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Essay on William Shakespeare's Shylock: Villain or Victim

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William Shakespeare's Shylock: Villain or Victim

In "The Merchant of Venice" Shakespeare confronts a considerable issue
of his time, known as Anti Semitism. "Shylock", his stereotypical Jew
lends money to a Christian in an agreement that flesh would be cut
from the Christian's body, should it not be paid.

Looking at the history of Jews in England, it is evident that Jews
were persecuted and murdered up until 1290, when Jews were expelled
from the country. Jews were treated with strong disrespect because of
their alternative religious beliefs, their financial status and
because of their ways of living.

One can safely assume that Shakespeare never actually met a Jew, as
Jews had been expelled three and a half centuries before he lived.
Therefore the stereotypically evil character of the Jew was merely a
myth, passed down through the generations.

Shakespeare obviously intended on demonising the Jew of his play,
making Shylock an outcast to the community of Venice. In England in
the 16th Century, with the absence of Jews, a popular negative image
was created for them. Just as, today, we may imagine aliens to be
estranged to us, enemy to us, and possibly even dangerous; the Jews
were as good as aliens to England four hundred years ago.

There were no Jews around to defend such a bad name, and so their
awarded reputation worsened to stereotype the Jew as a murderer and a
demon. The rumours were exaggerated and invented tales were passed on
through existence. So, when Shakespeare was writing "The Merchant of
Venice" he most probably relied on such fictions to dictate his
character of Shylock. Other writers of his time also made us...


... middle of paper ...


...ce had definitely heard dreadful anecdotes of the Jewish
nation for most of their lives, and Shakespeare only meant to transmit
a caricature of somebody they may have always imagined. Shylock is
undoubtedly portrayed as the villain, and the one solitary victimising
scene showed the audience that Jews are real people, and not aliens.
Real as they are though, they are treacherous and evil.

The play results in the Christians getting their justice, as the
entire audience would have hoped for.

Today, of course, Jews are universally accepted as equals and there
are no laws written which could ever substitute a person's religion
for another. Attitudes to Jews are entirely different today, and
modern productions of "The Merchant of Venice" show Shylock more as
the victim who lost everything because of persecution as a Jew.


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