Summary and Analysis - 'The Merchant of Venice'

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Merchant of Venice’ by Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice, a play by William Shakespeare written from 1596 to 1598 is most remembered for its dramatic scenes inspired by its main character Shylock. However, merchant Antonio, instead of the Jewish moneylender Shylock, is the play’s most famous character. Although frequently staged today, the play presents a great deal of controversy due to its central anti-Semitic themes. In actual fact, the play holds a strong stance on anti-Semitism. Over the Elizabethan era English society had been regarded as anti-Semitic until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. Jews, often depicted as avaricious usurers, were hideously caricaturized with bright red wigs and hooked noses, and so were mainly associated with evil, greed and deception. In the 1600s in Venice Jews were required to put on red hats as a symbol of their identity. Failure to adhere to this requirement resulted in the death penalty. The then Jews lived in a ghetto which was protected by Christians for their own safety. For such protection Jews should have paid their guards, and Shakespeare’s is regarded as a vivid example of such anti-Semitic tradition. More than that, critics argue that Shakespeare intended to contrast the vengefulness of a Jew lacking religious grace to comprehend mercy with the mercy of the main Christian characters. At that Shakespeare showed Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity as it redeemed Shylock both from his unbelief and his willingness to kill Antonio. Therefore, the anti-Semitic trends domineering in Elizabethan England were shown by the playwright. Despite Shakespeare’s genuine intentions, anti-Semites used the play throughout the play’s history. The 1619 edition ‘With the Extreme Cruelty of Shylock the Jew…’ described how Shylock was perceived by the English public. Later on, the Nazis used the usurious Shylock for the
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