• 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

    even Shylock himself confesses that 'a pound of man's flesh taken from man is not so estimable, profitable neither as flesh of mutton, beefs, or goats,' but he seals the bond for his own vendetta against Antonio. Through this Shakespeare shows us Shylock's vengeful side, showing us that he is only doing this because he can.

  2. 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.

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

    The fact that Portia is referred to as some sort of 'worth', could indicate that Bassanio thinks of her as some superficial prize or consolation to be won. As well as this, Bassanio describes Portia as like a 'golden fleece'.

  2. English - Merchant of Vencice

    Shylock may at this point be thought of as a victim in the content of his speech. He talks about the horrid things that have happened to him. All these terrible things make the audience think he is a victim, this is backed up with his style of speech; he

  1. Anti-Jewish or Anti Semitic or Neither - The Merchant of Venice

    (emphasis added). William Hazlitt agrees by writing, "Shylock is a good hater; 'a man no less sinned against than sinning.' [...] with the proud spirit hid beneath his "Jewish gaberdine" by one lawful act of 'lawful' revenge [...]" (Hazlitt 195)

  2. Discuss the Ways Your Feelings for Shylock Develop Throughout the Play. What is Your ...

    Antonio is confident that he will receive the bonds worth "within two months" at the value of "thrice three times the value" of the bond. Antonio's money is invested in ships that import goods from foreign countries. The Shakespearean audience at this point would be oblivious to the catastrophe that

  1. Many theatrical producers are uncomfortable about staging "The Merchant of Venice", because of suggestions ...

    These descriptions, which Shakespeare makes of Shylock, portray him in a very bad light and this is just how Jews were thought of at the time. An example of the way Shylock is portrayed as selfish and greedy is when he is making the bond with Antonio.

  2. The Merchant of Venice.

    But so rooted was our habitual impression of the part from seeing it caricatured in the representation, that it was only from a careful perusal of the play itself that we saw our error. The stage is not in general the best place to study our author's characters in.

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