How Does Shakespeare Influence the Audience’s View of Shylock?

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Shakespeare influences audience opinion in many different ways during ‘Merchant of Venice’. However, some of the devices he uses may have different effects on modern audiences compared to the Elizabethan audiences the play was written for. When Shakespeare wrote the play, England wasn’t nearly as culturally diverse as it is nowadays, and therefore there was a lot more prejudice and racism to different religions. Generally, Elizabethans were a lot more religious then people now, and would have had much stronger beliefs. Most Elizabethans disliked Jews because of the stereotype that was portrayed of them. Jewish people were thought to be money grabbing and selfish, and a lot of Elizabethans disagreed with there ideas and values. These characteristics are definitely prominent in Shylocks character, and in some ways he is the stereotypical Jew. The play’s a comedy and a lot of the humour3 is based on the Elizabethan reaction to Shylock's character and appearance. However, in modern times society is a lot less prejudice, and audiences are more sympathetic for Shylock. The Elizabethan audience would also be more religious than a modern audience, and Shylock was a character that went against everything they believed in as Christians. Therefore, especially with an Elizabethan audience, the main feeling towards Shylock would not be sympathy, but hostility and loathing. Our first glimpse of Shylocks character is in Act 1, Scene 3, where Shylock reveals to the audience the reason he hates Antonio. The first reason he gives is because he is a Christian. (1:3:33) To a sixteenth century audience this would stir a sort of villainy towards Shylock, but soon after the audiences hears Shylocks speech about how cruel Antonio is to Shylock. (1:3:98) This speech does a good job of evoking as much sympathy as possible from the audience, however little that may be in the sixteenth
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