The Merchant Of Venice

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is classed as a comedy play, but the themes raised in this story make it stand out among the other romantic comedies by the great author. Another thing that sets this particular play apart is the fact that it is not its main character, merchant Antonio, that gets most recognition but Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. Depicting this character from different angles Shakespeare raises the subject of anti-Semitism that is the core theme to the whole play.

The society of the time described in the play was actively “judeophobic”. English Jews were expelled from England for almost four hundred years, so Shakespeare had no difficulty with depicting the public’s treatment of Shylock. As a villain he is shown to be similar to other Jews in the plays of that period, namely greedy, deceitful and downright evil. Shakespeare pays special attention to the vindictiveness of Shylock and contrasts it with the merciful Christian characters in the play. The power of this author was so great that his character influenced anti-Semitic groups to an extreme. The Nazis used the vile traits of Shylock in their propaganda. The number of problems brought onto the Jews by this play cannot be calculated because it is too great. When combined with the prevailing anti-Semitic moods in the society, the negative traits of Shylock overshadow the fact that there are good and respectable qualities to his character as well.

Readers today see Shylock as more of a sympathetic character due to the fact that the predicament he was forced into by the accident of his birth was majorly responsible for many of his vices. However, it is difficult to say whether this idea is actually prominent in the play, or it is just the change in the public’s perception that is responsible for viewing Shylock in this manner. The other characters that interact with him often resort to trickery and lies to get back on the Jew, showing that they are in reality no better, and sometimes even worse in their morals. Shylock is eloquent and speaks of the injustices his nation is forced to suffer in a manner that can appeal to the public and make them see how unfair this predicament is.

The anti-Semitic themes in the Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice remain as important today as they used to be in the sixteenth century. This is why the play still raises a great deal of controversy and is used in the arguments of both anti-Semitists and those who fight to break down the negative stereotypes associated with this nation.


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