Free Essays - The Dehumanization of Shylock in Merchant of Venice

Free Essays - The Dehumanization of Shylock in Merchant of Venice

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The Dehumanization of Shylock in Merchant of Venice

 

 

 

In Susan Pharr's "The Common Elements of Oppression", she defines "the other" as the outcast of society, the ones who stand up for what they believe in, no matter how `against the grain' it may be, the ones who try the hardest to earn acceptance, yet never receive it. In Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice", Shylock, the `villain' is portrayed as the other simply because of his faith, because he is Jewish in a predominantly Christian society.

 

One way that Shylock is classified as the other was by being stripped of his name. Throughout the play, Shylock was very seldom referred to by name; in the trial scene, the Duke identifies him by name twice, and Portia does so once. During the rest of the play, Shylock is usually referred to as "the Jew", "dog Jew" (II, viii, 14), and "currish Jew" (IV, i, 292)

 

Throughout the play, Shylock was often reduced to something other than Human. In many cases, even the simple title of "Jew" was stripped away, and Shylock was not a man, but an animal. For example, Gratiano curses Shylock with "O, be thou damned, inexecrable dog!" (IV, i, 128) whose "currish spirit govern'd a wolf" (IV, i, 133-134) and whose "desires are wolvish, bloody, starved, and ravenous" (IV, i, 137-138). Or when Shylock is neither a man nor an animal, he becomes "a stony adversary, inhuman wretch" (IV, i, 4-5). When the Christians applied these labels to Shylock, they effectively stripped him of his humanity, of his religious identity; he was reduced to something other than human.

 

The Christians also labeled Shylock as explicitly equated with the Devil, which in a primarily Christian society left Shylock as the other. For example, in (II, ii, 24-28), Launcelot Gobbo identifies Shylock as "a kind of devil", "the devil himself", and "the very devil incarnation." Shylocks own daughter compared Shylock's house to "hell" (II, iii, 2). Salanio identifies Shylock as "the devil...in the likeness of a Jew" (III, i, 19-21) and Bassanio echoes this sentiment by identifying Shylock as a "cruel devil" (IV, i, 217). Antonio further cements the association between Shylock and the devil by noting how Shylock's arguments remind him how "The devil can cite scripture for his purpose" (I, iii, 97-100).

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Also, the images of Jews as blood-thirsty murderers of Jesus who snatch innocent Christian children for slaughter in bizarre Passover rituals seems to provide a potent back-drop for the demonic appellations that are heaped upon Shylock.

 

The Christians techniques of condemning Shylock as an outcast (through stripping him of his name, reducing him to something other than human, and equating his name with the devil), inscribes those elements and cumulatively stacks them in order to define the character of Shylock less as a man and more as a cultural image of the malignant Jew.

 

 
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