The Merchant of Venice was written by William Shakespeare in the late 1500’s and is perhaps one of his most complex plays he had written.
This play was performed in England where audiences would most certainly have been Christian and therefore less sympathetic to Shylock, a Jew. Christians of this time despised Jews primarily because of their religion and also because of their occupation as moneylenders. Christians were forbidden by religion to lend money and charge interest so they hated the Jewish community being able to so. At this time there would have been many Jews living in England but were a minority so they lived quietly but continued to practise their religion. Jews were often prohibited to own land or trade so they became moneylenders that prospered well.
The play is set in Venice where the majority of Venetians were Christians. In this city, Jews were alienated and looked down on, as the conflict of these two religions is very visible during the play. Venice was an important place for trade and it is evident in the play that it was a city full of luxury and riches.The play focuses on two main characters, who both have a hatred for one another. Antonio is a Christian and a noblemen, he is a merchant of ships and is very wealthy. Shylock is a Jew and is a moneylender and also very wealthy.
Shylock lends money and charges a large amount of interest. Antonio also lends money, however does not charge interest. This is an important issue, for this is one of the reasons Shylock hates Antonio and vice...
versa. Antonio allegedly causes Shylock’s profit to decrease by putting him down at the ‘Rialto’. Shylock’s hatred also is also beyond differences in religion. Shylock loathes Antonio’s lifestyle and also Antonio’s constant discrimination and racism towards him.
For example Antonio refers to him as ‘Dog Jew’ and ‘Devil’. Shylock shows his primary revulsion as being: ‘I hate him for he is a Christian.’Antonio’s best friend Bassanio has asked Antonio for money, in which he has asked many times before ands never paid back. He asks for a large sum of money so that he may go to Belmont and try to acquire a wife. Antonio says he will lend him money but he doesn’t have enough money because he’s money is tied up in all his ships that are all out at sea.
He tells Antonio to get a moneylender to try and borrow money. This is where Shylock enters the play. Shylock quickly manages to come up with a plan to try and satisfy his revenge. I think that Shylock does not realise right away that he has a chance to seek revenge on Antonio.He is reminded very quickly when he meets Antonio and Antonio and starts to degrade him.
He begins to give Antonio grief and contradicting Antonio and his principles. He states all of Antonio’s discrimination and racism that he has shown towards him. This shows the audience that he is victim to constant suffering caused by others. This vicious persecution Shylock continuously faces in the play is also what
many Jews were vulnerable to.
Shakespeare makes the audience question their views towards Jews because Shakespeare here Shylock as the victim. This viscous persecution he faces drove him to the bond in that enabled him to exact his revenge.In the play, he continuously tries to protect his daughter from masques and people who he considers as foolish, dangerous and Christian.”What, are there masques? Hear you me, Jessica, Lock up my doors, and when you hear the drum…
Clamber not up to the casements…”He strives to keep her locked up in his house so that he does not lose Jessica because she is Shylock’s only relative. He tries very hard to be a good father and he thinks that by keeping her in the house that she will be safe. So he is devastated when she elopes with Lorenzo mainly because he is Christian and she had taken a sentimental ring and traded it for a monkey:”One of them showed me a ring that he had of your daughter for a monkey.
“She had also taken a lot of money. This continuous build up of horrific events and treatment towards him makes Shylock angry and very determined for his bond.At the trial, he is blind with revenge trying to get revenge so that he can feel that he has got his justice from all the bad things that have happened to him. He thinks that what he is doing is fair because of all the things that have happened to him.
But when things are turned against him he made to give up his estate to Lorenzo, a Christian, and Jessica’s eloped fiancï¿½e. This is another cause for Shylock to have a motive to kill Antonio because Antonio was involved in this situation of Shylock’s daughter running away.During the trial the Christians in the courtroom constantly insult him, calling him such things as:”Cruel devil, dog Jew, fiend, misbeliever, cut-throat dog, wolfish, bloody, starved and ravenous.These insults are casually thrown at him by Antonio’s friends and in a court of law, where there should be no conflict like this from spectators.
This name-calling is allowed and alienates Shylock. Shylock is offended and is heavily outnumbered. This trial is Shylock’s chance to show the Christians that he does have power and that he finally has a choice over someone’s destiny like the Christians have over him.At the end of the trial he is forced to become a Christian, which is a very cruel sentence.
This forces Shylock to change the way he lives and his principles too. This is the worst sentence that could be given to Shylock. He asks to be sentenced to death rather than become a Christian. He has lost everything including his family, his money, his house and now his religion that is a part of who he is:”..
.That for this favourHe presently become a Christian…”Antonio is the person that is allowed to decide Shylock’s future and makes him a Jew.
These are the worst possible circumstances for Shylock as the person he hates the most, Antonio is able to choose the way he lives the rest of his life.
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