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What Does Shakespeare Want His Audience To Think About the Character of Shylock?

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Shakespeare Assignment - "The Merchant of Venice" Essay Title:- What Does Shakespeare Want His Audience To Think About the Character of Shylock? The play "The Merchant of Venice" was written by William Shakespeare some time between the late summer of 1596 and 1598. The play possesses several themes, firstly that of 'love versus greed'. The play is a demonstration of the triumph of love and friendship over greed. Secondly, 'mercy versus justice and the law'. This refers to the courtroom scene where Shylock is pleaded with to alter his adverse decision regarding Antonio and the pound of flesh even though law states he is fully entitled to justice. The third theme is of 'race and racial prejudice'. Even today, four centuries after the play was written, arguments still rage over the controversial anti-Semitic text that many fell should not be taught in schools. There are also accusations that the play is an attack on prejudice. To fully understand the play and the controversy surrounding it, we must research into anti-Semitism in it's historical context:- Anti-Semitic views have existed for centuries. An early act of anti-Semitism occurred in England in the 13th century when Jews were accused on many trumped up charges of killing children. Massacres of Jews occurred and eventually, in 1290, the entire Jewish community was expelled from England and were not allowed to return until the mid-seventeenth century. Therefore in Shakespeare's time (16th century), England was a 'Jew-free' country. This was mirrored in some European countries, and in some cities (including Venice) Jews lived in ghettos, separate walled parts of the city which were locked at night. With this common prejudice and ignorance, Shakespeare's occasional portrayal of Shylock as a stereotypical Jew (cruel, greedy etc) is perhaps understandable. During Shakespeare's time, the play was considered, by many, nothing more than a comedy. This shows vividly what the attitudes of Christians towards Jews were then. Also during this time, Christians could not, by law, lend money out at interest, however Jews could. ...read more.


as a victim, probably more so, but if they deem Solanio's interpretation true, they will start to view Shylock less as a victim and more as a villain. Shakespeare probably 'toys' with the audience like this on purpose so that they are intrigued, and want to find out which side of Shylock will show through later in the play. This refers to the 'love versus greed' theme, which does he care about more his daughter or his ducats? Act three scene one is a key scene involving Shylock. The deadline for the bond repayment is fast approaching and the likelihood is that Antonio's ships will be lost. The scene opens with Solanio and Salerio discussing the bad fortunes of Antonio's ships at sea, and then Shylock enters the scene. His first comments suggest that he is genuinely concerned about his daughter, and especially that her "flight" seems to be a source of entertainment for Solanio and Salerio, who draw a distinction between Shylock and his daughter, by comparing his blood to rhenish, a white wine:- Shylock:- "I say my daughter is my flesh and blood." Salerio:- "There is more difference between thy flesh and hers, than between jet and ivory; more between your bloods, than there is between red wine and rhenish." At this, a very early stage of the scene, the audience will begin to think that Solanio's interpretation of Shylock's reaction to Jessica's elopement with Lorenzo was false, and indeed, will agree that Shylock values his daughter above his wealth. After Solanio and Salerio tease Shylock, they inform him that one of Antonio's ships has sunk. For Shylock, this adds insult to injury, his daughter has eloped with a Christian, become a Christian herself, stolen much of his valuables and now Antonio will be unable to pay back the loan. This annoys Shylock:- "There I have another bad match, a bankrupt...." "He was wont to lend money for a Christian courtesy, let him look to his bond." ...read more.


However, Portia deals Shylock another blow. She announces that he cannot have his money either, by law, as he rejected it openly in the court:- "He hath refused it in the open court. He shall have merely justice and his bond." For the audience, this will fuel their amusement at Shylock's misfortune. Shakespeare will want them to feel that Shylock deserves the rejection of the money, again for his evil actions earlier in the play. The audience are now satisfied, but the Christians in the court are not. Portia tells Shylock:- "Tarry Jew, The law hath yet another hold on you. ....If it be proved against an alien That by direct, or indirect attempts He seek the life of any citizen, The party 'gainst the which he doth contrive Shall seize one half of his goods,...." Portia tells Shylock, whom she calls an alien, that if he has attempted to kill a citizen (Antonio), the victim is entitled to half of his belongings. Finally, Antonio is asked if he can give Shylock any mercy. He says that he wants the fine of half of Shylock's goods cancelled, it appears Antonio is showing Shylock mercy, and that Shakespeare could perhaps be demonstrating that Christians have qualities that Jews do not (mercy), but he then demands something else of Shylock:- "He presently become a Christian." For the first time in the scene, and at the end of Shylock's presence, Shakespeare wants the audience to feel sorry for Shylock. He has been forced to change his religion. Back in Elizabethan times religion was very strong, it was the absolute truth, and to ask someone to change their beliefs was horrific. For Shylock it may as well have been the death penalty. In a grossly unfair trial, with a fake doctor of law, and everyone else on Antonio's side anyway, Shylock, in the end, comes across as a victim of racial prejudice, and this is what Shakespeare wanted to demonstrate. ...read more.

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