Oral assessment: merchant of Venice. 1) In this play even though the title highlights Antonio, shylock is a strong character in the sense that the other characters are anti-Semitic. Shylock also has emotions, however, is labelled “the Jew” because of his beliefs. To begin with, shylock had no intention of lending Antonio money as he despises him and feels he has been treated unjustly, “you called me dog; and for these courtesies, I’ll lend you thus many amounts of money.” Shylock lends the money with reluctance, hoping Antonio won’t repay the bond, therefore, ensuring a chance to inflict pain upon him. “if you repay me not on such a day, in such a place, such sums or sums as are, expressed in the condition, let the forfeit ……….. an equal pound, of your fair flesh to be cut off and taken, in what part of your body pleaseth me.” This quote by shylock highlights his hate for Antonio and Christians thereby, thinking he will have fulfilled his revenge.
Shylock feels he has been wronged and ill-treated and says he will punish Christians far worse than what they have already done; “Teach me I will execute and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.” This shows shylock talking about being vengeful which makes him a villain because he will do worse than the Christians have done to him as revenge. Shylock hated Antonio because of his faith. We can see where this is evident when shylock declines an invitation to dinner, “I hate him for he is a Christian.” Also, he just doesn’t have hated him for this reason. Shylock like many other Jews was a usurer although in this Venetian period Jews could only accumulate money this way. Shylock lent money but, with high interest rates on the other hand, however, Antonio lent money with no interest causing shylock to lose business.
We can see Shylock’s further dislike towards Antonio and Christians because they helped his daughter run away. His daughter also stole many precious jewels and thousands of ducats from him. Shylock shows more consideration for his wealth rather than the well-being of his daughter Jessica. “And the jewels, two stones, two rich and precious stones, Stolen by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl! When his daughter left him he was only upset that she stole his money and his precious gems. “I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear.” Shylock would not care if his daughter was dead and laying in front of him as long as she still had the ducats and the jewels in her possession. From this, we can see that shylock cares more about his wealth rather than his love and affection towards his daughter. In this effect, shylock is wise in his wealth but lacks to show feelings and love for Jessica.
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Shylock, the Jew, is portrayed as a friend who wants revenge against a Christian. Shylock wants a piece of Antonio’s flesh due to a forfeited bond. Bassanio, Antonio’s friend offers to pay off the debt and even to give extra money on top. Shylock refuses and poses the question to Bassanio; he asks whether he would free his slaves and Bassanio says no explaining they are his. Shylock reaffirms this by saying he wants his flesh, he bound to have a pound of his flesh and wants it. “You will answer ‘The slaves are ours’. So do I answer you. The pound of flesh which I demand of him is clearly bought. Tis mine, and I will have it”. Bassanio offers shylock six thousand ducats, “For thy three thousand ducats here is six.” Shylock does not take his offer into consideration and simply wants to show Antonio his malice and how unsympathetic he is. This is the quality of his character.
Throughout the play, shylock is only referred to by name three times and is often modified with derogatory terms such as, “dog jew” and “currish jew”. He is dehumanized and his religious identity ignored. Shakespeare’s book is defiantly anti-semitic and written for an Elizabethan audience where anti-Semitism was widespread. Shakespeare made his play anti-semitic because at this time no one really cared about jews. Jews were treated harshly and differently from Christians. Rules for Christians and Jews were not the same. Jews were harassed all through Venetian history and made scapegoats because jews were made money lenders and excluded from many things. Often Jews were forced to convert or, leave the country. Shakespeare created shylock against a cultural and historical backdrop that was intensely hostile to jews. Given this social context and historical tradition, it is not unanticipated that some antagonism should appear in Shakespeare’s work. He was a commercial writer and needed to contemplate public conventions.
2) Witty, beautiful and wealthy, Portia embodies the virtues that are typical of Shakespeare’s heroines- it does not surprise that she emerges as the solution to shylock’s malice. At the beginning of the play, we don’t see her initiative for resourcefulness, as she is almost a prisoner showing she is constrained and almost dictated in her marriage by her dead father but, has not gone against his will. During the trial Portia prevails over shylock by setting a more rigid standard than shylock by, agreeing that his contract entitles him to a pound of flesh, however, not allowing any loss of blood. This shows anyone could bend the rules but, her effectiveness and intellectuality allow her to make the law work for her. Here we can see how much power Portia had to use at no expense whilst she was dressed as a man and how society’s attitude towards women, and jews were at the time.
Also, we can see the similarities between shylock and Portia where shylock is fully aware of Venetian law, “I stand here for the law” and how he is abiding by it. However, Portia arises to show her intellect by putting shylock into a predicament. These two characters also have great wealth and are both mindful of it but ironically a bond of money being shylock’s downfall whereby, he is forced to convert to Christ; this is where we see the nature of antisemitism. We know both characters experience strong feelings. Shylock shows his consideration for his daughter in act2 scene5 also we know of Portia’s feelings towards Bassanio as she calls for music to be played which creates an atmosphere and sets the mood for Bassanio’s decision showing how much consideration she has for him.