Saturday 06th November
Name: Sufyan Mussood
Since the time of Shakespeare, The play “Merchant of Venice” has had a dramatic effect on the modern audience today. In the 16th century, Jews were completely disliked, & Jews were not allowed to live in England unless they had converted to Christianity.
Jews who practised their own religion were banned from England. To modern audiences, this is “Anti-Semitic”, so this play completely shows the worse part of Christians, from beginning to end. It changes the fact that Jews had the same rights as Christians did, also today’s world doesn’t care about the race of a person, everyone has the same right.
Some of the audiences in the 16th century, believed that Jews were at a lower stage than them, and they only believed this because the Jews were a different (“different” referred to as “wrong “for Christians who lived in the 16th century), religion they believed they were not people, like them.
The play Merchant of Venice shows the evil side of the Jews. The character’s name is “Shylock”. He is the character of evil doing; he is also the character that Shakespeare chose to represent a Jewish character. As a Jew, he represents the race as being wicked, evil etc.
Then there is the innocent and rich “Antonio” (Merchant), who is a Christian, and is a complete Anti-Semitec. Antonio’s character is wrong, he hates Jews, he loves being regarded as rich, and would do anything to make Shylock’s life a misery. Antonio hates Jews; this is proved in Act 1 Scene 3 where Antonio says, “The Hebrew will turn Christian, he grows kind”, this is blatant racism shown against the Jews. The story progresses, a new character is introduced, Portia. Portia play’s a major role in trying to persuade Shylock to be merciful to Antonio, as the story continues. Basannio, the loyal friend of Antonio also tries to persuade Shylock to show some sympathy towards Antonio, but is not shown. Portia and Bassanio are the “Romeo & Julliet” of the play.
This is a preview of the whole essay
In Act 1, Scene 3, Shylock talks about how Antonio mocked him, spat at him and made a fool of him. Antonio hearing this turns reluctant to ask Shylock for money, but as he knows he can’t do anything else, he tells the truth and says in Act 1 Scene 3 “I am like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again.” This shows how much hatred Antonio has for Shylock. It also shows how much Antonio cares for the money, it shows that he rather hate him more, than take his money. This scene made Shakespeare’s audience laugh; the reason why this scene made Shakespeare’s audience laugh is because Antonio never showed any sympathy towards Shylock. Modern audiences can’t completely sympathise with Antonio in this scene, but Shakespeare’s audience could only because of Antonio being a Christian. Shakespeare’s audience knew that Antonio was showing the characteristics of a racist, but they also knew because of the time it was written, that he would turn out to become a good person.
Christian audiences today are disturbed a lot with “Usury”, Christians now are disturbed with the fact, that they couldn’t be money lenders, but if they actually give it a thought, what would Jews be allowed to do as a job. Christians were given any job, but money lending, why? Only because of the sole purpose that was the only job Jews were allowed to do.
Portia and Bassanio play a major part in the courtroom scene. Portia out of all the characters is a beautiful and rich lady, but also turns out to be racist. Portia’s father decreed that she must marry the man who picks the right casket. This makes the audience feel sympathy for her because she does not have any right to choose who she loves, but when she realises the Prince of Morocco has come to take her hand in marriage, her racism increases. This is proven in Act 1 Scene 2 when Portia says “If he have the condition of a saint, and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me.” This scene expresses Portia’s true feeling for other races. This scene impressed 17th century audience, with the racism shown. If this play was updated, like the 17th century audiences accepting the stereotype, modern audiences also have acceptable stereotypes, if instead of a Jew, Shylock was an American, and modern audiences saw it today, they would still feel the same way as the late 17th century audiences, they would laugh. To modern audiences this would be an acceptable stereotype, which was the same case with the 17th century audiences, they also accepted it.
The three caskets have many fairytale elements to it. For example. Portia is a beautiful princess under a spell (the conditions laid down in her fathers will). Also the number three is a very major/frequent fairytale element, for example. “The three bears” story & “The three bags full” in the nursery rhyme “Bah Bah Black Sheep.” When Portia orders the music of a swan song for Bassanio, this is also a fairytale element, because it is an ancient belief that a swan would sing just before its death, this implies that if Bassanio chooses the wrong casket, he will lose all he wants. Modern audiences knew who would get the casket because of this fairytale element, this is because the modern audience knew that three was a special number, but now it has changed.
There were a lot of barriers in the 16th century. There was a law that women were not allowed to act on stage, so this meant that women characters were played by men. In Shakespeare’s time people were very sexist, but this also meant that the staging was very unrealistic. This is proven in Act 4 Scene 1, when the audience can realise Portia dressed up as a lawyer, but Bassanio (Portia’s husband at this moment of the story) can’t recognise its Portia.
Overall when the Merchant of Venice was released to the audience of the late 16th century, it was made out to be a very funny comedy, but from some modern audience’s view, it isn’t that funny. One of the comic relief that 16th century audiences & modern audiences found funny is in; Act 5 Scene 1 where Gratiano says “Let me not take him, for if I do I’ll marr the young clerk’s pen.” Shakespeare’s audience loved this, and so do modern audiences, just not as much as Shakespeare’s audience, mostly because of the language difference. Even though reading the book is funny, but because of the language difference, the modern audience prefer watching the play.
Antonio wishes to ruin Shylock’s life, and make Shylock’s life a disaster, when the audience just starts to feel a bit of sympathy for Shylock, Shakespeare reveals Shylock’s evil, and shows the audience that Shylocks evil is worse than that of Antonio. When the bond of agreement between Antonio and Shylock is broken, the matter then is settled in court. This is where Shakespeare let Shylock express his anger for Antonio, and lets everyone see it. When in the courtroom scene, the Duke expects Shylock to be merciful, but Shylock replies that he has sworn to do what it says in the bond, and purely because he hates Antonio. This is proved in Act 4 Scene 1 where Shylock says “More than a lodged hate and certain loathing.”
When all looks lost for the Merchant, Portia (The Christian Heroine) comes to save the day. Portia studying the bond deeply, also agrees with Shylock that he deserves to get his vengeance, but he realises he can’t because it does not state that he may kill, or drop blood of Antonio’s. Shakespeare’s audience here were happy to see Shylock being tortured by his own writing, he made the bond, and has ruined his life by doing what he had sworn to do. Modern Audience are affected a lot in this scene. Because Shakespeare completely reverses the scene, he lets the torture go upon Shylock, and for a happy ending, he decides that Shylock must convert to Christianity.
Modern Audiences look at this play and are shocked, with the amount of racism shown, and how people were forced to do things they did not want to do. Everyone now in our society has a free right to speech, and are not forced to do anything, but Audiences in Shakespeare’s time did not believe that Jews had rights, only because of their beliefs.
Although Shakespeare’s plays are still funny now, it still disturbs modern audiences mainly because of the racism shown.