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The audience is given the impression that Shylock is a typical Jewish Businessman. To what extent do you agree with this?

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Introduction

Sarah Hutchinson 16th February 04 The merchant Of Venice Coursework English AS. Question: The audience is given the impression that Shylock is a typical Jewish Businessman. To what extent do you agree with this? That Shylock is portrayed as being a typical Jewish businessman is contentious. There seems to be a lot more to Shylock than first meets the eye, especially when it comes to his dealings with money and keeping his word. He has to put up with quite a bit of abuse from Christians and others. He is a very stubborn person though, and this seems to be one of his major downfalls within the play. To support my argument I am going to look at both the views of the Christians and the Jews from the play, as well as support my views with evidence from the text. In this essay I will write about the role of Shylock being perceived as a typical Jewish businessman and how the character would have an effect on a Elizabethan audience, and how times and the attitudes towards Jews have changed. One of the main storylines in the play is that of the agreement between Antonio and Shylock. Shylock agrees to lend money to Antonio and not to charge interest, on one condition; if Antonio fails to pay back all of the money on time, then Shylock is allowed to literally take 'a pound of flesh' from Antonio's body. Antonio does fail to do this and the case is brought to trial. ...read more.

Middle

Shakespeare seems to try and help the audience to understand that Shylock is also a human being and isn't just what everyone expects him to be. He has a stubborn personality, and isn't completely obsessed with money. His is a complete contrast with the way in which Jews are stereotyped as being money grabbers and making money their main priority, which was the norm for Elizabethan times. Shylock's character could also appear to be comical, as his character would have been over dramatised so that it was obvious to an audience who he is meant to be. Even today the Jewish religion isn't the most favoured by people, and there is still some prejudice towards them. Since the Holocaust however, Jews have managed to gain a more sympathetic reputation, with the persecution they suffered at the time being recognised, and how much pain and suffering they actually go through just for something that they believe in. This could be why it is found today that many people have a completely different view towards the Jewish than they would have done 600 years ago, as with the portrayal of Shylock of Shakespeare's readers throughout the centuries also. Shylock could be seen as stereotypical in the way in which he refuses to back down and take pity on Antonio. As far as he is concerned, a deal is a deal and he wants what he believes to be justice. "The pound of flesh which I demand of him is dearly bought, 'tis mine, and I will have it." ...read more.

Conclusion

He proves this by refusing to accept money triple the amount that Antonio owed him in order to buy him off. Only when he realises that he isn't going to win the case does he start to consider the money, but in fairness he does believe he should get something out of the situation. In the end though he is robbed of everything he owns, and must convert to Christianity. This also shows that Christians weren't as warm and forgiving as first portrayed. They could even be considered as bad as the Jews because they have taken everything away from Shylock instead of just forgiving and forgetting. Shakespeare manages to successfully bring across all the good and bad points of the characters, and this is why I believe that he is successful in making Shylock appear to be more than just a typical Jew from back in Elizabethan times. To say that Shylock is portrayed as a typical Jewish businessman would be to underestimate Shakespeare's ability to create fully developed characters. It may be true that the skeleton of the character is based on a stereotype that an Elizabethan audience would have readily recognised. However, the clashes of humanity, which Shakespeare brings to the character, enable the stereotypical to be transcended. Ultimately, I believe Shylock is no more a typical Jewish businessman than Lear is a typical English King. Perhaps it is the transcendence of the stereotype which makes the characters humanity all the more poignant. 1 "The 'Jewish Question' in 15th and 16th Century Spain" website: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v16/v16n1p-2_Chalmers.html all info from website. 2 "The Merchant Of Venice" William Shakespeare Act 3 Scene1 3 "The Merchant Of Venice" William Shakespeare Act4 Scene1 ...read more.

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