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Shakespeare's portrayal of Shylock as rapacious and cruel is in the traditional style of an Elizabethan villain. A modern audience could argue that he has also humanised Shylock, and therefore gained some sympathy for his actions.

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Introduction

"The Merchant of Venice" By William Shakespeare Shakespeare's portrayal of Shylock as rapacious and cruel is in the traditional style of an Elizabethan villain. A modern audience could argue that he has also humanised Shylock, and therefore gained some sympathy for his actions. From your reading of the "Merchant of Venice" examine these diverse reactions to the complex characterisation of Shylock. Shakespeare's portrayal of Shylock is unconditionally evil, and a stereo-typical villain. Studying the "Merchant of Venice" has made me realise that Shakespeare has not only written for an Elizabethan audience when writing the play, but written in a style which a modern audience would find interesting as well, dealing with issues such as prejudice, racism and religion. The message put across by these topics would get different reactions within the two contrasting era's. A modern audience would have different views concerning prejudice, racism and religion, because we are now more aware of what such issues can cause and we are a multi-ethnic society. An Elizabethan audience would be more intolerant when compared to a contemporary audience as the viewers were very much anti-semitic. In my view I feel that an Elizabethan audience would be biased because they are all Christians, therefore making them against Shylock for the religion he is associated with (Judaism), hence the reason this certain congregation would take Antonio's side. As a modern viewer however my sympathy for Shylock increases throughout the play, as he is separated from the rest of the human race just because he has different beliefs. ...read more.

Middle

When Shylock is in the court, Grationo speaks of Shylock and mentions that 'Thou almost makist me waver in my faith'. At this remark an Elizabethan audience would see Shylock as an anti-Christian, who is out to destroy any Christian, especially Antonio. In the Elizabethan era Christians thought of Jews as Cannibals they considered Shylock wanted a pound of flesh to eat 'Be nominated for an equal pound of your flesh to be cut off'. Shylock plays along with this idea and taunts the audience into thinking he wants to eat the flesh for enjoyment. 'But yet I'll go in hate, to feed upon the prodical Christian' Shylock just wind's up the audience, as though to say he is a typical Jew. When Salerio asks 'What's that good for?' Shylock replies 'To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge' this taunts the Christians and winds up the audience yet again as he lives up to the typical Jew. The last thing the court does to Shylock is take his religion 'He presently become a Christian'. Antonio suggests this as he does not want half of Shylocks wealth as he knows he would not care, so it is at this point where the court may as well take Shylock's life as he has nothing left. An Elizabethan audience would think Antonio has saved Shylock's life and is a hero, on the other hand a modern audience would feel shocked at the fact Antonio has taken Shylock's religion as it is part of his culture and background. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shylock is going by the law in every way so legally he is in the right. But Shylock over steps the mark on a life law when Portia asks 'Have by some surgeon Shylock, on your charge, to stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death?' Shylock replies 'I cannot find it, tis not in the bond'. After this remark from Shylock, Portia turns the bond against him 'This bond dath thee here no jot of blood'. A modern audience would feel consideration for Shylock whereas an Elizabethan audience would be biased, sensitive to people's religion and would certainly know about it as some theatres were burnt down because of disapproving spectators. From analysing the play it has come apparent that Antonio and Shylock are two totally opposite strong characters. Shylock seeks revenge for a number of different reasons one of which being culture. 'He hates our sacred nation' suggests that Shylock has acted on behalf of his Jewish nation and not just upon the personal grudge between himself and Antonio. Shakespeare has written Shylocks character in order to impress two different eras, which I feel he succeeds in. He raises a series of different issues which enable audience to express there contrasting views. He creates Shylock in such a way he is portrayed as an Elizabethan scoundrel but a modern case to pity. I believe it is the racism and prejudice Shylock undergoes which adds to the drama of the play and creates more sympathy for his character. ...read more.

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