Essay about The Merchant of Venice

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William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is one of his most controversial plays for a variety of reasons. Written in sixteenth-century England, where anti-Semitism was common and the presence of Jews was not, the play poses many questions concerning racial, religious and human difference. The play is especially tricky to examine in today’s society, as its anti-Semitic themes and language can be uncomfortable to face in a world post-Holocaust. Additionally, the depiction of the relationship between Jews and Christians, which has always been an ambivalent one, adds a very interesting albeit difficult dimension to this play. Ultimately, through dramatic plot and distinctive characters, The Merchant of Venice explores what it means to be …show more content…
One side of Shylock is preoccupied by money and crazed by revenge, while the other represents an old man who eventually loses everything near and dear to him, an outsider who is spit on by his Christian enemies and must put up with being called “misbeliever, cut-throat, [and] dog” (1.3.107).
Unlike other antagonists such as Don John in Much Ado About Nothing or Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Shylock does not explicitly name himself as a villain nor does he relish in his evil behaviour. He does indeed display villainous characteristics; very early on he admits in an aside that he hates Antonio “for he is a Christian” (1.3.37), and his obsession with revenge quickly grows out of control. But what is complicated about Shylock’s “evil” is that it all seems to stem from the malevolence of the Christians. One cannot really blame him about being bitter for the times Antonio kicked him and spit “upon [his] beard” (1.3.113), or that his money lending business is damaged by Antonio’s tendency to lend out “money gratis” (1.3.39). Even though the Christians in the play consider usury an evil practice, it is the only way that Shylock knows how to make a living, and it is understandable that he would be protective of his business. He shows his more tender side in scenes with daughter, especially in 2.4 as he leaves home and tells her to shut the door after her, because something firmly secured will remain safe; “Fast bind, fast find ⎯ / A proverb never stale in thrifty mind”…