The People

The People

  • Submitted By: jjc126
  • Date Submitted: 12/02/2008 4:45 PM
  • Category: Book Reports
  • Words: 1340
  • Page: 6
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In William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", there are undoubtedly times when Shylock is hated unreservedly by the audience, and yet at other times he may become a figure of sympathy. Modern perceptions of him are frequently the direct opposite of what would have been expected from the Elizabethans. In this essay, I will explore both sides of the audience's perception of him.

Shylock's opening line in the play is "Three thousand ducats, well." In most productions, he has already been marked by the audience as a Jew, owing to his costume and frequently exaggerated Jewish features. By immediately conforming to the Elizabethan stereotype of the Jewish moneylender, Shylock is intended to instantly set the audience against him. This does not make him a villain in itself, but it certainly makes it more likely that the audience will see his actions in an unsympathetic light later on. In a modern production, where the audience is inevitably more sensitised to the plight of the Jewish race, such instant dislike and suspicion may not appear so readily. However, at the time it was written, there can be no doubt that Shylock puts himself immediately on a bad foot with the audience. Furthermore, when Antonio asks, "Is your gold and silver ewes and rams?", Shylock replies "I make it breed as fast." By showing his proficiency as a banker, and his arrogance, Shylock does not endear himself to the audience, and further conforms to the stereotype of the wealthy Jewish banker.

The audience of Shakespeare's time would have been almost entirely Christian. Therefore, when Shylock says of Antonio "I hate him for he is a Christian," he would immediately alienate most of the audience and again fails to stimulate any sympathy for himself. On the other hand, a modern audience could certainly appreciate Shylock's point of view, given the treatment he suffers at the hands of the Christians. Not for the last time, modern perceptions of Shylock differ radically from those that...

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