William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Essays

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William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare, having spent most of his youth in England, was influenced by England’s beliefs. England was going through a Christian reformation that had caused friction between Christians and Jews. Jews and Christians did not see eye to eye on almost everything and especially on usury, the practice of lending money with interest. Boyce, a Shakespearean critique, sums up the negative attitude that Christians had on Jews in the 16th Century: “Sixteenth-Century Englishmen tended to attribute to Jews only two important characteristics, both negative: first, that Jews detested Christians and gave much energy to devising evils for gentiles to
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Shylock’s slave Lancelot does not like his master either. The play quotes him saying, “Certainly my conscience will serve me to run from this Jew, my master. My master’s a very Jew: give him a present! Give him a halter: I am famished in his service: you may tell every finger I have, with my ribs (Shakespeare 65).”

Lancelot is justifying why he should leave his Jewish master. He explains that his master does not deserve a present but a noose. He condemns his master about being abusive by starving him. This paints a vivid picture of how even the people close to Shylock do not like him.

Shakespeare goes on giving the audience more of a reason to hate this Jewish man. Knowing that the majority of the audience were Christians, Shakespeare has Shylock offending Christians by saying, “[…] gaze on CHRISTIAN FOOLS with varnished face […]” (Merchant 80) (emphasis added). William Hazlitt agrees by writing, “Shylock is a good hater; ‘a man no less sinned against than sinning.’ […] with the proud spirit hid beneath his “Jewish gaberdine” by one lawful act of ‘lawful’ revenge […]” (Hazlitt 195) (sic). Bender describes Shylock, as “The Jew is wicked, unhappy, usurious, greedy, vengeful. The Christians are happy, generous, forgiving. This, it might be said, is the plain meaning of the play” (Swisher 47).

Many agree with Bender that the play was supposed

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