Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Exemplar - Not achieved with annotations

Do You Think the Play Capitalizes on or Criticizes the Prejudices against Jews in Shakespeare's Society? Support Your Opinion with Detailed Evidence from the Text.

In my opinion the play criticizes the prejudices against the Jews. Shakespeare makes the audience feel sorry for Shylock and portrays the Christians as being unforgiving and showing no mercy towards him. It is also shown that the Christians needed the Jews for money lending.

The audience takes pity on the Jew, Shylock, because of the racism that he faces. He constantly brings up the grief and humiliation that Antonio (a Christian) has caused both him and his people. For example:

"Fair sir, you spet me on Wednesday last,
You spurn'd me such a day, another time
You call'd me dog"

(Merchant of Venice, Act I, scene iii, l.121-123)

This says that Antonio has spat on Shylock because he was a Jew and called him a dog, which at the time was the lowest form of animal and the biggest insult. It makes the audience feel sorry for him because of what he has faced. Shakespeare is showing the Jewish side and is therefore criticizing the prejudice shown to them.

At another point in the play, The Merchant of Venice, the Jew Shylock expresses his confusion towards the prejudice, questioning why it occurred.

"He hath disgrac'd me, and hind'red me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies - and what's his reason? I am a Jew."

(Merchant of Venice, Act III, scene i, l.48-52)

This again shows how Antonio has treated Shylock as well as showing that Shylock understands that it's because he is a Jew but it shows his perplexity as to why it is because he is a Jew when he says

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons..."

(Merchant of Venice, Act III, scene i, l. 52-55)

This tells us that in every other way but religion, the Jews and the Christians are the same. It makes the audience feel again sorry for Shylock and angry towards Antonio and the Christians for treating him like that. It is in this way that Shakespeare criticizes the prejudices against the Jews, because instead of making the audience dislike the Jews, he makes them pity them.

The Christians take all that can be taken from the Jew, Shylock. His religion, his money and any dignity that he may have had, because he tried to take a pound of Antonio's flesh.

"He presently became a Christian:
The other, that he do record a gift
(Here in the court) of all he dies possess'd
Unto his son Lorenzo and his daughter"

(Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene i, l.383-386)

Antonio robs him of what he believes most in - his religion and makes him give money to his daughter Jessica who has recently become a Christian. It makes the audience once again, feel pity for Shylock and not like Antonio very much at that point because he's held a grudge against Shylock and not just let him go.

A lot of importance is put into the fact that Antonio (a Christian) depended on shylock to lend him money. Without Shylock, Antonio wouldn't have been able to lend Bassanio any money and the play would have not turned out even remotely as it did.

"Three thousand ducats for three months, and Antonio bound"

(Merchant of Venice, Act I, scene iii, l. 9)

Because a lot of significance is put on the fact that Antonio now owes Shylock it shows that the Jews also have power as well as the Christians. If Shakespeare was not trying to criticize the prejudice, I don't believe he would put Shylock in a position of power.

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice focuses a lot on the anti-Semitism towards the Jews. He takes what I think would have been an unconventional view towards it seeing it from the Jewish point of view instead of a Christian one. He makes the audience pity Shylock, hate Antonio and puts Shylock in a role of power. I believe he did those things because he was criticizing the prejudice towards Jews.

This essay is bordering on an achieved as it does focus on the question. There is, however, a simplicity in places and a lack of understanding about the complexities of Shylock's character. 

Overall grade: Not Achieved.

Published on: 10 Dec 2010