The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

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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 t...

... middle of paper ... accent. This

singles him out and shows he is an outsider. At the beginning of the

court scene, when the Duke is talking to Shylock, he says:

"We all expect a tender answer Jew."

In the production set in the 1920's, the Duke puts huge emphasis on

the word 'Jew', showing he dislikes Shylock, although he was asking

him to be generous and let Antonio go. At the end of the court scene,

after Shylock has been forced to become a Christian, he throws down

his skullcap onto the scales. Even though the scales were originally

there to weigh Antonio's flesh, they now represent the scales of

justice, and Shylock is making a very powerful point that what has

been done to him is completely unfair. This happens just after

Shakespeare has changed the audience's opinion of Shylock, and adds to

the pity that they feel for him.
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