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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