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

To what extent does 'The Merchant of Venice' reflect the anti-Semite feelings of the period in which it was written?

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

To what extent does 'The Merchant of Venice' reflect the anti-Semite feelings of the period in which it was written? When William Shakespeare wrote 'The Merchant of Venice' in 1596, was he simply reflecting the anti-Semitic feelings of his era; or was he trying to show his audience the immorality of anti-Semitism in Elizabethan society? Certainly, the response to such a controversial play is now disputable, but when 'The Merchant of Venice' was first in the public's eye in the late 16th century, it is possible that it was accepted as just a regular, comical play; given that the Christian citizens of England collectively disliked the Jewish. They were not liked and had been banned from living in England since 1290 - although some still did, in the guise of Christians. Due to this, the Christians had little knowledge about the faith or principles of Jews. Hence the play being set in Venice, where Jews were allowed to live in Ghettos but restricted from mixing with Christians. Shakespeare has given the character, Shylock, stereotypical traits, such as the beard and the 'Jewish gaberdine'. These noticeable features would have prompted the Elizabethan audience to instantly assume that Shylock was the typical Jewish villain whom they all loved to hate. ...read more.

Middle

to be in the presence of Christians. Possibly Shakespeare was hoping this would stir some sympathy in the audience, and they would finally grasp the idea that Jews were not as evil as previously thought. Shylock cites the bible many times in the play; he refers to bible stories to back up his opinions. When he is striking up a deal between himself and Antonio, he uses a scripture from Genesis 30 to justify why he is charging Antonio interest. His justification is: 'This was a way to thrive, and he was blest; // And thrift is blessing if men steal it not.' This could be seen as being a very far-fetched reason, which would mean that Shylock is narrow minded, who would provide any reason to con a bit more money out of Antonio. Antonio himself says that 'The devil can cite scripture for his purpose', insinuating that Shylock is greedy. But perhaps this is wrong, and Shakespeare was implying that Shylock was instead trying to reason with Antonio over mutual ground; the bible stories were one thing they both recognised and appreciated. Shylock seems to be the only character who sticks to his agreements. ...read more.

Conclusion

On the other hand, Shakespeare could have ended it as an anti-Semite - to show that good (Christianity) always triumphs over evil (Judaism). It could be argued that Shakespeare was an anti-Semite, or that the playwright thoroughly disliked anti-Semitism. We do not know. But my opinion is that Shakespeare identified and compared himself with his creation of 'the Jew'. As it is thought that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic (in a Protestant England), he would have known what it was like to have a different faith, and wished to show his point of view through a play. 'What judgement shall I dread, doing no wrong?' Shylock explained as he fought his corner. However, it is also likely that Shakespeare was a typical Elizabethan anti-Semite who hated all Jews; therefore made Shylock a dislikeable character. Shylock speaks of Antonio: 'I'll plague him, I'll torture him. I am glad of it.' Personally, I believe that Shakespeare wanted to show the harsh reality of anti-Semitism to his audience, and he thought that through the eyes of a Jew was the best way to do it. The play shows definite anti-Semitism in its characters, but in my opinion, 'The Merchant of Venice' is not anti-Semitic. ?? ?? ?? ?? (1) Kelly Barber ...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. to what extent can the Merchant of Venice be seen as a fairytale

    However, Shakespeare exhibits a villain with many human characteristics that give us an impression of an ability to love, not just hate in Shylock. When his friend Tubal tells him of what Jessica traded his stolen ring, he declares that 'I would not have given it for a wilderness of

  2. One of the most constantly asked questions about The Merchant of Venice is - ...

    droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven" changes her tune when it is her turn to be merciful. "Not so fast, Jew". to Shylock, as she relentlessly increases his punishment. This is a concrete example of why maybe Shylock is the way he is: "The villainy you teach me I

  1. Is the Merchant of Venice anti-Christian or anti-Semitic?

    It becomes clear from the beginning what Shylock's intention is when he says, "I'll plague him, I'll torture him. I am glad of it." When Antonio fails to pay the bond, Shylock refers obsessively and repeatedly to his "bond" and demands a pound of Antonio's flesh, taken from the closest place to his heart.

  2. English - Merchant of Vencice

    They call him a 'dog' and describe his actions as 'strange' and 'outrageous'. They recount Shylock's speech exclaiming his great upset over his daughters disappearance and his loss of money. 'My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter! Fled with a Christian!

  1. The Merchant of Venice.

    and that their blood is as different as "red wine and Rhenish [a drink]" (Lines 42-47).Shylock makes it clear that he knows of Antonio's misfortune by describing him as "a beggar," now and repeatedly tells Salarino that Antonio should "look to his bond" (Line 54)

  2. Shylock and Anti-Semitism

    Shylock then poses the question , why don't they themselves show mercy on their slaves, who were kept against their will. During the courtroom scene, he shows his real feelings when he delivers the 'Hath not a Jew' speech. Shylock's 'Hath not a Jew' speech tells us about his character, and shows he is not a "inhuman wretch" after all.

  1. As we watch and read The Merchant of Venice, our feelings and opinions change. ...

    Furthermore, Shakespeare uses hyperbole - especially when he declares Portia to be "fairer than that word." This implies that she is fairer than the 'Bible' suggesting that she is honest and a Godly woman. This technique reinforces the positive portrayal of Portia.

  2. This play appeared in print in 1600 with the title The Comical History of ...

    is down to the second 'shaft' (Portia's inheritance) - meaning that once Bassanio is engaged to Portia, Bassanio is engaged to her inheritance, thus meaning that he is able to 'clear of all the debts owe[d]', and being able to find the 'original shaft' - resulting to Bassanio 'show[ing]' the 'swelling port' that Bassanio is being forced to 'abridg'.

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