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The Merchant of Venice - Does Shakespeare come across as prejudice in this play?

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Introduction

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE Does Shakespeare come across as prejudice in this play? Isobel Manley - August 2002 The main theme of the Merchant of Venice is of Shylock, a Jew, and Antonio, a Christian taking part in a deal involving the Jew lending the Christian a sum of money. The bond they make is that if Antonio cannot pay Shylock back, Shylock can take legally a pound of Antonio's flesh as payment. The other plots in the play consist of Jessica, Shylock's daughter eloping with Lorenzo, another Christian and Antonio's friend Bassanio, who is courting a rich lady, Portia of Beaumont who are both of course Christian. Shylock and Tubal, his Jewish associate, both receive verbal abuse from the Christian groups e.g. Solanio: 'The villain Jew with outcries raised the duke, who sent him to search Bassanio's ship' and: Solanio: 'I never heard a passion so confused, so strange, outrageous, and so variable, as a dog Jew did utter in the streets' The Christians such as Solanio and Salerio never refer to Shylock by his name. They call him Jew as if his name did not matter i.e. as if he is not worthy of a name, and when referring to him, it is always with contempt. I think this puts the writer across as prejudice against non-Christian people and their beliefs. ...read more.

Middle

Shylock obviously feels a strong resentment towards the Christians. In Act One Scene Three, Bassanio has just introduced Antonio to Shylock. Shylock: 'How like a fawning publican he looks. I hate him for he is a Christian But more, for that is in low simplicity He lends out money gratis, and brings down The rate of usance here with us in Venice. If I can catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. He hates our sacred nation, and he rails Even there where merchants most do congregate, On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe If I forgive him.' While speaking this part, Shylock reveals his plan to the audience. He speaks of the ancient grudge between the Jewish religion and the Christian religion. He promises himself that if he ever became tolerant of the Christian religion and its followers, a curse would fall on him. Shylock is telling the audience of his plans to catch Antonio out and achieve revenge on the Christian group. At this point in the play we, as the audience, become more aware of the sly, twisted side of the Jew, which seems to make apparent the vengeful side of the character and his plan to avenge the wrongs committed against him. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shylock: I thank God, I thank God. Is it true, is it true? Tubal: I spoke with some sailors that escaped the wreck. Shylock: I thank thee good Tubal, good news, good news! Ha, ha! Heard in Genoa?' This scene informs the reader of Shylock's delight in hearing the ill luck of Antonio, realising that Antonio's flesh could soon belong to him. Unfortunately for Shylock, the play does not end like this. He is notified that in the bond with Antonio, this did not give him the right to spill Antonio's blood, so he can go ahead with taking his flesh, but if one drop of his blood is spilt, Shylock will be prosecuted. Shylock breaks down at the news. He is forced by the Christians to bless Jessica in her marriage to Lorenzo and, as if he had not suffered enough punishment, he is ultimately disgraced, by being forced to give up his religion and become a Christian. In my opinion, the play is prejudice and immoral. However, I also think there is a hidden meaning, the Christians are even more contemptible than Shylock. They are displayed throughout the play as being selfish and disrespectful towards Shylock. The play seems to mean different things to different people. Shakespeare could well be ridiculing the Jewish religion, but he could be mocking Christians also. Alternatively, it could be Shakespeare's intention not to mock either religion. I think the answer remains ultimately with the audience. 1 ...read more.

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