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The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is a comic, revengeful and tragic play which is set in Venice and the nearby country estates of Belmont. Shakespeare wrote the play during times when England like much of the Europe had restricted the rights of the Jews and even escalated to extremes of banishing them from England in 1290 by King Edward I and were not officially allowed to return until1655 when Oliver Cromwell allowed them. This exile of Jews was still in effect when Shakespeare wrote this play and many scholars believe that some Jews still lived in England at the time of the Christian guise.
At the time renaissance Christians disliked the Jews because they believed that their behaviour of charging interest on money they lend (usury) was against the societal morals. During the time of renaissance Christians had become heavily indebted to the Jews who had loaned money to them with interests rates hence their increased hatred for the Jewish counterparts who started terming them as inhuman by demanding usury on the monies they lend. This was a selfish and unfair reaction from the Christian community in Venice because they started treating Jews harshly by imposing hefty taxes on them failure from which their land was confiscated and defaulters imprisoned. Such heavy taxing was intended to boost the financial status of the government especially during adverse economic times (Mahon, 345).
Merchant of Venice is a revenge tragedy play which its plot revolves around the quest of its main character shylock a Jew who is bitter on the way his neighbors supposedly Christians treat him and he is on a mission to avenge for such in human treatment. He plans and implements his revenge by engaging in money lending which offers him chance to avenge when a Christian defaults him after he lend the money.
In Venice Bassanio borrows money from his merchant friend Antonio to help him woo a wealth noble woman Portia. Antonio does not have ready cash to lend to his friend but he gives him a permission or guarantee to borrow the money he needs on his credit. Antonio is expecting his ships to arrive at the harbor with a lot of merchandise that will enable him to settle the loan. Bassanio is given loan of 3000 ducats by the Jewish moneylender Shylock that is not in good terms with Antonio. Their dispute is a racial and religious one and shylock seizes the opportunity to offer a bizarre alternative to Antonio if he defaults and for sure Antonio chances of defaulting hits peak as the news that his ships had been wrecked. Shylock then takes the case to court demanding that he be given permission to cut one pound of flesh from the defaulter's chest as agreed upon earlier. The case is solved amicably by the judge and the play ends in a good way when the main characters Bassanio and Portia marry each other and the ships of the Antonio are found and arrives at the harbor.
Shylock is a Jewish money lender who lives in Venice and he has been bittered for many years by the way Venetian Christians have been mistreating him especially by the merchant Antonio. The mistreatments by the Christians have shaped the religions and racial identity of shylock.
The character of Shylock in the play merchant of Venice is portrayed as devilish and murderer whose dear intentions is to take away the life of the Christian Antonio believed by his fellow Christian to be the most kind mind to have ever lived in Venice. Shylock wants revenge on the Christian Antonio because he wants to avenge his revenge on the Christians who even call him a villain because nothing seems to stop him at getting the pound of flesh from Antonio's chest even after Bassanio offers to pay him twice the agreed upon debt of six thousand ducats. He adamantly refuses to accept the money and demand for the pound of flesh which he claims he bought it hence he must have it because it's legally his.
Jews like shylock hate Christians at the time so dearly because Christians themselves had no liking for Jews because they believed they killed crucified Jesus Christ hence were on the side of the devil. Christian also hated Jews because they believed they were not human by charging usury on money they lend to Christians but the truth is that Christians had become heavily indebted to Jews who had lend money to them hence their intentional unfair reaction by being anti-Semitic. So the murderous character of Shylock is as result of the hatred and bitterness his arbors against Christians who constantly show hatred towards him and other Jews. He claims for what he believes is his rightfully and seizes the opportunity of Antonio's defaulting to make himself to be recognized a as a just man by the Christians who always sees him as an unjust man. This newly earned character of shylock can mainly be attributed to Christians who forced him to hate them and even have a conspiration to kill Antonio, hence offering yet evidence why Christians are portrayed to have contributed to the construction of Shylocks character in the play.
Shylock is forced to charges some interest on the money he lends and this becomes his obsession as he wants to acquire lot money to ensure his own security from the ungrateful Christians. With is addiction to getting more money he becomes a greedy person who is not his true self he only need the money as a reaction to the treatment he receives from the Christian community. Shylock sees that getting financial security is the only way to proof to the Christians like Antonio that he is also somebody worth respect and human dignity and not the way they always see him. He thinks that being wealth will make the Christian treat him well but that ends up not the truth as everything he has worked for ends up in the possession of his enemies when the court fines him for conspiring to kill Antonio and that costs half of his property and he later becomes broke and desolate forcing him to become a Christian hence making him loose his identity. Shylocks fate of losing his identity as a Jew is attributed to his past greedy behavior of charging usury on the money he lends to Christians to get as much wealth as he could just to get at his Christian enemies hence it can be successfully argued that Christians can be held responsible for the final man that Shylock becomes as its their hatred and ill treatment that forced him to charge usury which converted him to a greedy person.
Through out the play merchant of Venice Christians in Shylock's neighborhood show a consistent hatred and dislike for the Jewish shylock and even fail to call him by his given name but prefers calling him detestable alienating names like the Jew, cruel devil, harsh Jew, currish Jew, infidel, impenetrable cur, the villain and even the devil in the likenesses of the his Jewish identity. Such name calling alienated shylock from the Venetian Christians and make him diabolically foul which gradually constructs shylocks identity and makes him a bitter man who focuses in taking revenge against the Christian community who he beliefs are treating him in humanly. Shylock notices the habit of Christians to assess the worth of them and others according to faulty standards like using money value or grade one's status and value in the community. Christian's belief is that the more money one has the greater value and status one belongs to and Shylock in his conspiration to unleash his monomaniacal lust for revenge against his Christian enemies forced him into money lending ventures which he earns a living from the usury. Shylock sees this means as the only way for him as a Jew to compete with his fellow Venetian Christians. Shylock exhibits a monstrous behaviour especially against his Christian defaulters like Antonio as he sees it as the only achievable and fulfilling way of unleashing his revenge. This change in shylocks behaviour is as a result of the constant cold treatment he receive from his Christian neighbors and this has made him a different person which is not characteristic of the Jew he was at first hence an evident that Christians in Merchant of Venice greatly contributes to the construction of Shylocks racial and religious identity.
Shylock in the play admits that he hates Antonio and even declines his invitation to dinner on the grounds that he is a Christian. Shylock hates Antonio even more because he himself is a usurer who lends money with high interest rates that has enabled him to acquire immense wealth. He accuses Antonio of lending money to people in distress without demanding for any interest charge and this escalates his hatred for Antonio because he sees him as a person who threatens his job since he causes his business to lose money as a result of reduced business. Shylock is therefore made to act harshly towards Christians because he accuses them of stealing his business and his run away daughter. This illustrates that the behaviour of Christians like Antonio being kind makes Shylock to change his character and become more harsh and unkind towards his perceived enemies Christians hence the construction of his character in the play.
In the play Shylock has been portrayed an isolated, greedy, unreasonable and self-thinking individual who doesn't think of the needs of other people. He even loves money more than his daughter and doesn't want to eat, drink or even pray with anyone and he avoids making friendship making him cranky and steadfast and even rigid in his beliefs. He does a stereo-typical profession as a money-grabbing money lender; a job which makes him hard to let go off his greedy tendencies as he doesn't see any reason why he should do so event at the point where it warrants mercy and pity. He describes the idea of getting a pound of flesh from Antonio's chest as a merry sport and finds it very pleasing when flesh is cut out of someone's body and this is evident when he insist only for the pound of flesh even after being offered double the priced he is owed. Such unreasonable and weird secluded behaviour portrayed by Shylock is attributed to the racist treatment he receives from the Christians who have never seen anything in him other than his Jewishness. Shylock wonders why he is being treated that way by Christians yet he has eyes, has hands, and has organs, dimensions, feelings, senses and even passions just like them. The unreasonable and rigid character of shylock is as a result of the racial discrimination that he has received from the Christians hence the argument that Christians are the ones responsible for construction of his character.
Christians are seen as the main modes through which the character of Shylock is shaped through out the play as Shylock constantly claims that he has done no wrong by treating Christians badly because he is simply following what his Christian neighbors has taught him which it eventually becomes an integral part of his character later in the play. His conspiracy to kill Antonio is borne of the insults and injuries which Antonio had inflicted upon him in their previous encounters. This means that by planning to kill Antonio he is does not consider himself as a murderer but rather as a mechanism of applying what his past relationship with Antonio has taught him. For instance Shylock when responding to Salarino's query on what good thing that having the pound of flesh will benefit him, he answers that it will offer him a chance to execute the villainy that Christians has taught him. This means that almost every action that Shylock does is attributed to some past experience that Christians have done to him hence the evidence of the role that Christians play in construction of Shylocks character in Shakespeare's play the Merchant of Venice (Bradbrook, 126).
During the court session, Shylocks proofs that he is a smart character who can defend himself in every adversary despite the great opposition from his Christian enemies who want to stop him from succeeding in demanding for the pound of flesh from his defaulter Antonio. Shylock guided by his keenness for revenge uses any wit within his disposal to ensure that he is granted the permission to finalize his revenge of killing Antonio. He has nobody on his side but he shows no sign of giving up until he satisfies his yearning for revenge; he argues to the judge that Christians refuses to set free their assess, dogs and mules simply because they bought them thus they own them and they are their slaves then why should he be denied the pound of flesh which he bought in accordance to the law and that why he beliefs that he is acting as per the law hence granting him the right to have the pound of flesh from Antonio as per the agreement they signed. This portrays that Shylock is stopping at nothing to ensuring that he succeeds in vending his hatred for Christians until he kills Antonio. Such courage enamates from his dearly anticipated revenge which he attributes to the cruelty he has gone through in the hands of the Christians hence it's the way Christians treated him earlier that becomes the driving forms that makes Shylock a master of his own destiny. This shows that Christians therefore contributed o the construction of his Character in the play merchant of Venice.
Christian merchant Antonio resulted to his own destruction when things fail to work according to his will. Shylock suffers a spiritual ruin when the clever Portia helps Antonio in solving the case in the court. Portia disguised as Bellario and Nerissa as a law clerk articulately influence the outcome of the court especially when Shylock adamantly refuses to show mercy for Antonio. Portia then allows him to get the pound of flesh as stipulated by the signed agreement and that was to be done without spilling of even a dot of blood. Shylock gives up and thus losing the case resulting to being fined for conspiring to murder Antonio and this forces him to lose have of his property and in addition is forced to convert to Christianity (Barton, 252).After Portia striping Shylock off his property he becomes broke and loses his Jewish religion and this is as result of the combined forces from the Christian community both outside and in the court. This twist of events therefore changed Shylock's religious identity for the rest of his life. During the time of Shakespeare Jews were treated harshly by the Venice Christians and nobody really cared whether they lived or died. As a way of showing their uncaring behaviour Christians became anti-Semitic and the government of the day taxed them heavily and striped off their money during times that the government's money became low or just for government financial boost. If Jews failed to pay the money taxed on them individually or collectively, then their property especially land was confiscated and defaulters imprisoned. Therefore the Jews population was treated harshly and with a lot of disrespect by Christians who lived in Venice during the renaissance period. This prompted Shakespeare to develop the character of Shylock in Merchant of Venice as to portray the bitterness that Jews felt as a reaction to the harsh treatment they were accorded to by the Christian community.
During the time of renaissance Jews had to be portrayed and villain ands people never expected anyone of them to show any drop of compassion for his enemy because the Christians were the ones expected to show compassion towards others especially the Jews who were stereotypically viewed as the murderers of Jesus Christ thus forcing Shylock who is a Jew to behave like the devil. This construction of Shylocks character give Christians like Portia the chance to show their mercy when he corners him using the law which was his only weapon and strips him his property only to give half of it back after he loses his religion to become Christian. The behavior of Shylock charging usury gives Antonio the Christian another chance to show him mercy by refusing to collect part of his goods as a compensation for his conspiration to eliminate him. The outcome of the court forces Shylock to kneel and beg for mercy from the Christians judges which served the interests of the renaissance Christian population in Venice (Shakespeare et al, 145).
In conclusion, the discussions and argument made in the essay goes beyond any reasonable doubt that the character of the Shylock who is one of the main characters in the play Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare is heavily constructed by the presence, interactions ad behaviors of the Christian community who happened to be the neighbors of the character. Shylock undergoes a lot of transformations in his character throughout the play and almost everything he does claims that he was thought by his Christians neighbors and in fact he shows no remorse or mercy or even take responsibility for the outcome of his actions since her doesn't even see anything wrong with his weird character. Shylock becomes greedy, alienated, villain, infidel, unreasonable, rigid and even a murderer which all are linked to his dear intentions in trying to avenge for himself and the rest of the Jews for what he terms as inhuman, intolerable and ill treatment by the Christians in Venice and the neighborhood. He beliefs that by taking a revenge by killing Antonio he will have succeeded in making the Christians pay for the past unacceptable behaviors against Jews.