Shylock as a plot device in The Merchant of Venice
It is evident that anti-Semitism is a theme in William Shakespeare’s comedy The Merchant of Venice. However, the categorization of the play as a comedy has troubled people for some time. It is clear that if Shylock were removed from the play all of the problems that surround the play’s comedic status would disappear. Shylock functions as less of a man, and more of an object to reveal the social injustices at work in the play, and in the period in which the author lived. Consider the first scene in which we are introduced to Shylock on the streets of Venice. While the previous two scenes focused on Antonio and his entourage discussing Antonio’s melancholy, which provides a nice transition to reveal Antonio’s troubles, no mention is made of Shylock at all. He appears with no introduction or foreshadowing of his impending arrival, Antonio simply tells Bassanio, “Therefore go forth: try what my credit in Venice can do,” (1.1.179-180) Out of every usurer in the city of Venice it seems strange that Bassanio would decide upon the one man with which Antonio has a personal quarrel. Perhaps this is just a convenient storytelling device set up to reveal the play’s villain; or perhaps Shakespeare chose to fashion a character [Shylock] that would bring most every other character’s flaws to light, because as a Jew he is an easy character to hate. As the characters begin discussing the fine details of the arrangement, on the very next page Shylock reveals that Antonio spat on him the previous Wednesday. It is well known that the social ideology of the time held that Christianity was the only acceptable religion, and that Jewish usurers were twice damned because of the strict attitude regarding money lending in place in the Tudor government of the time period. What is not clear is why Antonio continues to rail against Shylock and further agitate the man who has the power to help the friend he loves so dearly. Antonio says,...
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