Essay On Anti Semitism In Merchant Of Venice

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Is The Merchant of Venice promoting or criticising anti-Semitism?

Shakespeare passionately portrays characters in the Merchant of Venice that exhibit his conflicting perceptions towards anti-semitism in which he both advocates, condemns and remains neutral towards.

Shakespeare can be seen to promote anti-semitic behaviour predominantly but not exclusively through the Jewish moneylender- Shylock. Who falls short to the many accounts of bigotry noted and directed towards him in the play. Antonio, who was consequently in relation to the more dominant Christian society casted a belittling shadow over Shylock. In the early scenes of the play this is evident when Antonio says: ‘The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.’ in relation to Shylock.
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It is no secret that Shylock 's famous speech is the strongest argument showcasing Shakespeare’s condemn on bigotry. Shylock says; ‘I am a Jew’ he goes on to say: If you prick us, do we not bleed?’ Questioning the logic of the social exclusion the Jew’s have endured via the Christians. The Merchant of Venice marginalises Jew’s in order for us to sympathise with them. As early as 1605 when the first performance of this play was held, behind the scenes Jew’s were cornered into ‘Ghettos’. This portrays the earliest noted signs of prejudice which evidently carried on to escalate, under Hitler’s reign, genocide killed a total of 6 million Jews. Such inequality between religions revealed the accuracy of ‘The Elizabethan chain of being’. This chain of being places Jew’s below the animals and flora and fauna. This ideological perception is portrayed through Lancelot, when he says that Jessica is ‘damned’ despite converting to Christianity through marrying Lorenzo. Because her mother was Jewish, Jessica is therefore Jewish and will carry the sins of her father. This perception supports that these principles are inadequate, and therefore can be seen as Shakespeare’s way of condemning those who are anti-semitic. It was as if Shakespeare read the future and The Merchant of Venice was a mirror in which we can …show more content…
It is therefore necessary to include his neutral approach to anti-semitism in which he can be seen to neither condemn nor promote. A modern audience is very different to an Elizabethan audience, so we are naive to assume they fulfil the same perceptions. With that being said, it’s clear Shakespeare’s audience weren’t uncomfortable, or as uncomfortable with the mistreatment of the Jewish, and the prejudiced filled hate that surrounded them, in opposition to a modern day audience. The Elizabethan audience tended to be largely more provincial in their attitude towards Shylock compared to a modern day audience. In the Elizabethan Age, news traveled slower and the deep rooted stereotypical prejudices came from the fact that Jews tended to be 1) Rich, and 2) foreign. Causing many uprising debates. We however, the modern audience live at a time past the World Wars and the Holocaust so are perception of the persecution of Jews is differing. It is important to note that neither Tubal, nor Jessica received the same criticism Shylock did in relation to their religion. Perhaps this was because Shylock was a controversial character, annoying many with his usury and mistreatment of others. It is possible to interpret that the only real prejudice in the play was the differing perceptions to the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Christian’. Shakespeare was a writer and was therefore in no place to promote or condemn his anti-semitic

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