The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare Essay

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare Essay

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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 ...


...an 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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