How Does the Language and Stagecraft in Acts IV.i and V Reveal a sympathetic Portrayal of Shylock? Is this consistent with Elizabethan attitudes towards Jews?
The anti Semitic message which plagued Europe throughout the Middle Ages has spawned many thought provoking, controversial plays. Its complex main character, the unforgettable Shylock expresses true emotions, develops throughout the production, and thus brings about a different portrayal of medieval Jews, previously limited to that of the stage Jew. While most adopted this general theme using it to mock Jews in the hopes of a cheap laugh, one play has stood the test of time. This is of course none other then the Shakespearean masterpiece The Merchant of Venice.
During the Elizabethan period, the concept of a Jew was based on rumour and the occasional public performance, for example Christopher Marlow’s infamous play “The Jew of Malta” in which a greedy stage Jew tries to poison, murder and generally pose a threat to the Gentile population. Stage Jews such as the aforementioned one are similar to modern day pantomime antagonists; however these stage caricatures, with their red curls and hooked noses were unmistakably created for the sole purpose of humiliation and to mock the Jewish race. This was intensified by the recent trial of Doctor Rodrigo Lopez, who had recently been hanged for an apparent assassination attempt upon the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth. However, it had been well documented that “Lopez” had recently undergone a conversion to the Jewish faith, leaving him as a prime scapegoat for the reigning monarch.
Shylock first appears to the audience in Act I scene III and engages in a heated debate with Bassanio, who is trying to convince Shylock to lend money to Antonio. Throughout the whole conversation, Shylock echoes Bassanio’s words and inserts “well” on to the end. As a result, Shylock initially comes across as a mal-educated, asinine man. By Act III scene I, Shylock proves to...
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