Anti-Semitism In William Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice

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In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the Christian population subjugated and mistreated the Jewish population. Antonio, a Christian, seeks a loan from Shylock, a Jew, to allow his friend Bassanio to travel and marry a wealthy maiden. Later, when Antonio fails to repay the money, Shylock asks for one pound of flesh, to not only repay for his debt, but for vengeance due to the way Antonio has treated him. Shylock, who represents the Jewish people, is portrayed as greedy and vengeful, reflective of the rampant anti-Semitism present during Shakespeare’s time. However, Shylock is also portrayed as compassionate in order to challenge the Jewish stereotypes throughout the play. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare makes it apparent…show more content…
For example, Shylock protests that “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” (3.1.63-65). Shakespeare uses anaphora in each sentence to make his argument clearer and more memorable. The effect of this device shows that Jews are no different from Christians with the exception of religion. It is probable that Shakespeare understood the unjust alienation and dehumanization of Jews so he gave Shylock the platform to speak upon. Additionally, Shylock protests that “[Antonio] call[s] [Shylock] misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon [his] Jewish gaberdine” (1.3.121-122). Shakespeare continuously uses the metaphor of the dog to show how Shylock has been dehumanized by Antonio. Shakespeare uses anti-semitic stereotypes in order to give power to Jews who have been marginalized while criticizing the majority who abuse their power. Finally, when Antonio and Bassanio have given away their wife’s rings, Portia says “if you had known the virtue of the ring, or half her worthiness that gave the ring, or your own honour to contain the ring, you would not then have parted with the ring.“ (5.1.215-218). The ring symbolizes love and commitment which Antonio and bassanio fail to understand. In contrast, Shylock understands the concept of intangible value. When Jessica left with his ring, Shylock cries out “it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.” (3.1.119-122). Shakespeare shows how Shylock is not just a caricature, but a well-rounded man; capable of emotions, dismayed with the abandonment of Jessica, and also resentful about the way he is treated by Antonio. This characterization shows how Shakespeare is indicating that Shylock is not a greedy, heartless, and vengeful Jewish man which society scrutinized him for. It
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