlying plot of considerable moral dimension. This is because a Shakespearean audience would have believed that prejudice against Jews was acceptable, and would have believed "The Merchant of Venice" to be funny, a Jew who seems to have everything and at the end looses everything. Today, however it would believed to be a tragic-comedy because anti-Semitism is not acceptable and jokes against Jews would not be considered as funny. There are three main characters, portrayed in ways uncharacteristic of Elizabethan times: Antonio the wealthy merchant, Shylock the greedy usurer and the heiress Portia. Antonio is an ideal friend and is idolised within the community he is a wealthy man. He also lends money but does not charge interest. Antonio hates Shylock but not purely because he is a Jew. He disagrees with Antonio's money lending to make interest. He irritates Shylock because he helps people pay off their debts to Shylock before they have to have a forfeit. Shylock, on the other hand, is a money obsessed usurer. He charges great amounts of interest and if it is not paid off by the due date he demands forfeits. He is portrayed in three different lights. The first as a villain, secondly a victim of racial taunts and third as a comedian laughing back at the Christians. Shylock's character was based on Barabas, the main character in Marlowe's 'Jew of Malta'. Some critics say that Shakespeare copied his idea. Shylock however is a money obsessed usurer. He charges vast amounts of interest and if it is not paid off in time then Shylock will charge forfeits. ...read more.

Middle

However, they both have similarities. They have both lost someone very close. Antonio, Bossanio gone to seek his love, Portia; and Shylock, his daughter Jessica who has eloped with a Christian. Shylock is furious over this. "My daughter! Oh, my ducats! Oh my daughter! Fled with a Christian! Oh, my Christian ducats! Justice! The Law, and my daughter!" Shylock is mocked as he runs through the streets begging the Duke to find Jessica. Shylock regards her as a procession and cares more about his money than he does his daughter. A Shakespearean audience would have found Shylock's losses amusing. However, the modern audience may sympathise with him as he has lost everything he cares about. A modern audience are able to see Shylock and Antonio as people rather than religions. A modern audience will realise that they have both lost everything dear to them and both deserve sympathy. Shylock now has nothing. Even now, the audience can see the reason for Shylock's interest in Justice. Solerio and Solario uses a direct contrast with Shylock. "A kinder Gentleman treads not the earth." They praise Antonio. Solerio tells Solario of Bossanio's and Antonio's parting. He tells of Antonio's emotion. Solerio thinks that Bossanio was the only thing that kept Antonio going. He thinks he lives for Bassanio. This demonstrates how much of a good friend Antonio is. He would do anything for Bossanio. Antonio is genuinely upset when Bossanio leaves. He does not care about the money. He wants his friend to be happy and achieve his desires. In Act three, Scene one, the audience hears news of another Antonio's ships being sunk and grounded on a sandbank. Antonio is again referred to as 'the good' by Solario and Shylock again referred to as the devil. When Shylock enters the scene he is taunted by the Christians. This provokes him into an angry outburst about Antonio. ...read more.

Conclusion

Also in Venice Shylock is left with nothing and left to rot. Antonio and Shylock are both very different characters, Antonio a good, honest and decent man. He does not agree with the way that Shylock lives and treats other people. Antonio is a popular man within the community and has several close friends who would do anything for him. Shylock however, is an evil, dishonest and untrustworthy man. He is obsessed with money and possessions; he even regards his own daughter as a possession. Shylock is so envious of Antonio that he so focused on gaining revenge on Antonio. He is referred and talked about several times within the play. The most common insults are; the devil himself, a dog and inhuman. Each of these insults shows the audience how the characters in the play view Shylock as a character. He is hated within the community and unlike Antonio he does not have any friends. Shylock does not even have friends within his Jewish community. So in respects to the characters personality they are the complete opposites too each other. However, there are some similarities between the two characters; they both have lost somebody close to them. Shylock and Antonio act in different ways, Shylock is upset, he shows this sadness trough anger and makes a mockery of him self. Antonio is praised when he says good bye to his loss, and reacts sadly but does not show his emotion. Antonio and Shylock both live in Venice where money is a key role, however there approach to this is different. Shylock is only in it for the money and to make fools of those who borrow money off him and cannot pay him back. Although Antonio lends out money to whoever needs it, as long as they eventually pay him back Antonio is glad to help. Antonio also pays off debts for those who owe money to Shylock. Antonio does not agree with Shylocks usury and proves that he is there for the people of Venice when they need financial support, proving that he is the true merchant of Venice. ...read more.

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