• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

The Character of Shylock in a Merchant of Venice.

Extracts from this document...


The Character of Shylock in a Merchant of Venice. William Shakespeare wrote the play 'The Merchant of Venice' in the 16th Century. It was written at that time as a comedy for audiences of that time to enjoy. Shakespeare makes it obvious that the treatment of Jews in England was very harsh and the population was very anti-Semitic and viewed Christians as being superior to other races. The play of The Merchant of Venice is set in Venice because Jewish people were allowed to live in the city's outskirts, whereas Jews were not allowed to live in England at all. A 16th century audience would not only have tolerated the racism shown in the play towards Jews, but would have supported it and found it comical when a racist remark was made. A modern audience of the late 20th and 21st century would find it shocking to have such racism included in the play because of political correctness and also because of the Holocaust, which opened people's eyes to how far racism can go; far enough to want to rid a country of, or exterminate, an entire race. In Act 1, Scene 3 we get our first impression of Shylock, a rich Jewish man who lends money to people with interest. Shakespeare introduces Shylock as a man of business but also a very proud man, who shows his distaste for Christians with his devious attitude, using chapters and stories from the Old Testament to show that Christians are lowly compared to Jews, but this turns the Christians against him and Antonio says 'the devil can cite scripture for his purpose,' saying that he is twisting God's words so that the Jews look better than them. However, this makes the modern day audience dislike Antonio, because he is asking Shylock for money and he is insulting him about his religion and calling him a 'Devil.' ...read more.


In Act 3, Scene 1, Salanio and Salarino bait Shylock by talking to him about the loss of his daughter. Shylock, who is angry and bitter, says 'She [Jessica] is damned for it,' but Salanio angers him by saying 'that's certain, if the Devil may be her judge,' so he is saying that if Jessica is going to be damned, it is the Devil who has damned her and not God, which is subtly racist against Jews. However, Shylock lets out his anger at Salanio and Salarino, because they are Christians and support Antonio, who helped Jessica and Launcelot elope. Salanio and Salarino try to dissuade Shylock from taking his bond of Antonio's flesh because Antonio is now poor, due to his ship being wrecked. However, Shylock talks about how much Antonio has done against him and how the Christian's shouldn't prejudice against the Jews because they are all human beings. Shylock says 'If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?' which is both valid and emotional. It would make the 16th century audience feel angry because he is comparing Jews to Christians, and saying that they are both equal. On the other hand, the 21st century audience would feel that Shylock is standing up for both himself and his nation, trying to make the Christians cease their racist abuse, because they are all equal. In Act 4, Scene 1 Shylock is in a courtroom, arguing his case to get his part of the bond [the pound of flesh] from Antonio, because he did not pay back the money that he borrowed. The duke, who is Christian and also the Judge, shows immediately that he is on Antonio's side. He says that Shylock is 'an inhuman wretch, uncapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy,' which shows that even the court is biased. ...read more.


Taking his life would be an act of mercy, from the 21st century point of view, because he has had everything, including his religion taken away from him. Shakespeare would not have allowed Shylock to win because he would have been aiming his plays at a Christian audience, who would have been anti-Semitic and this would have been the way that the Christian audience in the 16th century would have wanted it to end. It is a good message to show that revenge is not a good way to create equality and social harmony, because it just forces the wedge between the battling sides, in this case Christians and Jews. The character of Shylock evoked different emotions and changes of views in both audiences of the 16th century and in the modern day/21st century. It caused the 21st century audience to feel sorry for the Jews and to give them an insight into how badly they were treated and how the attitudes have changed towards Jewish people dramatically over time. It shows that Shakespeare was a racist person and that although he wrote plays about people from other religions, he saw Christianity as being above all other religions, though he may not be completely racist because he writes the emotional speech which compares the Jews to Christians in the speech about 'hath not a Jew eyes, hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?,' which is a very anti-racist speech. Maybe Shakespeare just came across racist because he had to write plays that would interest the audience and be relevant to their viewpoints, so that would have played a big factor in the good defeating evil plots in most of his plays. Shakespeare may not have been brave enough to be really controversial and talk about how Jews were good and equal to Christians, because it would have made him unfavourable towards the 16th century audience. Merchant of Venice, in my opinion, showed that the opinions of people about religion have changed a lot over time, maybe due to the historical actions that have occurred and have changed people's attitudes. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE The Merchant of Venice section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE The Merchant of Venice essays

  1. Merchant of Venice - Comparing and Contrasting Antonio and Shylock

    "The devil can cite scripture for his purpose." A Shakespearian audience would have expected him to be rude to Shylock because he was a Jew. This is because all of the Shakespearean audience would have believed that Antonio should talk down to Shylock because he is a worthless Jew.


    Shylock even says, in his speech, "if you wrong us shall we not revenge?", and he is simply doing what any other person, Christian or Jewish, would do. Throughout the play, a modern audience might feel sympathy for Shylock. He is abused throughout the play and especially at the end

  1. How Does Shakespeare Influence Audience Opinion Of Shylock in 'The Merchant Of Venice'.

    that he does get hurt by the way he is treated and we see that it is unfair. However, Shylock is being hypocritical because he is being prejudiced against Antonio which is one of the reasons that he (Shylock) is treated unfairly himself.

  2. 'How does Shakespeare present Shylock to the audience as both a stereotype and a ...

    Obviously, Shylock wants Antonio to his comeuppance. A modern audience would view this part of the play as to what the play has been building up to, and it is a critical part of the play for Shylock, as all his anguish is about to end, or so he hopes.

  1. How just is the outcome of the trial scene for Shylock in the Merchant ...

    Nevertheless, Shylock's response does show that he desires his view of the law and only the law. When Portia asks Shylock to have a surgeon nearby to stop Antonio from bleeding to death, his response was 'is it so nominated in the bond' (line 255), hence showing the extreme mercilessness of his actions.

  2. 'Is, 'The Merchant of Venice' a racist play? Discuss'.

    Antonio needs to borrow three thousand duckets from Shylock and on this they agree a bond. In Venice, your word was your bond. A promise made by word of mouth was the same as having an agreement in writing you had to keep your word or pay the consequences.

  1. What are the main contrasts and comparisons between Christians and Jews in the Merchant ...

    as an example to the Christians but he becomes power crazed and seeks to show Antonio what it was like to be a Jew.

  2. The Merchant of Venice is a racist play - Discuss

    "The Merchant of Venice" is a blatantly racist play. Shakespeare masterfully shows the causes of it and the hate and vengefulness it engenders, but then he even seems to reward this when Antonio's ships come in at the end. It's very disturbing, and this highlights it both in itself and through the juxtaposition of the comedy and the hate.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work