Shakespeares Portrayal of Shylock is Stereotypical and Anti-Semitic. Discuss.

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Thomas Aird

Shakespeare’s Portrayal of Shylock is Stereotypical and Anti-Semitic. Discuss

‘The Merchant of Venice’ was written by William Shakespeare in 1598 and was set around the same time in the city of Venice. Shakespeare makes a number of references to the fact that Shylock is a Jew so the reader is clear about his religious status. There is even mention of Shylock on the front page of the original play, “with the extreme cruelty of Shylock the Jew.” This suggests that Shylock being a Jew is a key aspect to the play. Throughout the play Shakespeare exaggerates some of Shylock’s characteristics to reinforce the Jewish aspect of his role. Given the era that the play was written in, it is unlikely that Shakespeare was trying to portray Shylock in an anti-Semitic way.

If Shakespeare was being anti-Semitic then he wouldn’t have included Shylock’s famous speech about the way Jews are treated. “He hath disgraced me, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains…and for what reason? I am a Jew! Hath not a Jew eyes?” This speech that Shylock delivers to Solanio and Salarino shows us how angry Shylock is about the way that Antonio treats him. If Shakespeare was being anti-Semitic then he wouldn’t have put it in because he is trying to show other Christians the way in which they treat Jews is wrong; it is a plea for empathy. Shakespeare cleverly sets out the speech in a specific way to have maximum effect. The speech has lots of rhetorical questions, “if you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” These questions are trying to show that Jews are exactly the same as everyone else. Also, the words “bleed”, “laugh” and “die” are all things that humans experience; Jews are human too. Shakespeare draws Christians in by portraying the villain as a typical Jew but then turns the whole thing around by showing that Shylock is really a victim in all this; it sends out a message that should challenge the Christian’s conscience.

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In the play, Shakespeare stereotypes Shylock as a cruel, greedy money lender. “It will feed my revenge” “I would my daughter were dead” Shakespeare portrays Shylock as the villainous Jew because he knew it would appeal to the anti-Semitism that most Christians held at that time. Because most people back then were Christian, they would have laughed when Shylock is mistreated because it happened all the time, but nowadays people see this play as being offensive and attacking towards Jews. Shakespeare might have made Shylock a laughable character on purpose so that they feel even more challenged by Shylock’s ...

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