Catholics and Protestants Conflicts
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Christian on Christian violence was evidence of the hypocrisy in the Christian society. The concern of Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice was the Christian and state intolerance on religion. That is the Catholics – Protestant Problem which he brings out gradually in the plot but in a hidden way to avoid government censorship and persecution because the State and the Church we cordially the same. He highlights the conversion of Shylock to Christianity but Coonradt give a different view on this issue. It was rare to find conversion to Christianity from Jews. "Coerced conversions were virtually unheard of in the various narratives circulating about Jews in sixteenth-century England" (Shapiro, 1996).
Coonradt quotes from Shapiro’s works. Therefore it could not be addressing the Anti-Semitism sentiments but the problems of the Catholics and the Protestants. These are view that it was the conversion into Protestantism from Catholicism and from protestant to Catholicism. Shylocks conversion was supposed to show the Christian mercies but indeed it was representative of the English law forcing Catholics to the Protestant front and as the Catholics would reverse the practice leading to the evidence of the Christian Catholic tussle (Coonradt, 2007).
Shakespeare never knew any Jews and The Merchant of Venice was written in a time when the Jews had been banished from England for over 300 years (Laster, 2010). The many examples we have seen from the essay suggest that look beyond the surface when approaching Shakespeare’s work, quite literally, the play's very appearance deceives us unless we venture to read "otherwise." Quoting Hamilton’s idea to give closer scrutiny to the play, where her looks at the play from the usual terms as it contemplates with the Jewish Question but she gives in to the idea of Shylocks conversion to be real. If we critically study The Merchant of Venice we may see that Shakespeare tries to test our perception in a different way when we read otherwise. At the tie of writing the play it is clear Shakespeare never had the Jewish sentiments in Mind but just the cocooning of the idea in the play was important for his survival (Laster, 2010).. So justification of the point of conversion to be for real should be in the context of Protestant to catholic and catholic to protestant since there were very few Jews in England at that time and they lived there secretly (Laster, 2010).
Using this quote; "Where men enforc’d do speak anything" (3.2.32). We analyze the idea of the way the issue of conversion is used as a ploy and again the reader or viewer may be deceived by the appearances on the surface where the surface being the image of Judaism in the play. It may be a possibility that Shakespeare uses deception in the entire play, presenting it as a Jewish play, an anti-Semitic play when it really is not here we are left to wonder if the conversion of Shylock is true or just by the surface we see and the words he spoke to allege acceptance. The viewer is left to wonder if he would practice his own Jewish secretly. This is because the choice of Christianity is done for him by the Elizabethans (Coonradt, 2007).
"Uncanny causality" is portrayed by the anti-Semitism sentiments in the play which are just a shadow of the real concerns of the play. Using this no person could tell whether Shakespeare was a devoted Catholic, a Protestant convert, or a Jew but he effectively portrays the extent of the bloody battles waged between Protestants and Catholics in the name of Christ, in the name of justice, and in the name of love and how destructive they were. Shakespeare’s subversive use of anti-Semitism as a veil of conveying an ironic message about the moral decadence of religion and the hatred and the hypocrisy of Christian love and "mercy" as he saw it being practiced in England(Coonradt, 2007).
In England there were very stringent rules that suppressed freedom of speech and there was danger of treason by any Citizen and not forgetting the Authors of different works. This called for veiling any political utterances both on stage in England and outside England at that time (Kottmann, 2007). This was a way of escaping government censorship. Viewers and readers should not let the play's obvious anti-Jewish sentiment cloud our reading of the drama because we can see this as a cover and part of the hidden message that can not be addressed openly in the volatile political atmosphere of Early Modern England. William Shakespeare uses these anti-Jewish sentiments that Shakespeare knew fully well that they would pass the scrutiny of the "government censor” no one had a problem with maligning Jews, what was described by Shylock as "the badge of all Jewish tribe" 1.3.109 by Shakespeare. This enables him to comment indirectly about the Catholic- Protestant crisis without being censored and he was not taken to be against the Government of the day and its religious acts (Asquith, 2005).
The author also notes that many poets and playwrights had to bow out of writing after immense presser from the Government and many of them of them might have undergone some form of government pressure such as interrogation by the Privy Council to imprisonment, exile, even death and this explains why they receded in the years 1549-1667 and 1552-1663 which are regarded to have experienced high levels of unrest as a result of religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants and in this periods "treason" proved damning thus no one could risk. This is also evidence that the book The Merchant of Venice highlighted issues to do with the rift between the Catholics and Protestants(Coonradt, 2007).
In my clear understanding of the play and clear analysis by Coonradt, I strongly believe that the play’s sentiments were greatly based on the issues of the moment in England. The problems in England as a result of the problems between the Catholics and Protestants were much more evident than the Jewish question. Thus I would say Shakespeare used the deception on the issue Anti-Semitic issues to be able to convey to the audience the more sensitive issues of the time; the Catholic- Protestant Problem. This criticism has been more persuasive (Sparknotes, 2010).
The works of William Shakespeare are mostly engulfed with ambiguous points of analysis and it is always for the interest of the author depending on the time of the publication of the work and also it serves the purpose of literature since it gives a chance for a book to address different issues in the society
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