Merchant of Venice Essay (Anti- Semitism)

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Questioning Humanity
The Merchant Of Venice

In the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, Shylock is portrayed as a manipulative, greedy, and money hungry man who, throughout the book, is consumed with the deterioration of his enemies. Because of the prevailing anti- Semitic sentiment in Shakespeare's time, you would naturally assume that the Merchant of Venice is an anti- Semitic play. However, as you continue to examine the text, Shakespeare portrays Shylock in a much more human way than was generally done in those days and he shows that Shylock is, in fact, a part of humanity. Shakespeare challenges anti-Semitism by showing that Jews are just like Christians. He does this by proving how the imperfections that people have are what make us human. Even today, Shakespeare shows the world how hypocritical people can be, no matter their religion, race, or personal beliefs. Shakespeare uses irony in this play to illustrate that the bad things that Shylock (the Jew) has done are no worse than what Antonio (the Christian) has done in his lifetime. Therefore, this creates the effect of humanizing the characters and demonstrates that regardless of religion or race, people have both good and bad sides. Although Shylock’s Jewishness is made apparent from the very moment he is introduced, and thus seems to reinforce Shakespeare’s work as being anti-Semitic, it is in fact Shylock’s wit and humanity that reveal how Shakespeare challenges such bias. Before Shylock even enters the play, the scene introduction mentions that he is a Jew­­ and immediately sets your mind against him, especially in Elizabethan England when Jews were alienated. Shylock quoted, “[Antonio] hath disgraced me [Shylock] and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason? I [Shylock] am a Jew. (3:1:52)." While Jews were scorned because of their religious beliefs,...
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