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The Racial Discrimination Of Shakespearian Times English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3461 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In Shakespeare’s time there was laws, however some laws against racial discrimination was not enforced as much. An example of this is Jewish people in which despite being in a play they would have been viewed as being malicious or not been taken seriously. Shylock was a Jew himself, who lent funds to numerous people in Venice. He also charged interest to the people he lends money too. Simply by Shylock adding interest this will make the audience to have an aversion towards Shylock. Shakespeare having created an interesting yet complex character would mean that the audience would partially dislike Shylock at first however; Shakespeare adds vital statements in which has a strong meaning behind them that make the audience think if Shylock is a victim or villain. This is mainly due also from important key events through out the play in which would result the audience sympathising towards Shylock. An explanation why Shylock is the victim is that he was generally mistreated as a Jew. In Shakespeare’s time many of the Jews had to wear different clothing than everyone else did so you can be acknowledged as a Jew.

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There is mainly a time difference between the time in which, Shakespeare had wrote his plays and now. In Shakespeare’s time there had been different, events as they may be more “racial” conflict between different racial groups and, so between these groups it was very easy to express your hatred between one and another’s race. However the time in which Shakespeare wrote many of his own plays and as they were performed the audience were mainly Christians. They is a racial conflict between Jews and Christians in Shakespeare’s time and so Jews were often labelled as second class citizen people. Many or even most of the small minority of the Jews were often persecuted as they were a group of people who differ racially from a larger group (Christians) of which it is a part. There is only one type of audience in which is the Christian audience, however in the shadows beneath the Christian audience we have the Jews expression of opinions to look at. In order to make the play more appealing towards the Christian audience, Shakespeare would of have had to indulge to this audience. The reason in which Shakespeare had to do this was mainly because the Christian audience would have reacted is by being strongly arrogant, and strongly critical towards Jews, and by having an uneven distribution of the Christians ‘heavily’ being arrogant towards the Jews, Shakespeare introduced Shylock. Shylock is a Jew and has many unique characteristics in which these characteristics are quite the opposite of the Christians attitude of the way they react about him how they would react towards him. The overall, view is that as he is Jew, automatically they will be discrimination against Shylock. By doing this the audience would have the main and basic concept and so would understand the play much more. An example of this is as in Act 3 Scene 3, Shylock tells the exact ways of how the Christians have abused him physically and verbally. They abuse him physically and verbally by calling him names such as a “cut- throat dog” they physically abuse him by spitting on his Jewish gabardine and on his beard. They also take there anger on him resulting in them kicking him “as you spurn a stranger cur”. As Shylock continues to express his feelings by explaining the abuse his received from Christians this, would then cause more or less of a “guilt trip” to the audience. This would result in Shylock gaining sympathy by the audience. The statement he had made shows his mortality as a human and the strength he went through to express himself. It would give us a though of, who he really is. Despite him being a Jew, he still has emotions; he is a humann-being with not only emotions but feelings. The only exception is that he is different race. There is a ‘target audience’ in which is being directly targeted and is being appealed to a young, old yet modern audience. The reason being is because a modern audience would have less tension between races. A modern audience would, and could be described as a ‘neutral multi- racial’ society. The modern audience in this way reduces the ‘effect’ of Shakespeare in order to successfully address to a more contemporary audience. The reason being is because a modern audience would feel the pain and will be quite less critical. A modern audience can be described as being multi-racial or neutral, taking away the motive of Shakespeare’s efforts to grab more attention and appeal to a contemporary audience. By having this modern audience the play would now be much more tolerant and therefore resulting in it to be much more enjoyable. If this was not the case and there was a contemporary audience they would have much different views and perspectives on this matter. They would have not cared about Shylock at all and that abuse he got from them.

Shylock is firstly introduced at the beginning of Act 1 Scene 3. The first glance of appearance towards, Shylock is that he is a wealthy and a rich man. The reason being is because he gives the impression of being rich by associating his first couple of words with money. Shakespeare has done this on purpose because Shylock is a, user usurer. Bassasnio and Shylock have a conversation at the beginning of Act 3 Scene 1. Bassanio requests a lot of money from Shylock. In fact he asks Shylock for three-thousand ducats. Antonio needed to borrow three thousand ducats from Shylock so that his friend Bassanio can go and meet Portia and open one of the caskets. In the duration of the discussion in which Bassanio and Shylock were having Shylock asked Bassanio if Antonio is a “good man”. The audience attitude varies of Shylock in his first lines. Bassanio misunderstanding and misinterprets the statement by Shylock and says “Have you heard any imputation to the contrary”. However what Shylock really meant was will Antonio be able to get the money to him in three months time, as he may have ships coming this way, and so they are still many thieves. There are thieves such as pirates, land thieves and there is the environment it self such as wind and rocks can result in a shipwreck of a ship. Shylock is trying not too approve of this trade and is hoping that all these things will come true so that he can legally take a pound of flesh from Antonio thus killing him. Bassanio is not very “wise” with his words and creating more confusion and misunderstanding by Bassaion asking Shylock to dine with them. Shylock interprets this as an insult as he believes eating pork is very wrong. Shylock says “I will buy with you, sell with you talk with you, walk with you and so following but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray you. Shylock is insulted, and so is angry. Shylock speaks to Antonio very hatefully from the beginning. He speaks very amusingly mocking sarcasm immediately, in which makes Antonio deeply stressed and irritable. Shylock sees a great opportunity in order to get ‘revenge’ on Antonio by making him angry. This puts the audience in a position too think is Shylock being cruel or is Shylock acting up this way mainly because Antonio always insults Shylock in the streets about the way he deals with money. They are various things that Antonio says to Shylock, such as cut- throat dog, misbeliever and also Antonio spits on Shylock. Shylock makes him confused and surprises Antonio with an offer to have friendship, and an interest free loan which has to be paid back with in three months. However if Antonio does not manage to pay back the three-thousand ducats within three months Shylock will get a pound of Antonio’s flash. Shylock would result in now having a relatively minor possibility of being able to kill Antonio with authorization. Antonio accepts to the loan. The reasons in which Antonio accepted to the loan, was firstly because he has a very strong connection with Bassanio, and treats him like family (a son), and so would do anything for him, secondly Antonio is under strain. Antonio is angry with Shylock yet at the same time, he feels it’s the need to do what Bassanio wants and some makes a sudden decision without really thinking of the possibilities of him failing to return the money. Shylock treats this bond as a joke; however the audience would maybe now that if Shylock got what he wanted to kill Antonio, he would not refuse.

In Act 3 Scene 1, Shylock starts by answering to a question posted by Salerio. The question stated by Salerio is that in as to why he needs on pound of human flesh. Shylock gives a direct answer back stating to bait fish- “to bait fish withal”. Shylock then proceeds (with a short breath) “If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge”. By Shylock saying this he is meaning that it will indeed satisfy his desire and wants for revenge as he has had constant abuse from Christians. Shylock continues with his speech and begins to list the every day- to day abuse he had received from Christians and in which these actions that Christians have done him have has a negative impact and effect on him. He then says if a Christian wrongs a Jew a Jew will also want revenge and as a result yes he will most defiantly go through with the bond. Shakespeare’s audience would dislike Shylock’s wish to kill Antonio. Even Modern day audiences would dislike Shylock’s hope to kill Antonio, however the Modern audiences can see and understand Shylocks hope to kill Antonio as he had suffered racial discrimination, and racist jokes from Antonio. The way in which Shylock is trying to rationalize things is such like a request for equal opportunity in which becomes a statement of revenge. Shakespeare’s audiences would begin to wonder that Shylock is being too extreme or getting carried away and so would loose much sympathy for Shylock. Modern day audiences however would have a bit of sympathy for Shylock in his plea for sympathy but would think that he is going too far with the bond. Even though the main fact that they are being asked and ‘looked’ at as a critical anti-Semitic audience, despite this they would most defiantly would of had known how it would make a Jew feel in a Jews perspective. They would not have a very good idea of how and what their hatred of Jews would imagined to be like but more like a glimpse. Trying to gain sympathy in a modern audience, would be much more easier.The sympathy would also have been much more uniquely different than the sympathy of a contemporary audience. The way a modern audience would look at things, is they would look at all the aspects of the different types of racial groups, or ethnicity and so would be multi-racial and as a result they would be neutral opinions. So they both would have and feel the balanced amount of emotions.

There are (two) main plots in the play. These two main plots in the play are the flesh-bond plot and the marriage- caskets plot. Bassanio requested in order to gain permission for marriage with Portia, Portia being the Heiress of Belmont. The only problem there is that Bassanio is not financial rich enough to ‘impress’ Portia. As a result of this Bassanio cannot compete against the others that would want to marry her. Portia is basically the heiress to a fortune of riches. As a result of having this fortune her father, who is Shylock states she is only allowed to marry a man under the conditions that the man who chooses a correct casket out of 3 caskets total caskets is the one she is allowed to marry. Each Casket is made of either Gold, Silver or Lead. In the casket will contain her portrait and in which case, whoever chooses the correct casket beholding the portrait will become her loyal husband. In the location of Belmon the two princes have tried to choose the correct casket containing the portrait however both have failed to do this. The two princes are called; Prince Morroco and Prince Aragon. Bassanio is next in choosing the correct casket. Bassanio chooses successfully the correct casket in which included her portrait in and so Portia looking overwhelmed and glad gives Bassanio a ring. The ring symbolizes him becoming her husband. Portia is happy that he is her husband. Bassasnio then vows never to part with it with it. This is quite relevant as it creates sympathy towards Shylock. It creates sympathy towards Shylock as the contrast of Portia’s events, are similar (oppose) to the events in Shylocks life. Portia is overwhelmed and is living blissfully, after just becoming engaged. On the other hand Shylock has lost his precious daughter in which he cares about allot. Shylock at the moment he is burning for revenge as he his daughter was mainly the main thing he has. The sympathy comes exactly from in which the contrast between Portia and Shylock life.

We begin to understand that Shylock has not been very good to Jessica, in the sense of love. This is the main reason in which Jessica is ‘sick’ and angry. Jessica really wants to be a Christian however due to Jessica’s frustration she makes a very instant decision and decided to run away. Before Jessica runs away she says farewell to Launcelot (Shylock’s servant) who has been sacked. The reasons include moving herself away from her Father, who takes way too much pride in being a Jew and money instead of raising Jessica. She does this on purpose in order that her father will be hurt and so by doing these actions (converting to Christian); it shows the extent in which she will go in order to achieve her objective which is upset her father. Whilst Shylock is at the meal with Antonio Jessica steals Shylocks valuable items such as jewels and ducats. Even though Jessica had converted to Christian, this action that she had taken would have even resulted in making the contemporary audience feel sad for Shylock and so would sympathise towards Shylock. The reason being in which the contemporary audience felt sympathy is because they have got to understand him fully. Despite the facts about his religion which is a Jew they would, want to know more about him, they would care where he has gone and what has happened to him as they know this would cause the up most harm to him. It would cause him great harm as he takes great Jessica’s intentions of converting to Christianity are finally opened and revealed in Act 2 Scene 3. They are opened and revealed as they were in a conversation with Lancelot she says “to be ashamed to be my fathers child, but though I am a daughter to his blood, I am not to his manners” proving her hatred of him.

However the contemporary audience may sympathise with Antonio. Shylock appears to be very careful and cautious. When Shylock takes notice of Antonio, Antonio does not acknowledge Shylock, who speaks openly to the audience, but not to his un-trusted ones making them his enemy. Shylock is now becoming more and more ‘fanatical’ and so he is rapidly changing character. No longer can a Christian audience sympathize with him, as his true plot to “catch” (Act 1 Scene 3) or grab a Christian comes out. This would now result in the audience sympathize someone of their own type and religion. Shylock becomes increasingly restless and so as this happens the audience will fall apart from Shylock and so the audience sympathy will fall.

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During the Trial Scene Shylock says he will not give in and he has sworn an oath. By Shylock, saying this it shows he is taking the bond and his plot for revenge very crucially and seriously. Shylock insists he will not show any mercy because he hates Antonio and also sworn an oath to take a pound of flesh from Antonio and that is precisely what he will do. Shakespeare’s audience and modern audiences would give very minor sympathy too Shylock. Shylock continues to insist that the bond is carried out correctly and exactly right. The motive by why Shylock is so adamant for the bond to be carried out precisely and exactly is because; Shylock knows that the Venice system of trade, banking etc would collapse if the duke made an exception for Antonio. In the play at, this moment we see that Shylock is taking the lead. Shylock is over -powering everyone however we shortly notice this is not the case. Shylock with confidence says that Antonio cannot have any surgeon close to his whereabouts as it is not in the bond. By Shylock having said this it created both, modern and Shakespeare time audience have even less sympathy for Shylock. Shylock’s plan is coming to a purposed end, as it is stated by Portia that he can only take a pound of flesh, no more, no less, even if he took a bit more, the bond would be broken in which case Shylock can be accused and charged with attempted murder. In a way Shylock has boxed himself in, ruining his own plan as he was telling everyone the bond has to be carried out exactly as it is written and so, he has trapped himself. The pound of flesh has come to an end to Shylock. Shylock immediately is then told about the charges and in which case the penalty for attempted murder. He then goes onto stutter and is told that the penalty for attempted murder results in death, and all his goods will be taken from him. Gratiano tries humorously saying Shylock will have to beg for a rope to hang him self, as he will have no money to but one. The way a modern audience would feel and react is that they would firstly feel much sympathy for Shylock. The reason as being is that he has worked hard for this moment, in which he gets his revenge, his ‘back’, for the years in which he has greatly pained and instead of getting the way he wanting thing to go and what he wanted he ended up getting nothing. So basically the modern audience would sympathize more with Shylock as now they can full understand his full character and the potential in this character.

In my overall opinion, I believe Shylock’s punishment to become a Christian is not necessary and does not deserve this punishment. The main reason I think this is because, the actions which Shylock had taken to cut a pound of Antonio’s flesh, is unnecessary and extreme. However seeming as Shylock was being provoked into do such ‘actions’, cutting a pound of Antonio’s flash is also unnecessary and so somehow they neutralise each other out. Meaning they are both in the “wrong” just as one and another. I feel Shylocks punishment is not needed and “‘unjust’ as he should have the right to die as a Jew. It also mainly depends on the type of audience there is, such as a contemporary audience would find it lawful and justice that Shylock had this punishment. Through-out the play Shakespeare is trying to make a ‘hidden’ point in which is that he is trying to imply that many of the Christians are racists amongst other religion however at this same time they would be too reserved to notice this slight negative of themselves. Through the play Shakespeare is expressing a point to the more Anti-Semitic audience that they should be treated just the same way they treat themselves and they way in which they would like to be treated. Shylock is the main and most recognised in The Merchant of Venice. You could ‘read’ Shylock and interpret him as, a joking Jewish stereotype, or even a character in which sense of decency have been shattered by the neglect and abuse from the Christians. Certainly Shylock is a creation of circumstance, and even thought without thinking twice about his pursuit of a pound of flesh, his constant mentions of the cruelty, abuse, and neglect in which where all at the hands of the Christians and so as a result it makes it hard for us to target him as someone that is bad. Shylock in a way to “neutral” his doings out argues that Jews are humans just like everyone else and calls his quest for vengeance in the product of lessons taught to him by the cruelty of Venetian citizens. However on the other side, Shylock’s strongly yet coldly recalculates plan in order to have a go to revenge the negatives done to him. The result in the negatives done to him is that he attempt by murdering his persecutor Antonio, in which prevents us from seeing him in a positive way. This is then in other ways making the audience to sympathise with Shylock as this is what , Shakespeare had intended.

Zakir Harris

Word Count: 3,562


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