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Characterizing Shylock In William Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice

2907 words - 12 pages

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 uncomfortable. ‘Certainly the Jew is
the very devil incarnation.’ This is generally how the Jewish race was
stereotyped at the time, and throughout the ‘Merchant of Venice,’ they
are continually conveyed as such.

Shylock is a Jewish money lender who is hated for his greed and his
religion. In the late 16th century, Christianity was the main religion
in Europe and as a result a very powerful force. Therefore many people
feared the Jews and did all they could to convert them to
Christianity. Hence, for that reason Judaism was extremely important
to Shylock and the rest of the Jewish nation. At the time of
Shakespeare there was also a certain duty that a daughter owed her
father, she had to honour his wishes and marry whomever he decided was
suitable. ‘I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike,
so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead
father.’ This quotation comes from Portia, a rich heiress, who still
has to abide by her dead father’s rules. This contrasts greatly with
Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, who goes against his wishes and elopes
with a Christian man. 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...

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