Since antiquity, Christians and Jews were seen as the antitheses of each other. The differences between the two religions were extensive and the people of the time were keen to exploit them. However, beneath the varying practices, Christians and Jews had many subtle similarities. This concept is portrayed in Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice” where the conflict between the characters Antonio, a Christian and Shylock, a Jew reveals a likeness never seen before in a play of that time.
Shakespeare first introduces Antonio with the line “In sooth I know not why I am so sad.” (Act 1, Scene 1). Antonio’s melancholy is profound as his most beloved friend, a younger man named Bassanio, is preparing to leave him. The love Antonio holds for Bassanio is so deep such that he provides Bassanio, then in debt and in need of three thousand ducats, with all the credit he can offer to set him on his way without any hesitation. He goes so far to even sign a contract that could lead to the potential loss of his flesh order to help his friend. The love Antonio felt for Bassanio was so intense that not even the possibility of mutilation and death could stop him. As a result of such a generous and selfless nature, Antonio is well respected in the community at the time and loved by all his friends. But his life is far from perfect. His first line which begins the play is a line that evidently reveals the pain he suffers in his loneliness.
Antonio’s generous and selfless nature is a sharp contrast to the vindictive and greedy mindset of the play’s antagonist, Shylock. His attitude towards people is so detestable that even his own daughter eventually leaves him. Whether Shylock is the villain or victim can be shown in both ways; the humiliation he suffers at the hands of Christians who mock his Jewish ancestry makes him the victim of the Christians’ ridicules. Shylock suffers the brute of this abuse through Antonio, who, despite his generosity and selflessness is capable of...
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