Prejudice against Jews in 'The Merchant of Venice'

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The Merchant of Venice Essay Neeshah Dahya Do you think The Merchant of Venice capitalises on or criticises the prejudices against Jews in Shakespeare’s society? Support your opinion with detailed evidence from the text. One wonders how an alienated individual can still have the courage and ambition to seek revenge. But the significant Other in The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, manages to fire such revenge with ease. Immediately we are made to raise the question ‘What made him like this?’ Shylock is a Jew amongst a predominantly Christian society, similar to that of Shakespeare’s society. It is then quite obvious that he is trapped by intolerance and hatred until his hopes for co-existence are changed into revenge. Although he appears to be a merciless usurer at first, he gains the sympathy from the audience through his monologue and thus we become more aware of the Christian’s harsh preconceptions against the Jews. And this is emphasised once more in the court room scene near the end of the play. Throughout this play, Shakespeare repeats, reinforces and ultimately criticises the prejudices against Jews. Some believe that this play is deeply anti-Semitic as it highlights Shylock trapped by prejudice and driven to revenge by the treatment he gets. Because he is a “vile Jew”, he is presented as the racially marked Other throughout the play. In the Renaissance, Jews were seen as strange and different and hated by Christians as they were blamed for the death of Jesus Christ. Thus Shylock speaks as the victim of persecution, standing for all the Jews in history when he claims “suffrance is the badge of all our tribe.” From this we can come to understand that his hatred for the Christians (“How like a fawning republican he looks/I hate him for he is a Christian) is based on how he has been treated by them in the past, especially by Antonio, a rich Venetian
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