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Merchant of Venice essay

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Introduction

Is "The Merchant of Venice" a prejudiced play or a play about prejudice? Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is a play that involves prejudiced views and ideas throughout. Although it does involve prejudice towards various people and groups, the bulk of the prejudiced language is aimed towards the Jewish religion and in particular the Jewish money-lender, Shylock. I am hoping to look at the use of discriminatory language and the way that certain characters (particularly Jews) are portrayed to an audience. I also need to try and understand the feelings and actions of the characters which will help me to make a conclusion on what Shakespeare's views were and the opinion he wants to give the audience. Shakespeare wrote the play at the height of his popularity and he knew that this play would be viewed by a lot of people. Was he trying to entertain his audiences with 'humorous' depictions and suffering of Jews or was he trying to open the eyes of his audience to the harsh cruelty expressed in white, Christian society? Shakespeare also features prejudice based on skin colour and social classes. Clearly the target of most of the prejudice is Shylock, who is hated by most of the play's Christian characters for two reasons: firstly is that he is a proud Jew and secondly because he is a cruel, greedy man with an obsession for money. To a modern day audience these may seem like two very distinct reasons, with the latter almost being justifiable; but in Shakespeare's time the characteristics of Shylock would have been seen as 'normal' for a Jewish person to possess. ...read more.

Middle

It appears that Portia holds no racial prejudice against the prince, but when the Prince fails the casket challenge and has left, Portia tells Nerissa "Let all of his complexion choose me so" a direct insight into her true feelings towards the Prince. She is clearly stating that she does not want any suitor who is not white to become her husband; I think that this brief statement has been included by Shakespeare because it reflects the views of nearly all of Shakespeare's audience. Had Portia, a wealthy white heiress been willing to marry a foreign, black prince it may have perhaps seemed unrealistic and bemusing to Shakespeare's audiences. I again think this does not show Shakespeare's views but he has included this so that his audience can relate to his play and its characters. When trying to determine whether the play is prejudiced or simply about prejudice there are two key parts of the play to look at in depth. They are Shylock's speech about the treatment of Jews and also the court scene. Firstly Shylock's speech in which he questions the way that he has been treated; this speech I believe supports the idea of the play being about prejudice and not being prejudiced. Shylock raises many questions such as "Hath not a Jew eyes...healed by the same means...as a Christian is?"; this shows that Shakespeare is against the behaviour of the Christian characters and is trying to open the eyes of the audience by making them feel sympathy towards Shylock. ...read more.

Conclusion

but more importantly because Shylock was following Christian example- this results in him losing all that matters to him whilst all of the Christian characters enjoy a perfect life. In conclusion, I believe that this is a play about prejudice not a prejudiced play. Shylock is a grotesque, sinister character but I don't think that this is because he is Jewish; had Shakespeare been prejudiced towards Jews he wouldn't have made Shylock stand alone throughout the play, Shylock is left by his daughter and when he is in court he does not have other sinister Jews supporting him as they can see that he is too extreme in his views. A better idea of what Shakespeare sees as a 'typical Jew' may be Tubal, who practises usury and receives harsh judgment from the Christians but does share the vicious mind of Shylock. It is also important to see the transition of Shylock from being similar to Tubal and quite 'normal' to being a dark and evil character' a transition that is caused entirely by the Christians who take his money , his daughter and his religion away from him. Shakespeare is showing how unjust prejudice can ruin the life of an innocent individual and turn him into a monster like Shylock became. The play is about Christian hypocrisy and the suffering of Jews, I expect however that many of Shakespeare's audience did not see it like this and believed it to be a fun tale that mocks Jews. Shakespeare did not classify it as a tragedy but I cannot see it as being anything else. ...read more.

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