The Duke describes Shylock as a ‘Stony adversary, and inhuman wretch.’ Did Shakespeare intend us to hate Shylock?

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        "The Duke describes Shylock as a ‘Stony adversary, and inhuman wretch.’ Did Shakespeare intend us to hate Shylock?"

Although there is strong evidence to suggest that Shakespeare did intend us to hate the character of Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice," there are also moments in the play that gain Shylock a lot of sympathy from the audience. It is difficult for us to understand how Shakespeare intended his audience to perceive Shylock's character. Much of this difficulty is due to the change in beliefs and opinions of Shakespeare's audiences as time has progressed. The extent of anti-Semitism amongst the general public has diminished dramatically since Shakespeare originally wrote the Merchant of Venice.

Anti-Semitism is the prejudice against Jews, often leading to discrimination and persecution. It originated in the times of Jesus. The Jews were blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus. With this fundamental hatred, anti-Semitism grew as people used the Jews as scapegoats throughout history. By Shakespearean times, Jews were becoming very successful businessmen.  For this fact, and the prejudice of the early Christians, Shakespearean Christians held a great anti-Semitic belief.

However, as centuries have passed, opinions have changed. Anti-Semitism today has decreased greatly. Much of this is due to the persecution of the Jews by Hitler during the Second World War. Hitler's actions have made the world much less anti-Semitic and more sympathetic towards the Jewish race. Even despite Hitler's actions, the world, on a whole, has a much greater understanding of what is morally right.

From the moment we meet Shylock, we see that he is very against the Christian faith.

“...To eat the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into...”

Here, Shylock is referring to Jesus and scorning Christianity. This would have caused much upset in Shakespeare's audience. Immediately, they would not have liked Shylock, as many were Christian and very anti-Semitic.

The first insight we get of Shylock's character portrays him to be very mysterious and not very approachable. He is making Bassanio wait to know whether he can borrow 3000 ducats. Shylock teases him and delays in giving him his answer.

“Shylock: Three thousand ducats, well.

Bassanio: Ay, sir, for three months.

Shylock: For three months, well.”

From the start, the audience is made to feel uneasy by Shylock's character, not really knowing what to make of him.

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        Shylock continues in the scene, to make hateful comments towards Antonio and Christianity.

        “But yet I'll go in hate, to feed upon the Prodigal Christian.”

The audience of Shakespearean times would have been deeply offended by this and their hate of Shylock would grow as he continued to insult the Christians. However, audiences today would be much less affected by his anti-Christian comments.

        Shylock goes on to state, in this first scene, the terms of the bond. These terms are very bloodthirsty and seem to the audience to be very unreasonable.

“ equal pound

Of your fair flesh, to ...

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