Characterizing Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

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Characterizing Shylock in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

The ‘Merchant of Venice’ was written at a time when there was great prejudice towards the Jewish race. They were known for their intelligence, hard work and business acumen, which later led them to be mistreated and resented. They were made to wear distinctive clothing in order to be identified, and citizens of Venice could treat Jews in any way they wished. The Christian church also taught that Jews should be despised for their rejection of Jesus and that money lending was morally wrong. The Jewish people were also not allowed to work in the government, military or guilds. This meant that their lifestyles were restricted and
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This applied even more so to the Jews as Judaism was passed on through the mother and so in converting to Christianity, Jessica will be denying Shylock of a Jewish heir.

In the course of analysing the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ a key factor to remember is that attitudes towards Shylock have changed over time. In modern day society, he could be perceived as a victim, as he is a product of his environment. These days our society is far more accepting, whereas in the 16th century, Shylock may have been perceived as a villain, in opposition to the calm and rational persona of Antonio.

Throughout the play Shylock is continually persecuted for his religion and beliefs. Although the Christians depend on him for money loans, they are un-necessarily aggressive in his presence and have no restraints when it comes to verbally abusing him. ‘To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.’ This depicts Shylock as a victim of his society and continually plays on the sympathy of the audience. Shakespeare also illustrates the suffering that the Jewish race was exposed to and the stereotypical views that were cast upon them. ‘The Hebrew will turn Christian, he grows kind.’ In the 16th century Christianity was seen as the superior religion and Shakespeare is portraying the way in which the Christians saw themselves. They believed that Jews were

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