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Shylock In The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare

1619 words - 6 pages

Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Shylock is certainly an interesting character made even more
intriguing by Shakespeare's portrayal of him. Much before the
twentieth century, anti-Semitism was rife and The Merchant of Venice
is a curious tale, as we are able to see how Jews were viewed in the
late 1500s - especially as Shakespeare's depiction was at odds with
the accepted anti-Jewish prejudiced views in that he considers both
sides of the argument. This play is an insight into the general
opinions of Jews, the daily hostility facing them Shakespeare's time
and helps us understand why the hatred facing them through the ages
came about.

When Shylock is first encountered in Act I, scene iii, he strikes the
reader as contemplative and very shrewd businessman. He takes his time
over deliberative answers and never overcommits - by saying, "...well"
(I, iii, ll. 1, 3, 5) at the end of each sentence, Shylock allows
himself time to think and weigh up the information he is just
received. Everything he does is precisely relevant and he conducts
fast, efficient business that is not at all convoluted with exactly
measured short utterances. He is canny and avoids Bassanio's direct
questions with ambiguity. Shylock is always in full control of the
conversation and seems to be aware of everything that is going on in
Venice from a myriad of contacts "upon the Rialto" (I, iii, ll. 15-6).
Shylock does not appear to bear any strong grudges against the
Christians despite the fact that Antonio has previously "spat on
[him]" (I, iii, l. 119), "spurned [him]" (I, iii, l. 120) and "called
[him] dog" (I, iii, l. 121). Instead, he treats him without any
contempt and even hints of respect - Shylock focuses on the business
dealings, and ignores any malice he may feel when there is money to be
made. Shylock may not like the people he is dealing with, but he
adores the rewards of dealing with them.

However, our opinion of Shylock drastically changes when Antonio
enters. Before, he seemed like an unfairly persecuted Jew, hated only
because of his race and usury. But, once the merchant arrives, Shylock
states, "I hate him for he is a Christian," (I, iii, l. 35) and then
rattles off a plethora of reasons why he dislikes him so. What strikes
the reader is that, coming from someone often facing prejudice,
Antonio is hated not for personal reasons or particular wrongs, but
because of his profession and religion. Though, Shylock can be
sympathised with a little later when confronted with Antonio's
flagrant superciliousness and unfounded moral superiority. Shylock
displays a deep-rooted enmity for Antonio because they have been
long-standing enemies, while he is more civil and forthcoming toward
Bassanio. However, his hostile and...

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