• 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. 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 ...

    Shylock then later presents his proposition, he offers Antonio the 3000 ducats that Antonio has specified he would like to borrow. On the condition that Antonio pays him back the money within "three months" but if Antonio fails to reach the deadline then Shylock "Be nominated, for an equal pound" of Antonio's "fair flesh".

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

    We can sense the rivalry between the two characters, and can tell that neither likes the other. Shylock seems to enjoy the fact that he has power over Antonio in the way that he has come to borrow money from him and he takes his time in deciding whether or not he should agree to the bond.

  2. to what extent can the Merchant of Venice be seen as a fairytale

    After Jessica has eloped with Lorenzo Shakespeare shows him to be selfish and callous as he says nothing about him loosing Jessica but is only concerned about the bond 'let him look to his bond' he says repeatedly, which is a key feature in all fairytales.

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

    "I'll have my bond; I will not hear thee speak; I'll have my bond, and therefore speak no more." Shylock is a fiend armed with scales and knife and his bloodthirsty campaign against Antonio is morally indefensible. Then again, we should also consider the situation Shylock is living in.

  2. English - Merchant of Vencice

    It is clear that Shylock is in great fury over Jessica's actions. Solanio and Salarnio expect this speech given by Shylock and mock the moneylender. They say that Shylock is wrong to call Jessica his "flesh and blood" as she is as "ivory is to jet, or Rhenish wine is to red wine" compared to Shylock.

  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 ...

    However, some people might argue, that this could just be a simple plea for help on the part of Bassanio - as whatever way we the audience interpret this, Bassanio ultimately is hinting to the fact that he needs Antonio's money to make Portia his wife, as the second 'shaft'

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