And they all lived happily ever after (except Shylock...), to what extent was Shylock's misfortune due to anti-Semitism and to what extent did he bring it upon himself?

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And they All Lived Happily Ever After

(Except Shylock...)

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is a play composed of multiple narratives, the most interesting to me being the fate of Shylock, an unfortunate Jew. An unfortunate Jew was not an uncommon thing in 16th century Venice where the play is set: it was a society ruled by Christians to whom Jews were second class citizens. I think Shylock represents the entire Jewish community; he is a symbol of their suffering. But to what extent was Shylock's misfortune due to anti-Semitism and to what extent did he bring it upon himself? In this essay I will be exploring the balance of these two factors as causes for Shylock's unhappy ending in the play.

As a Jew, Shylock has been subject to much abuse before the play has even begun – a whole

lifetime of abuse in fact. When he first appears Shylock does not delay in conveying this to the audience: “he rails...on me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift”, he spits in an aside. Shylock elaborates on this statement – almost, it seems, with the intent of winning the audience over to his side – when approached by Antonio, the Christian merchant and the very man to whom Shylock was referring and who is looking to borrow 3000 ducats from him. Shylock cites to Antonio the occasions on which he has both verbally and physically insulted/assaulted him, for instance how “he spat on him Wednesday last”, also “called him dog”, “mis-believer” and “foot[ed] him as he spurns a stranger cur over his threshold”. I would argue that, with the understanding that until now Shylock has never retaliated, he is actually a very tolerant man; he has been highly provoked and there is a limit to what every wo/man can put up with. It is no wonder that Shylock is looking for revenge...

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From Shylock's point of view (bearing in mind that he is a very clever man) Antonio coming to him for a favour is an opportunity too good to miss – he see straight away how he can manipulate the

situation to his own advantage. It is clear that Antonio is desperate for Shylock to agree to a loan (in

order to subsidise his friend Bassanio's quest for love); so desperate he would agree to almost any

terms. Shylock, all the time putting on a jovial air of innocence, sets the conditions for the bond: if

Antonio fails to repay ...

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