Merchant of Venice: Dehumanization of Shylock

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Shakespeare on Religious Dehumanization: Bringing Awareness, Not Change Discrimination and hatred across religions can be often become a normal part of everyday life, and can be difficult to eradicate and extinguish. In William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the idea of the “normality” of everyday prejudices comes across in interactions and the portrayal of Shylock, a Jewish moneylender in Venice. Through Shylock’s character, Shakespeare provides a commentary on how his society has viewed Judaism in a dehumanizing way for many generations, but also expresses how difficult and not in a playwright’s place to change these societal prejudices. Shakespeare utilizes Shylock’s character as an antagonist to Antonio to demonstrate how dehumanization happens to both the perpetrator and the victim. This commentary begins in the first scene of the play, when Antonio asks Shylock to lend money for Bassanio’s journey to impress Portia. Even before he meets Antonio, Shylock remarks “how like a fawning publican he looks!/[Shylock] hates him for he is a Christian” and that he “will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him./ He hates our sacred nation” (1.3.36-43). Because of the history of resentment between Christians and Jews, Shylock’s comment shows that “feeding the fat” to the “ancient grudge” against Antonio is seemingly “normal”, and that he is unwilling to stop fueling this “ancient grudge” between religions. Antonio contributes this same of idea of sticking to status quo when Shylock mentions how “[Antonio] calls [him] a misbeliever, cut-throat dog” (1.3.106-107). After Shylock lists these atrocities and is bewildered on how Antonio still “needs [his] help”, Antonio makes it clear that he is “as like to call thee so again/To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too” (1.3.107, 125-126). Shakespeare makes an interesting choice to use the word “spurn”. One may think that it is easily replaceable with “hate”. However, Shakespeare uses the word to show that Antonio does not...
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