How does the modern audience responds to Shakespeare 'The Merchant of Venice?'

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Balawal Rehman                                                           4/10/04

English/English Literature coursework

How does the modern audience responds to Shakespeare ‘The Merchant of Venice?’

   The modern audience respond in a very negative way. Some of the things which make them respond in this way are the racism and the not so funny jokes.

    The open racism is a very sensitive subject due to what happened in world war two and the modern audience is not very appreciative of it. When Antonio talks to Shylock about borrowing money he is not kind and polite but is rude and very anti-Semitic towards Shylock. You can tell that Antonio and Shylock hate each other by looking at act 1, scene 3, line 39 where Shylock says ‘I hate him for he is Christian ‘. Lower down on the page he also says ‘He hates our sacred nation, and he rails even there where merchants most do congregate, on me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift, which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe if I forgive him’. This tells you that Antonio and Shylock have hated each other for a long time and they also dislike each other because of their religions.

    This argument continues and Shylock starts to use sayings from the Old Testament. The story of Jacob grazing his uncle’s lambs is Shylock’s excuse for charging interest. Antonio says in Act 1, Scene 3, line 55, ‘The devil can cite scripture for his own purpose’. This means that even the devil can use sacred writing for his own needs. By saying this Antonio is calling Shylock a devil. At the start of line 103 Shylock reminds Antonio of his past abuse towards him. For example in line 108 Shylock says ‘you call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine’. This is more proof that Antonio is really anti-Semitic and this would seem quite abusive to the modern audience, especially Jews.

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     Another aspect of the racism is the way Portia speaks of the Prince of Morocco, ‘if he have the condition of saint, and the complexion of the devil, I rather he should shrive me than wive me’. This means that Portia does not care if he is as kind and well-behaved as a saint if he is black, she would never want to marry him. Once having read this it comes to mind that Portia is a bit snobby and is quite racist, which at that time was apparently acceptable, as she is obviously meant to be a ...

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