The Complexity of Shylock in 'The Merchant of Venice'

1500 Words6 Pages
Consider the role and presentation of Shylock in the play. How might an audience respond to him, would the original audience in the 1600's feel the same about this character and if no then why not?

The Merchant of Venice is about Shylock, a Jewish money lender trying to survive and make a living in a country which despises him and his kind. Throughout the play there is a strong theme of prejudice. Portia has to deal with prejudice against her gender, the Prince of Morocco has to cope with prejudice against his race but the character that is most discriminated against is Shylock. He is hated for being a Jew and a money-lender, but Shakespeare has not made Shylock a character easy to sympathize with. He appears to be mean and cruel and it seems as though he loves his money above all else. However during the play there are moments when Shakespeare gives Shylock speeches which show his humaneness and compassion. In these moments, although at the time it was written there was little tolerance of Jews, during these moments the modern day audience would certainly feel sorry for him.

In the 1600's when the play was written, the audience would have immediately disliked Shylock on the basis of his religion and occupation. However nowadays when religious prejudice is not nearly as strong we still find him an unpleasant character. One of the main things which make him appear unpleasant is his desire and love of money. In fact his first words are "Three thousand ducats; well”, perhaps this is Shakespeare's way of showing the audience immediately what is most important to Shylock.
Further on in the opening scene Shylock expresses the hatred he has towards Antonio whilst speaking to Bassanio on lending him money. Shylock says to himself; ''I hate him for he is a Christian....He lends out money gratis and brings down the rate of usance in Venice''. This quote shows that
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