The persecution of specific races has always been existent, and throughout history, the Jewish religion has suffered most from it. They were convicted of heresy, and often killed because of their beliefs. Such is the kind of racial discrimination toward Shylock, the Jewish character in “The Merchant of Venice.” Some believe that the character as a greedy, coldhearted villain, which is not the case. In Shakespeare’s play, “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock was a victim of years’ struggle against discrimination toward his religion.
One of the most persistent charges against Shylock was that he was cruel and bloodthirsty. Antonio says in act 4 scene 1 that it is impossible to soften “his Jewish heart.” Bassanio constantly calls him a cur and insults him; how can he call Shylock coldhearted when he and many other characters constantly jeer at Shylock. This also added reason for Shylock’s revenge. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty miscreant, but a Jew fighting for revenge against years of being spet upon, being treated like a dog, being a victim to Christianity. In his “I am a Jew” speech, he gives these precise reasoning, saying “to bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge” (Act 3, Scene 1).
He doesn’t seek revenge personally against Antonio, but against the Christians that have jeered at him and his religion for so long. He explains how since he is a human like any other Christian, he may seek revenge like any other Christian has. The constant repetition in his speech is the word: revenge. Shylock is accused of being bloodthirsty and barbarous, when his quest for revenge differed none from the vengeance any other human would seek and deserve.
Another reason Shylock was criticized was for not showing mercy toward Antonio. In no way was Shylock impelled to let Antonio off easily. On the contrary, the agreement had been made very straightforwardly. Shylock says in act 4, scene 1, “Wouldst thou have a serpent sting thee twice?” Shylock uses a metaphor to describe the discriminatory acts against him as a serpent’s sting. He had been stung before by this, and now, when he has a chance for revenge to slay the serpent, he would not back down and let the serpent sting once more. But unfortunately, the serpent evaded his sword on a technicality, and in fact did sting once more. Portia accuses Shylock of seeking the life of a citizen as an alien, and tells Shylock “Down…and beg mercy of the Duke” (Act 4, scene 1). Through only a mere technicality did Antonio escape death, and now Portia taunts Shylock and makes him beg forgiveness? The merciless evil is more evident in the heart of the Christian characters than in Shylock. Shakespeare then tries to compare the Jew with the other characters by having Antonio forgive Shylock. This is how Shakespeare tries to cleanse the image of Christianity, but in sooth, Antonio won the case by a mere technicality, and ridicules Shylock by forgiving him.
Shylock was also portrayed by some to be remarkably greedy and stingy . Antonio and Bassanio are shocked at the fact of paying interest which Shylock demands. This creates the illusion that Jews began charging interest before Christians did. This, of course, it outright false. Interest was not started by one faith, but by several intelligent people, whether Jewish or not. Nowhere is it recorded, but most likely, Christians themselves were the first to incorporate this charge. And if Shylock were truly that greedy, would he not have accepted the bribe from Bassanio of three times the debt? Bassanio was foolish to believe that Shylock would be tempted with mere money over a life-long revenge that was about to take place. Not only foolish, but very discriminatory to think Shylock was greedy because he was Jewish, and he could just buy Antonio’s life back from the peril it had encountered.
Shakespeare’s play, “The Merchant of Venice,” portrayed the image of Jews to be greedy, merciless, and coldhearted. Shylock is thought by many to have been a villainous creep because of this, when in fact he was a victim of racism. This and many other discriminatory works truly ruined the image of Jewish people and created a stereotype. This stereotype is the cause of hatred toward the faith. In the holocaust, Jews were killed for the mere fact that they were Jewish. The Nazi’s measured people’s noses because it was assumed that Jews had long noses, and if they didn’t pass, they were sent to camps and/or executed. This stereotype is now inevitable. Too much hatred has developed, because of these horribly discriminatory pieces of work, to change the life-long struggle for the Jewish people.
Courtney from Study Moose
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