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"The Merchant of Venice"

← Theodore Roethke

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In the literary world we tend to learn a lot by observing the matters addressed deeply or the deep concerns of the society so as to understand a piece of work by any author. Be it poet, playwright or Novelist. As we put our minds to the play The Merchant of Venice there is a great sense of ambiguity in the significance of the issues addressed by William Shakespeare. Coonradt uses epic analysis and quotes Shakespeare by the statement “choose not by the view….but with what lies beneath.” This is indeed a very important aspect when approaching any contemporary work of Shakespeare because his works are known to mean a lot more than the picture of the piece of work portrays.

In the essay Shakespeare’s Grand Deception: The Merchant of Venice--Anti-Semitism as 'Uncanny Causality' and the Catholic-Protestant Problem Coonradt has identified two angles of analysis which have been evidently portrayed in the Play and effectively gives us the two  possible ploys that Shakespeare might have  wanted to give to his audience. It is totally up to every reader to comprehend this work and understand it alongside the Play in order to have a clear ground of this particular piece of work.

Anti- Semitic Sentiments

The phenomenal question on the platform was if the work of Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice was addressing the Anti-Semitism polarities in England or the rivalry of the Catholics and Protestants which culminated to religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants claiming control of England Religious fabric. The author has explored two important views and to begin with he notes that Shakespeare may have been addressing the Anti-Semitic issue by what goes by the evidences in the play. The character shylock is of Jewish roots and the Playwright uses him to portray the Anti- Semitic sentiments that Jews are coerced to convert to Christianity. This is because he is viewed as a problem in the State of Venice. Considering his religious practices, his manner of Speech and his revengeful personality on Antonio are the issues that make him a potential threat to the Elizabethans thus requiring a solution (Kottman, 2007).

In the trial we see that the personality of revenge on Antonio is clearly shown.

“You’ll ask me why I rather chose to have

A weight of carrion flesh than to receive

Three thousand ducats: I’ll not answer that

But, say, it is my humor…

So can I give no reason, nor will I not

More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing

I bear Antonio.” (4.1.40-44, 59-61 by Shakespeare).

The play makes us fear that Shylock may get his way to Slaughter Antonio but it also gives us a solution which is legal casting away the fears that there was no solution. Portia poses as the lawyer. But in this trial Shakespeare tries to show the disheartening Jewish acts of revenge and inhumane acts as seen by the Elizabethans. Shylock would settle for nothing but the pound of flesh. This is in knowledge that this whole plot of lending Antonio money was in the long run to be revenge against the Abuses the Jews have suffered under their Christian neighbors (Laster, 2010).

Shylock in a bid to create a level ground in his speech

Shylock says: “I am a Jew. 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, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. (3.1.49-62 by Shakespeare)

The Christians who act in the name of Christ’s and his teachings believe in Mercy are seen to also be faulting some where because they do not embrace this. They are hypocrites. This speech is not viewed as a justification of revenge but it is empirical evidence that the Jews were not treated well in the society. This has led to criticism of Shakespeare’s work to be Anti-Semitic.

This evidence in the Essays shows the analysis of the play Merchant of Venice was Anti-Semitic by the author goes ahead and reminds us that this is just an excuse for revenge citing the work of Cohen; "nothing more than a justification for revenge" (Cohen, 1980).

If we go by the analysis of the above issues and the plot of the play and characters roles we may drastically draw to a conclusion that The Merchant of Venice was purely Anti- Semitic work but further analysis takes us into deeper concerns of the play.

If we look at the speech we can see Shylock trying to fault the Christians too. They are also part of the problem since they preach water and drink wine. They do not follow the teachings (Coonradt, 2007).

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