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.
Today the majority of the people who watch or read the play will be
less prejudiced towards Jews. I feel that Shakespeare wanted his
audience to feel dislike for Shylock from the beginning of the play
because he wanted the audience to support Antonio and also lull the
audience under a false sense of security.
When Shylock says, "I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you,
walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink
with you, nor pray with you" you understand how passionately Shylock
feels about his religion or he was just trying to aggravate Bassino.
This speech came after Bassino asked Shylock to dinner; Shylock was
obviously sensitively annoyed by Bassino's gesture.
As you read further on in Act 1 Scene 3 you start to feel some mild
sympathy for this man. I also feel a 21st Century audience would feel
sympathy for Shylock as he describes how Bassino calls him a
"misbeliever" and how Bassino spat upon Shylocks "Jewish gaberdine".
If someone did that in the 21st century they would be in serious
trouble for racial abuse. During Shakespeare's time it would be seen
as common practice to spit on people of the Jewish religion. Maybe at
this point in the play Shylock would still have had no sympathy from
the audience of the15th Century, Bassino would be earning greater
respect because of the way he despises Jews.
Shylock then later presents his proposition, he offers Antonio the
3000 ducats that Antonio has specified he would like to borrow. On the
condition that Antonio pays him back the money within "three months"
but if Antonio fails to reach the deadline then Shylock "Be nominated,
for an equal pound" of Antonio's "fair flesh". Antonio is confident
that he will receive the bonds worth "within two months" at the value
of "thrice three times the value" of the bond. Antonio's money is
invested in ships that import goods from foreign countries. The
Shakespearean audience at this point would be oblivious to the
catastrophe that is about to encounter Antonio because he has three
ships out a sea and they are expected to return. The audience would be
confident that nothing unpleasant could happen to Antonio as he is a