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The Merchant of Venice Essay

In: Shakespeare free essays

The Merchant of Venice Essay

In the play, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare portrays Shylock as a villain. This is mainly because as a character he is Jewish and in the 16th century Jews were looked upon as bad people. So in the play the Shylock is given a big nose, ugly face and selfish personality so that the audience always think the worst of him. Throughout the play the audience's feelings towards Shylock and Antonio change which is what makes the play one of the most memorable Shakespeare ever wrote. The character of Shylock, at the time of the play, was given a very negative image (because of his religion) however in modern times people's views would be different and less prejudice as Jews aren't stereotyped as much in the modern era

In my opinion Shylock is justified of his hatred shown towards Antonio. This is because Antonio shows no respect throughout Act 1 Scene 3. An example of this is when he spits in Shylocks face; this shows how he has no respect for Shylock, mainly because of his religion. However the audience at that time aren't meant to feel sorry for Shylock because he is a Jew however a modern audience would feel sorry because Jews are looked at as bad people anymore.

Another reason for Shylock to hate Antonio is because Antonio says; “ he lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.” I think this is an unfair thing to say especially since he wants to borrow money from Shylock. However Shakespeare is very intelligent by doing this because it only reinforces people's opinions of Jews in the 16th century. So in Act 1 Scene 3 the audience is meant to have various views towards the two characters. Shakespeare has done this to enlarge the feelings towards the characters at a later stage.

All the way through the play Shylock is very insistent that the bond is `stuck to word for word' by the Duke. However this backfires on him as Portia says he can take no more than one pound of Antonio's flesh. “ The words expressly are `a pound of flesh' “. This is makes Shylock feel embarrassed just as Shakespeare would have intended to do so that the 16th century audience laugh at Shylock.

As well as this Shakespeare wants us to have a strong reaction to Solanio's and Salerino's comments made in Act 2, Scene 8. The first strong reaction Shakespeare wants the audience to have is to the line, “ my ducats and my daughter!” He wants us to think that Shylock is selfish as he isn't sure what is more important, his daughter or his ducats. If he were a true Christian then this would be a simple decision. So Shakespeare is emphasising the negative reactions towards Jews.

Another line which Salarino says this time is. “ All the boys in Venice follow him, crying his stones, his daughter and his ducats.” The reaction to this is meant to be similar to Solanio's comment. It shows how even the young children of Venice are laughing at Shylock because he is a Jew in the play. This is meant to show that everyone in the play hates Shylock. This means that some of the audience will hate Shylock however not everyone as some people could think of the kids as horrible and pity Shylock.

In the first half of the play the audience's response is meant to be that Shylock deserves everything that he gets. Shakespeare wants us to have this response because Shylock likes the money more than his own missing daughter. This is meant to personify a typical Jew and show to the 16th century audience that they are all the same. However some of a modern day audience wouldn't react this way, although most would as people should pick their family over money.

At the start of Act 3, Scene 1 we are meant to feel that it is Shylock's fault his daughter, Jessica, ran away. This is shown when Solanio says. “ And Shylock for his won part knew the bird was fledged.” This portrays that Shylock is ignorant and never really that his daughter would run away. Although Shakespeare tries to `lighten up the situation' by attempting to be funny. “ My own flesh and blood to rebel! Out upon it, old carrion! Rebels it at these years? I say my daughter is my flesh and blood.” This is meant to be funny as Shylock means his daughter but Solanio thinks he means his penis. This again shows the mocking towards Shylock as a Jew and that it is normal to do this.

Later in Act 3, Scene 1 Shylock's speech shows us lots of his feelings. Firstly the repetition of the word “same” is very affective. It emphasises how Shylock feels Jews and Christians are the same; the audience are then meant to feel the same way. There is also meant to be some sympathy shown towards Shylock at this point.

In the same act Shakespeare also uses a very clever metaphor to help us feel sorry for Shylock. The metaphor used is. “ Feed my revenge”. I think this is clever because if he wants revenge then it means something bad must have happened to him, this should make the audience pity Shylock even though he is Jewish. The word “feed” shows how he needs to get revenge, as without it he would feel empty, this creates sympathy towards him.

However the cleverest part Shakespeare has written is the very long sentence, “ He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million… cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason?” This is clever because it uses a long sentence, repetition and a rhetorical question. The long sentence is clever because it shows how many bad things Antonio has done to Shylock, making us hate him even more. Repetition of the word “me” is also clever. This is because it emphasises how all these bad things have happened to Shylock personally, which makes the audience pity him. Finally the three word question, “ What's his reason?”, is probably the most affective of the three styles. This is because the audience is really meant to think about what has happened and that really Antonio is evil because he has no motives. This is clever because it strengthens our feeling of pity to Shylock and hate to Antonio. This is good because when the audience begins to feel the other ways about the characters there feelings are emphasised even more.

The reaction of Shylock, to the news of Antonio ships being lost at sea, is very intelligent on Shakespeare's part because the audience has another reaction. When Salarino says, “Antonio hath a ship of rich lading wrecked on the narrow seas, “Shylock is happy with this because he can now take a pound of Antonio's flesh to humiliate him. This is when the audience loses the feeling of pity towards Shylock and begins to hate him because he would rather have flesh then money. Shakespeare would have planned this from the start so that as the audiences reactions change throughout they are emphasised by the continuous change.

In Act 3, Scene 1, Shakespeare gives the audience lots of different reactions and feelings to the character of Shylock. This is clever because it confuses the audience, as they don't know what to think of Shylock. This means in the next Act when Shylock is portrayed, as a malicious character the majority of people will think this of him and the reaction towards Jews will continue.

In the next act Shylock is portrayed as a one-dimensional villain. This is because people are more likely to remember the end of the play as it was the last part they saw. This means they will remember Shylock as a villain Jew, continuing peoples views towards Jews. The audience will also remember Antonio who is Christian as being innocent.

As well as this Shakespeare reiterates our hate of Shylock in Act 3, Scene 3. The first way he does this is by using repetition of the phrase “ I'll have my bond.” Because Shylock says this so many times it shows how he really wants his bond and he is prepared to do anything to get it, showing how selfish he is.

Although this turns against him as all the way through the play he is very insistent that the bond is `stuck to word for word' by the Duke. However when Portia says he can take no more than one pound of Antonio's flesh. “ The words expressly are `a pound of flesh' “. Shylock feels embarrassed just as Shakespeare would have intended to do so that the 16th century audience laugh at Shylock the Jew.

Antonio displays how he wants to keep peace since he is a Christian. He shows this when he says, “He seeks my life, and this reason well I know.” This shows how evil Shylock is because he wants his life so much. This will again show both a modern and 16th century audience his evil ways.

Shakespeare in the same act writes how bad Shylock is. When the duke gives Shylock a chance to show mercy by saying, “That thou but lead'st this fashion of thy malice.” However Shylock decides not to show any mercy and continues to want Antonio's pound of flesh, this is a very dramatic decision for Shylock to make and enforces the audience's feelings towards him. This shows how nothing can stop Shylock as he is so evil and only cares about himself. However he is stopped at the end of the play when he can't take any of Antonio's flesh as it is against the exact words of his bond he so diligently stuck to.

Shakespeare very cleverly manipulates the audience's reaction towards Shylock by using social and religious contexts of the 16th century. He uses the fact of Shylock being a Jew very well. This means that before people have even seen the play they already hate Shylock for he is Jewish so there image of him is already a bad one. Shakespeare also uses religious contexts to manipulate the audience's reaction to Antonio. This is because Antonio is a Christian so people are already going to prefer him to Shylock so Shakespeare just emphasises the views that people already have.

On the other hand if the play were a modern one then people's views would be different. Firstly because most people don't have a negative image of Jews anymore therefore the character of Shylock wouldn't be hated as much. Also the audience's views of taking a pound of flesh would be slightly different as doing this now would be obscene, although in the 16th century this is still weird but not as unusual as would it would be now.

Finally my feelings towards Shylock are that he deserved the bad luck he got in the play because he was so evil to Antonio and showed no remorse for his actions and thoughts. I also think this because he thought that money was more important then his daughter, which is completely wrong. I also believe that Shakespeare was very cunning in the way that he manipulated different people in the audience into various reactions towards the characters of Shylock and Antonio throughout the play.