Over four hundred years after The Merchant of Venice was first written, the debate rages on about Shakespeare s intentions regarding the character of Shylock, whether the play is anti-Semitic or a criticism of the Christian anti-Semitism of Shakespeare s time, and even whether the play should be taught in schools.
Anti-Semitism, often called ￼ the longest hatred, ￼ is both an age-old problem and a current challenge. For centuries Jews have been accused of treacherous acts, including the murder of Jesus, poisoning wells, the ritual murder of Christian children, the Bubonic plague and controlling the media and the banks. Many of these falsities have roots in historical circumstances, and longstanding fear and misunderstanding. Tragically, these lies continue to be launched against Jews. Recently, Jews have been blamed for everything from the attacks on September 11 and the Iraq War to the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia. The continual demonizing and scapegoating of the Jew as ￼ other ￼ highlights the need to analyze and discuss the depiction of Jews in literature. Without an examination of both historic and contemporary anti-Semitism, students may be left with stereotypical and negative conceptions of Jews and Judaism.
￼Certainly one of the most characteristic and troubling aspects of The Merchant of Venice is that the depiction of Shylock reinforces the stereotype of Jews as money- hungry and greedy. This stereotype has been around for centuries, and continues to be
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Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ starts off in Venice with Shylock as a simple money lender. His intentions seem reasonable to begin with, he sounds a nice man then he does a soliloquy saying how much hatred he has for Antonio, the Christian who treated him disrespectfully. Shylock conflicts his emotions again and speaks to Antonio in a joking manner which in his mind turns out to be the truth.
In a world full of beauty of countless varieties we allow ourselves to succumb to fear and hate. We hate that which we don’t know, and we hate those who don’t share the same belief. Ultimately our hatred destroys the beauty and only leaves us with more hatred. In Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice, Shylock is a devout jew who lives in Italy during a time of jewish persecution. Shylock is a successful money lender who is constantly harassed by the citizens of Venice because of his faith. Over the years of constant abuse the hatred and abuse causes shylock to develop a hatred for his christian tormentors and after a series of events a desire for retribution for their misdeeds.
Discrimination is a resounding theme in The Merchant of Venice (Meyers). All of the characters are affected by inequality. This inequity is evidenced clearly in Shylock, the Jewish usurer. He is treated with scorn and derision by all the characters. Shylock’s misfortunes stem not from poor attributes or even a poor background; it stems from the fact he is Jewish, and what is more, he is impenitent of that distinction. If he had been more daunted by Christian influence, he might have been forgiven, as Jessica is subjectively exonerated. He is not contrite and it is believed that his appalling birth cannot be absolved (Bonnell).
“Jews have been depicted in English and American literature largely in negative terms. Foster and Epstein state: From ‘Shylock’ to ‘shyster,’ words and images have been used and invented to depict Jews as canny, crafty, usurious, power-mad, conspiratorial, stubborn, greedy,” (315). In other words, the Jews were depicted as malicious and inferior to the Christians. Shakespeare illustrates Shylock as an evil canny villain. “This unwonted and saeva indignatio of Shakespeare is usually attributed to an Anti-Semitism inherited from the Middle Ages and kept alive by the illegal presence of Jews in London” (37). For instance, Antonio insults and abuses Shylock comparing him to an animal. “You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog, and spet upon my Jewish gabardine” (The merchant of Venice act 1 scene 3 109-110) Consequently, Shylock points out Antonio’s racist behavior and Antonio replies “I am as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee again, to spurn thee too. “(the merchant of Venice act 1 scene 3 128-129).It is important to realize that Shylock by pursuing his” pound of flesh” attempts to understate Antonio’s human nature as well, by comparing him to an animal whose body can be sold or
Throughout the play, Shylock, and by extension, all Jews, are presented as money hungry, conniving and cruel. Shylock “the Jew” as called by everyone( Christians) in the play is compared to that of a dog or even a demon in some instances. This characterisation dehumanises and depersonalised shylock and reduces him from a person to a category Reflecting on shakespeare's play 400 years later, this anti - Semitic theme of Christians against the Jews is still quite common. Anti - Semitism is both an age old problem and a current challenge. For centuries Jews have been accused of treacherous acts including the murder of Jesus and the ritual murder of Christian children. Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, not only comments on the anti
Shakespeare and Marlowe were both influenced by the anti-Semitic ideas of the society they lived in. Hence, Shylock from the Merchant of Venice and Barabas from the Jew of Malta is portrayed as a typical Jew, which was stereotyped in the Elizabethan times. In both plays, a victimized Jew tries to seek revenge against a Christian, but then eventually fails on the threshold of triumph.
Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is a comedy filled with unrealistic humour and intentions which still shows different values seen in today’s society. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses characterization within Shylock, Antonio, and Portia to reveal and further develop their real value of prejudice which is seen in a different viewpoint in today’s society than how it was seen in Shakespeare’s time. Firstly, Shakespeare explores the value of prejudice within Shylock; in the play, Shylock is subjected to prejudice due to the fact that he is a Jew. Furthermore, Portia also possesses the value of prejudice, this is especially shown when her suitors arrive. Lastly, Antonio displays prejudice, specifically towards Shylock, as he believes that only Christians are good.
Nowadays, many people consider the play “The Merchant of Venice” is one of the most problematic dramas written by Shakespeare because it promotes the prejudice against Jews or the ideology of anti-Semitism. In fact, the play depicts the villain as a devil, a usurer and a Jew who attempts to murder the good and godlike Christians for they have performed good will and mercy toward other people and ruined the Jew’s business. Whether it is his intention or not, Shakespeare chooses to create the image of a greedy, manipulative and full of hatred Shylock as a symbolic description for all the Jews, who could rarely be found in England at the time. Because of this, there exist many debates whether Shakespeare is an anti-Semite or not. According to
Anti-semitic is defined as having hostility or prejudice against Jews. The Merchant of Venice exhibits both of these themes. The Merchant of Venice, a play written by William Shakespeare in 1596 follows Antonio, a Christian merchant, and Shylock a Jewish banker. Their journey starts when Shylock and Antonio make a deal. Shylock loans Antonio three thousand ducats, in return, Antonio needs to pay Shylock back in three months or Shylock gets to cut off a pound of flesh from Antonio's body. Throughout this play, Jewish people are stereotyped as wanting to kill Christians and are treated very poorly because of their religious beliefs.
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The play The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is anti-semetic because anti semetic thoughts and actions are incorporated in a majority of his charcters. The actions of these Christian charcters go against Shylock, and other Jews presented in the play; as a result, establishing a clear seperation between the two ethnic groups. The constant hatred and mistreatment towards Shylock only enhances the division since it develops the idea that Christianity is the superior religion. Although there are many instances in which Shakespeare creates sympathy for Shylock rather hate, Shakespeare 's portrayal of him is what highlights the anti-semitism in the play.
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Development of Reader's Feeling for Shylock Throughout William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Shylock's first entrance into the Merchant of Venice leaves you with no definite feelings for him. He does not immediately stand out as an enthralling character although neither does he strike you as a selfish person driven by money. Although at this point in the play I believe an audience in Shakespeare's time would have been forced to show dislike towards Shylock just because Shylock is a Jew. In Shakespeare's time Jews were seen as outcasts because the large majority of Britain's population in 15th century were Christians.
The holocaust claimed the lives of 6 million Jews and the cultural shock of this genocide has echoed throughout the modern world to this day. Thus, post-holocaust readers will forever be sensitive to acts of racism present in literature, particularly anti-Semitism. The play The Merchant of Venice (1605) by William Shakespeare is a tragedy to the modern reader due its exploration of prejudice towards Jewish people. The play is set in Venice and begins with young Bassanio needing 3000 ducats to court a wealthy heiress named Portia. Bassanio goes to his good friend Antonio who provides Bassanio with the funds through borrowing a short-term loan from a Jewish money lender, Shylock. Shylock dislikes Antonio due to his anti-Semitic views and thus declares that if the money is not replayed within three months he will extract a ‘pound of flesh’ from Antonio. The play concludes with Shylock attempting to claim his bond but through Portia’s deception ends up losing all of his wealth and property, with the play ending in marriage between Bassanio and Portia. The Merchant of Venice can be seen as tragedy because it exhibits the key qualities of the genre including; Shylock fulfilling the archetypal role of the tragic hero, characters possessing fatal flaws and making fatal choices that lead to their downfall and lastly the presence of key themes such as isolation that questions the morality of society.