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The Merchant Of Venice By William Shakespeare

1581 words - 6 pages

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The character Shylock was a stereotypical Jew of his time, and as Jews
were generally unpopular, the audience would have been automatically
prejudiced against him. In Shakespeare's time, Jews were not treated
well at all. This was because they were a minority group, as they had
been previously banned from the country by Edward I unless they were
willing to become a Christian. But, in large European cities, like
Venice there was a large Jewish population. As these cities relied on
trade, the authorities encouraged Jews to become moneylenders. This
was because the Christian law, which forbade money lending for profit,
did not apply to them. Moneylenders were not popular, because up until
1571 it had been illegal to receive interest on lent money, and even
after that, although legal (it became vital for trade), it was
considered a sin. Many moneylenders charged high rates of interest,
even though the legal rate was 10 percent, as people were willing to
pay more, and some became very rich. Before Shakespeare wrote The
Merchant of Venice, his friend, the playwright Marlowe wrote a play
about a Jew, which became very successful. This may have influenced
Shakespeare to write a play on a similar theme. Also, in 1594 the
Jewish doctor, Roderico Lopez, supposedly tried to kill Queen
Elizabeth. Even though he was probably innocent, he was charged guilty
and was executed. Because this case was much talked about, the dislike
of Jews was a present issue and the audience would have been able to
relate to the play and understand how the Christian characters in the
play would treat Shylock.

One of the main themes of the play is hatred and revenge. Because of
their religious beliefs, Shylock and the Christians hate each other
and during the play both groups seek revenge on one another. But, only
the Christians succeed, as they were at an advantage because Shylock
was the only Jew and they were able to find a loophole in the law,
which was in favour of the Christians.

When Shylock seeks revenge on Antonio, it is based on hatred;

"… a lodged hate and certain loathing

I bear Antonio,". He has many reasons to dislike Antonio. One is that
Antonio lends out money to his friends at no interest, which could put
Shylock out of business. Also, in the past he has treated Shylock
badly;

"…wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?".

Shylock does not only want revenge from Antonio, but from all the
Christians who have ever treated him badly for being a Jew or a
moneylender. He is regarded as being less important than the
Christians are, and wants to be equal, or better than them;

"… The villany

you teach me I will execute, and t shall go hard but

I will better the instruction."

He may feel that taking the life of a...

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