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The Merchant of Venice

By Saif Qadeer

 

The merchant of Venice was written some time between the late summer of 1596 and 1598 by William Shakespeare. The Main Character is Shylock, a wealthy Jew, his occupation was a money lender, which in those days only Jews were allowed to do with a license.


During the Elizabethan period there weren't many Jews as all people had to be Christians, because of this, Christians looked at Jews as if they were aliens, and the idea of Judaism was frowned upon. The Elizabethan crowd loved to see plays that involved Jews being discriminated against. A good example of this is ‘The Jew of Malta'.

'The Jew of Malta' was a story about a Jew called Barabas who was a Machiavellian character because he was evil, he plotted to overthrow the government, he poisoned a group of nuns and many other things, To Be ‘Machiavellian' is a term given to those who are evil, scheming, wily, underhanded people, the term comes from A Man Named Niccollo Machiavelli, who was a philosopher, he wrote books on faking your own death, and he was just generally an evil man. In the end of ‘The Jew of Malta' Barabas was killed, which generally pleased the Elizabethan audience. That is what a stereotypical Jew was like, however Shylock was different, he didn't hate Christians, he didn't want to take flesh, and he just wanted to do his job which was lending money to people.

 

Act 1 Scene 3 begins with Shylock half way through a sentence “Three Thousand Ducats…” It starts with Shylock asking for money, this makes him sound like a stereotypical Jew, money hungry. This makes the audience dislike him more than they already do. This is because in those days Jews were hated.

Shylock talks about Antonio behind his back to the audience, which is dramatic irony as the audience would know something the actor's don't, when Shylock says it, Antonio will not have heard it.

 

Shakespeare uses dramatic devices for positive purposes towards Shylock as well in some scenes; one of the scenes where Shakespeare does this is when Shylock exits the court after having half his money and his religion taken away from him. He creates sympathy by creating silence as he leaves the scene, Shylock walks slowly, there is complete silence and he slowly fades out into the background, this is the last time Shylock is seen. Even an Elizabethan audience would have felt sympathy for Shylock as he had nothing left except his life in which he had lost his religion, which he had fought for all his life, and now it was gone, even though he was Christian now, he still wouldn't have fitted into a modern Elizabethan society