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Essay on “Merchant of Venice”

Among all the Shakespeare’s plays there is hardly any that have created so much controversy as it was with the “Merchant of Venice”. Shakespeare is famous for his ability to create complex, multilayer characters that cannot be adequately described in terms of simple black and white. Even the worst villains have traits that make it possible to understand them, if not sympathize with them or forgive them. “Merchant of Venice”, however, introduces the image that is ambiguous and is understood so differently that Shakespeare himself would have possibly been amazed at the passion with which different parties try to prove their points. We speak, of course, about Shylock.

Shylock, a wealthy Jewish moneylender, is most commonly described as a villain in the play, the person who stands in the way of love, who wants to murder Antonio through treachery, evil and abhorrent, though defeated in the end. But is it so and, more important, did Shakespeare intend him to be so? Throughout the most of the play’s history “Merchant of Venice” served as a kind of manifesto of anti-semitism, the image of Shylock, as described above, becoming a usual caricature of a Jewish nation.

However, there is another opinion, stating that the play is set on satirizing the hate for Jews prevalent in the English society of that time. Shylock is not only avaricious and evil, he is also a loving father and, most strikingly for a book of that time, a human being, maybe to a much greater extent, than any of his adversaries. He is given by Shakespeare one of the most powerful monologues throughout his creative work, stating that a Jew is a human, just like any other man, and isn’t to be despised for the sheer fact of his background. The trial of Shylock is a caricature of justice: Portia acts like a judge, while she has no right to do so. She offers inadequate evidence, which is gratefully accepted, condemning Shylock.

So, the actual opinion of Shakespeare himself remains a mystery.


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