The Character of Shylock in a Merchant of Venice.

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The Character of Shylock in a Merchant of Venice.

William Shakespeare wrote the play 'The Merchant of Venice' in the 16th Century. It was written at that time as a comedy for audiences of that time to enjoy. Shakespeare makes it obvious that the treatment of Jews in England was very harsh and the population was very anti-Semitic and viewed Christians as being superior to other races. The play of The Merchant of Venice is set in Venice because Jewish people were allowed to live in the city's outskirts, whereas Jews were not allowed to live in England at all.

A 16th century audience would not only have tolerated the racism shown in the play towards Jews, but would have supported it and found it comical when a racist remark was made. A modern audience of the late 20th and 21st century would find it shocking to have such racism included in the play because of political correctness and also because of the Holocaust, which opened people's eyes to how far racism can go; far enough to want to rid a country of, or exterminate, an entire race.

In Act 1, Scene 3 we get our first impression of Shylock, a rich Jewish man who lends money to people with interest. Shakespeare introduces Shylock as a man of business but also a very proud man, who shows his distaste for Christians with his devious attitude, using chapters and stories from the Old Testament to show that Christians are lowly compared to Jews, but this turns the Christians against him and Antonio says 'the devil can cite scripture for his purpose,' saying that he is twisting God's words so that the Jews look better than them. However, this makes the modern day audience dislike Antonio, because he is asking Shylock for money and he is insulting him about his religion and calling him a 'Devil.' Shylock is shown as being racist towards Christians as he says 'I hate him, for he is a Christian,' which would have evoked the Christian audience of the 16th century to feel hatred towards him. Shylock is also shown as being greedy, when he criticizes a Christian for the fact that 'he [Antonio] lends out money gratis, and brings out the rate of usance here with us in Venice.' Shakespeare's imagery of displaying Shylock as the stereotypically 'greedy Jew' would also have caused the 16th century audience to favour against him because he is saying that Christians give out money free of interest as well as blaming them for potentially ruining his business, while at the same time conforming to the true

There is also pity for him, in the 21st century audience's case, because Shylock is treated with no respect. Antonio and Bassanio talk to each other as if Shylock is not there – 'Is he yet possess'd?' which shows that Antonio does not think that he is worthy to talk to, despite the fact that he is asking for his money. He is also treated with disgust and is called 'The Devil' on more than one occasion. He recalls how Antonio 'spat on him last Wednesday and spurned [kicked] me such a day; another day you call'd me dog.' This would make a modern audience feel sympathy for him because he is telling the audience, indirectly, that he has put up with and has been affected by their abuse, which was quite recent, yet they want him to lend them a substantial amount of money. Shylock is also shown to be a little malicious and bloodthirsty when he asks for a pound of flesh from Antonio to seal his bond. He disguises his maliciousness behind a false sense of jollity and playfulness; making it out to be nothing more than a silly joke, he says "your single bond; and, in a merry sport." What the 16th century audience see is an evil Jew getting his own back on the Christians, which would have been seen as an attack on their religion. The 21st century audience loses all sense of pity for him as they see him showing his real colours.

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In Act 2, Scene 3 we get a glimpse of how Jessica feels about Shylock. She calls the house that she lives in with her father 'Hell' and says that it is 'Tedious.' It would have caused the audience in the 16th century would feel more of a sense of acceptance towards Jessica because she is negative about Shylock. Launcelot, a Christian servant, has a positive attitude towards her even though she is Jewish. He calls her a 'most beautiful pagan' and 'most sweet Jew,' which would have caused the 16th century audience to see her as being different ...

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