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Paradoxes and oxymorons study guide essay The action takes place in Venice, Italy, and Belmont, the site of the estate of Portia, one of the main characters. Shakespeare does not identify the precise location of Belmont, but the stage directions refer to it as being “on the Continent” (Europe). Presumably, Belmont is only a short distance Opinion | Where Are All the American Orchestra Conductors? Venice. Venice ( Venezia in Italian) is in northeastern Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. In late medieval and early Renaissance times, Venice was one of Europe’s greatest centers of commerce. Bassanio’s heart brims with love for the fair Portia, a wealthy heiress. He must have her. However, his pockets brim only with emptiness. How can he court a woman of such elegance with a vacant purse? Bassanio asks his friend Antonio for money to woo and win delightful Portia. Three thousand ducats will do the trick. Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice, is willing to do anything for Bassanio, his most excellent friend. But because most of Antonio’s money is tied up in Uproar over law exam question papers enterprises, he does not have enough cash on hand to make a loan. Nonetheless, because ships he owns will soon arrive laden with merchandise, he agrees to post his property as collateral so Bassanio can obtain a loan. Although Portia considers Bassanio a worthy young gentleman, she promised her late father that she would marry the man who chooses the correct of three caskets on display at her estate at Belmont: one gold, one silver, and one lead. The correct casket contains a portrait of Portia. Suitors from around the world have come to her home to win the beautiful heiress. However, several of them—including a Neapolitan prince, a count palatine (a count with royal privileges), a Frenchman named Monsieur Le Bon, an English baron, a Scottish lord, and the nephew of the Duke of Saxony—have decided to return home rather than take part in the casket lottery. Their decision to withdraw is a relief to Portia, who dislikes all of them. When a servant informs her that another suitor, the Prince of Morocco, will soon arrive, Portia makes a racist comment to her maid, Nerissa, “If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion (black) of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me” (1.2.33). After receiving Antonio’s pledge to post collateral for a loan, Bassanio meets a Jewish moneylender, Shylock, on a street and asks him for the money, telling him Antonio will guarantee repayment at the end of three months. Shylock has suffered frequent ridicule from Antonio and other Christian Venetians. They despise him not only because he charges exorbitant interest rates but also because he is a Jew. Nevertheless, Shylock agrees to lend Bassanio the money. However, if Antonio does not repay the loan in the designated time, he must forfeit a pound of flesh. Moments later, Antonio arrives and signs a contract binding him to this strange condition, confident that his ships will arrive in time with merchandise to repay the loan. Shylock, of course, secretly hopes Antonio will default on the loan so that he can cut away the pound of flesh (certain death) as revenge against his Christian enemy. Bassanio, now with money and wooing rights, leaves for Portia’s home, Belmont, near Venice. Meanwhile, the Prince of Morocco, a black Moor, Hidalgo County bailiff accused of providing fake documents to drug smugglers arrived at Belmont. After he presents himself to choose a casket, he correctly senses Portia’s attitude toward blacks: “Mislike me not for my complexion / The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun” (2.1.3-4). Elsewhere, at about nine in the evening, Shylock’s daughter Jessica elopes with Bassanio’s friend Lorenzo, taking with her a goodly portion of Shylock’s jewels and gold. What is more, she becomes a Christian. At Belmont, the Prince of Morocco chooses the golden casket. When he opens it, he finds a scroll bearing this message: All that glisters [glitters] is not gold; Often have you heard that told: Many a man his life hath sold But my outside to behold: Gilded tombs do worms infold. Had you been as wise as bold, Young in limbs, in judgment old, Your answer had not been inscroll’d: Fare you well; your suit is cold. (2.7.67) But there is no portrait of Portia; the prince has chosen incorrectly. After he leaves Belmont, Portia says to herself, “A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains: go. / Let all of his complexion choose me so” (2.7.72-73). On a Venice street, Salanio and Salarino—friends of Bassanio and Antonio—exchange news. Salarino says he heard a report that Lorenzo and Jessica were seen together in a gondola. Salanio then says he heard the “dog Jew,” Shylock, shouting in the streets: Meanwhile, at Belmont, the Prince of Arragon tries his luck in the casket lottery—but loses. Back on the Venice street, Shylock runs into Salanio and Salarino, lamenting that Jessica, his “own flesh and blood” (3.1.17), has abandoned him. The three men then discuss a report that Antonio’s ships were lost, causing him to default on the contract with Shylock. When Salarino asks Shylock whether he will really claim a pound of Antonio’s flesh, Shylock affirms that he will, pointing out that doing so will avenge him against all the indignities he has suffered as a Jew in a Christian world. Jews are just as human as Christians, he asserts: When Bassanio arrives at Belmont with his friend Gratiano, Portia’s heart soars, for she hopes that he will be the one to choose the right casket. “If you do love me,” she says, “you will find me out” (3.2.45). To help him choose the right casket, she has a song sung that gives him a clue, and he picks the correct casket, the lead one. Portia then vows to marry Bassanio and presents him a ring, telling him never to lose it or give it away. But Bassanio and Portia are not the only happily united lovers; for Gratiano, who has had an eye for Portia’s servant Nerissa, successfully woos her. As the couples rejoice at their good fortune, Lorenzo and Jessica arrive with a messenger who gives Bassanio a letter from Antonio. Bassanio welcomes the new arrivals, then opens the letter and reads terrible news: Antonio’s ships have been wrecked; he cannot repay the loan. Jessica tells Bassanio and Portia that Antonio will be held to Shylock’s condition, saying, Portia then offers a vast sum of gold to satisfy the debt. After she and Bassanio are married, Bassanio leaves for Venice to pay off Shylock. Portia says she will remain behind at Belmont. However, Portia, who has brains as well as beauty, is no one to sit by idly. She has a scheme of her own to save Antonio, and she and Nerissa disguise themselves as men and follow Bassanio to Venice. At the Venetian court of justice before the Duke of Venice, the duke asks Shylock to show mercy by giving up his claim for a pound of flesh. Shylock refuses. Bassanio then offers Shylock more than he is owed, but Shylock continues to insist on exacting a pound of flesh. Nerissa, dressed like a law clerk, arrives and introduces the disguised Portia as Bellario, a learned doctor of law. Portia then goes to work on Antonio’s behalf, first trying to soften the hard-hearted Shylock. Portia says, But Shylock is in no mood to be merciful, saying, “. . I crave the law / The penalty and forfeit of my bond” (4.1.180-193). Portia suggests that he settle for triple the amount owed him. Shylock refuses; he wants only his pound of flesh. When Portia tells Antonio he will have to bear his chest for Shylock’s knife, all seems lost. Shylock, overjoyed, hails Portia (Bellario) as “most rightful judge!” (4.1.301). The clever Portia then warns Shylock that when he cuts away the pound of flesh, he must take only flesh, not blood; for the signed agreement calls only for a pound of flesh and nothing else. Shylock, outwitted, says he will settle for money. But he does not get a single ducat. In fact, according to Venice law, an alien such as Shylock must pay a severe penalty for scheming to cause the death of a Venetian citizen such as Antonio. The law dictates that Shylock must yield half his property to the citizen and the other half to the government. The law also permits the duke to impose a death sentence or grant a pardon. The duke pardons Shylock. Antonio then suggests that half of Shylock's property be awarded immediately to Lorenzo and that the rest of Shylock's possessions be awarded, upon his death, Lorenzo and Jessica. He further suggests that Shylock be required to become a Christian. The duke approves these suggestions and imposes them on Shylock as obligations. Shylock, stunned and broken, agrees to the settlement. Leaving the court, he says, “I am not well” (4.1.400). When Portia (still in disguise) refuses payment for legal services from Bassanio, he insists she accept a remembrance. To his dismay, she takes the ring she told him never to give up. Later, when Portia (no longer in disguise) welcomes Bassanio, Gratiano, and Antonio back to Belmont, she pretends to scold Bassanio after Gratiano tells her that Bassanio gave his ring—the one Portia told him never to give up—to Antonio’s attorney, the doctor of law. Bassanio September Is The Perfect Time For New Year Resolutions reveals that he gave his own ring to the law clerk (Nerissa in disguise) after the latter begged him for it. It was a ring Nerissa gave to him when they pledged their love for each other. Nerissa then pretends to scold Gratiano for parting with the ring. The whole matter is resolved when Portia gives a ring to Antonio, telling him to pass it on to Bassanio. Bassanio recognizes it as the ring Portia gave him on his earlier visit to Belmont—the ring he gave to the skilled attorney who saved Antonio. He realizes then that Portia was that attorney, in disguise. Gratiano, meanwhile, realizes that Nerissa was the law clerk, in disguise. All ends well, everyone lives happily ever after—except Shylock. Antonio risks his fortune—and later his life—to help Bassanio win Portia. Tubal lends Shylock the three thousand ducats requested by Antonio. Appearances Are Deceiving Neither the gold nor the silver casket contains the key to winning Portia. Instead, it is the plain lead casket. Shakespeare expresses this theme—appearances are deceiving—in a message inside the golden casket. It says, “All that glisters [glitters] is not gold” (2.7.67). The latter quotation can also apply to characters who tie their happiness, destiny, or status to money, including Antonio, Bassanio, and Shylock. Portia has charm, beauty, and intelligence—qualities that tend to hide the ugliness of her bigotry. Revenge. Shylock seeks revenge against his Christian enemies, but he suffers ruin after they unite to trick him. Perhaps he would have had more success if he had pursued justice instead of revenge. For their part, the Christians—heady from their courtroom victory—take revenge against Shylock, seizing his property and forcing him to become a Christian. Bigotry. Christians alienate Shylock simply because he is a Jew. In ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times, Jews almost always encountered prejudice from non-Jews around them. Scholars are divided on whether Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venicewas attempting condemn anti-Semitism by sympathizing with Shylock or approve of anti-Semitism by ridiculing Shylock. It may well be that Shakespeare was simply holding a mirror to civilization to allow audiences to draw their own conclusions. An essay in this study guide contends that Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice partly to condemn the moral and ethical values of errant Christians in their treatment of Jews. Women Can Be as Competent as Men. Portia speaks eloquently in defense of Antonio. Her "quality of mercy" speech (4.1.180) is the highlight of the trial, and her ploy granting Shylock the right to take a pound of flesh--but without drawing blood--defeats the moneylender and persuades the Duke of Venice to rule in Antonio's favor. Women Can Be as Ruthless and Devious as Men. Portia exhibits racism after she rejects the Prince of Morocco because he is black. She lectures Shylock and the court on the importance of mercy even though she herself is unwilling to show mercy. Then she cleverly tricks and ruins Shylock without showing a hint of remorse. All the while, she wears a disguise as a male attorney, deceiving everyone in the courtroom but her partner in deceit, Nerissa. Wealth and Privilege Can Breed Discontent. In the opening line of the play, Antonio says, "In sooth, I know not why I am so sad." Then, in the first line of second scene of Act 1, Portia expresses a similar sentiment: "By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world." Nerissa, Portia's servant, understands what the privileged classes cannot understand: "They are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing" (1.2.4). English essayist and literary critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) wrote that the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice demonstrated Shakespeare's great skill as a dramatist. Hazlitt said: Antonio's complacency about the welfare of his shipping enterprises and his spiteful defiance of Shylock are as much responsible for his courtroom predicament as Shylock's desire for revenge. First, after Salanio and Salarino inquire whether Antonio's depression is due to worry about his shipping interests, Antonio replies that. In the third scene of Act 1, Antonio—seeking money for his friend Bassanio—asks Shylock for a loan, saying he will stand his shipping interests as collateral. Shylock observes, Not a few modern Shakespeare scholars and critics maintain that one of the most admirable leading women in Shakespeare’s plays is Portia, the wealthy heiress in The Merchant of Venice. She is intelligent, self-assured, enterprising, bold; her reason controls her emotions. To many modern interpreters of Shakespeare, she is the ideal woman—a woman ahead of her times. However, close examination of the play reveals her as deeply flawed and even detestable. Especially reprehensible is her racial bigotry. It first manifests itself before her encounter with one of her suitors, the Prince of Morocco, a black Moor. She tells her maid, Nerissa, “If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me [hear her confession, as if he were a priest] than wive me” (1. 2. 33). When the prince arrives, he appears to detect her prejudice, ItвЂ™s Hard to Find God on the Front Page, “Mislike me not for my complexion / The shadow’s livery of the burnish’d sun” (2.1 3-4). In a hypocritical reply, Portia assures him he is as fair “as any comer I have look’d on yet / For my affection” (2.1 23-24). After he chooses the wrong casket, disqualifying him for Portia’s hand in marriage, he leaves Belmont disappointed. Portia, though, rejoices, saying, “A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains, go. / Let Food industry & others must work together to end childhood obesity as schools cant do it alone of his complexion choose me so” (2. 7. 72-73). Later, while defending Antonio against the Jewish moneylender Shylock, this same bigoted Portia—in another display of hypocrisy—delivers an eloquent speech saying mercy should temper justice. Then, after winning the case against Shylock, Portia and her friends humiliate him, ruin him financially, and force him to accept Christianity. In effect, they abort Shylock and flush him into oblivion. Afterward, without the slightest prick of conscience, Portia and company hie off to her exclusive estate, Belmont, to partake in the pleasures of the idle highborn and wealthy. But their pleasures result only in boredom and dissipation. Like children who eat too much cake and become nauseated, the Portia crowd consumes too much of the good life and becomes listless. Antonio is first to manifest symptoms of dissipation. In the opening lines of the play, he says, Then, in the first line of the second scene of Act 1, Portia expresses a Disney World employee dies in accident near Pop Century Resort. sentiment: “By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world.” Nerissa, a lowly maid, well understands what afflicts the privileged classes, replying, “They are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing” (1.2.4). If Portia were the enlightened, independent-minded icon that some critics and scholars make her out to be, she would know what Nerissa knows. But she does not. Nor does Antonio. At the end of the play, Portia, Bassanio, Antonio, and their friends have their pound of flesh, Shylock’s heart. They also have his daughter, a convert to Christianity. But, in addition, they have the languor and tedium of their empty lifestyles. The Merchant of Venice abounds in imagery that centers on deception, vice, and human weakness—and fittingly so. After all, the central characters in the drama are deeply flawed or disturbed, exhibiting prejudice, hatred, greed, ignorance, desire for revenge, and other negative qualities. Supposedly, the play has a happy ending, but the happiness of Bassanio, Portia, and their friends derives in large part from their ruination of Shylock. Although traditionally classed as a comedy, the play is in reality a tragicomedy, perhaps more tragedy than comedy. My Students Never Use the First Person Voice. I Wish They Would. are examples of imagery centering on flawed humanity. The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree. (1.2.7) (A man's hot temper can overcome reason and common sense.) The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. (1.3.80) (Antonio is referring to Shylock as a devil.) A goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath! (1.3.83-84) (These lines compare falsehood to the core of an apple.) Love is blind, and lovers cannot see The pretty follies that themselves commit. (2.6.41-42) (Lovers are blind to each other's faults.) Gilded tombs do worms infold. (Part of a poem following line 67 of 2.7) (This line criticizes the proud and ostentatious, who often arrange for grandiose tombs to signal their importance after they die. But they end up being eaten by the same worms that eat paupers and beggars.) If [taking a pound of Antonio's flesh] will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. (3.1.23) (Shylock speaks of his own reprehensible desire for revenge as well as of the vicious treatment he receives from Christians.) Thus ornament is but the guiled shore To a most dangerous sea. . (3.2.91-92) (Bassanio compares the golden casket to a seacoast in a metaphor that reinforces the theme of deception.) Thou call’dst me dog before thou hadst a cause; But, since I am a dog, beware my fangs. (3.3.9-10) (Shylock threatens the bigoted Antonio, who had compared the moneylender to a dog.) The weakest kind of fruit Drops earliest to the ground. (4.1.120-121) (In this metaphor, Antonio describes his weakness.) They are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing. (1.2.4) (In a paradox, Nerissa says that overfed people are as sick as starving people. In other words, living a life of She Dared to Write Poetry About Sex. Iranians Loved and Hated Her for It. impoverishes the spirit.) Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds, as indicated by the boldfaced letters below. S uch a w ant- w it s adness m akes of m e, That I have m uch ado to know m yself. (1.1.8-9) P lucking the grass to know w here sits the w ind; P eering in maps for p orts, and p iers, and roads (1.1.20-21) F rom b rassy b osoms and rough hearts of f lint, F rom stubborn T urks and T artars, never t rain’d T o offices of t ender cour t esy. Th en t ake th y bond, t ake th ou th y pound of flesh (4.1.308) Anaphora is the repetition of a word, phrase, clause, or sentence at or near the beginning of word groups occurring one after the other, as indicated by the boldfaced words below. Some men there are love not a gaping pig; Somethat are mad if they behold a cat. (4.1.51-52) (At the beginning of the second line, men is understood after some .) Why he cannot abide a gaping pig; Why hea harmless necessary cat; Why hea wauling bagpipe. (4.1.58-60) You may as well go stand upon the beach, And bid the main flood bate his usual height; You may as well use question with the wolf, Why he hath made the ewe bleat for the lamb; You may as well forbid the mountain pines To wag their high tops, and to make no noise When they are fretted with the gusts of heaven; You may as well do anything most hard. (4.1.75-82) A metaphor is a comparison between unlike things. In making the comparison, it does not use likeasor than. Note the following examples. Bring me the fairest creature northward born, Where Phoebus’ fire scarce thaws the icicles. (2.1.6-7) (Comparison of the sun to the fire of the Greek sun god, Apollo, who was also called Phoebus) Pray thee, take pain To allay with some cold drops of modesty Thy skipping spirit. (2.2.76-78) (Comparison of modesty to the drops of a liquid) I am a tainted wether of the flock. (4.1.119) (Antonio compares Resigned in best interest of Delhi cricket: Virender Sehwag to a wether, a castrated sheep or goat) Sit, Jessica: look, how the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. (5.1.67-68) (Comparison of the sky to the floor of heaven and of the stars to gold) Metaphor is defined in the previous entry. Synecdoche is the substitution of a part to stand for the whole, or the whole to stand for a part. Examples: (1) The Confederates have eyes in Lincoln's government. (The word eyes stands for spies.) (2) Jack bought a new set of wheels. ( Wheels stands for a car.) (3) The law pursued the bank robbers from Maine to Florida. ( Law stands for police.) A paradox is a contradictory statement that may actually be true. Paradox is similar to oxymoron in that both figures of speech use contradictions to state a truth. However, paradox does not place opposing words side by side, as oxymoron does. Examples of paradox: (1) They called him a lion. But in the boxing ring, the lion was a lamb. (2) For slaves, life was death, and death was life. An oxymoron is the placement of contradictory words side by side. Personification is the application of humanlike qualities or human form to objects and abstractions. Personification is a form of metaphor. A simile is the comparison of one thing to an unlike thing by using likeasor thanas in the following example. Prejudice against Jews increased in England around 1190 after non-Jews borrowed heavily from Jewish moneylenders, becoming deeply indebted to them. In York, about one hundred fifty Jews committed suicide to avoid being captured by an angry mob. King Richard I (reign: 1189-1199) put a stop to Jewish persecution, but it returned in the following century during King Edward I's reign from 1272 to 1307. The government required Jews to wear strips of yellow cloth as identification, taxed them heavily, and forbade them to mingle with Christians. Finally, in 1290 Edward banished them from England. Only a few Jews remained behind, either because they had converted to Christianity or because they enjoyed special protection for the services they provided. In Shakespeare's time three hundred years later, anti-Semitism remained in force and almost no Jews lived in England. Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare, wrote a play entitled The Jew of Maltawhich depicted a Jew named Barabbas as a savage murderer. Shakespeare, while depicting the Jewish moneylender Shylock according to denigrating stereotypes, infuses Shylock with humanity and arouses sympathy for the plight of the Jews. Was William Shakespeare anti-Semitic? One school of Shakespeare interpreters answers yes, resoundingly. Their primary evidence is his depiction of the Jewish moneylender Shylock in The Merchant of Venice as grasping, vengeful, and ethnically foul. Shakespeare’s message: Jews are evil. In my view, however, close scrutiny of the play reveals that Shakespeare wrote it to condemn the moral and ethical values of errant Christians, not Jews. The Christian characters in The Merchant of Venice assess their own worth and the worth of others according to faulty standards, believing that money and status are the sum of a man or a woman. It is these Christians who force Shylock into moneylending; it is they who seed вЂSorry to Bother YouвЂ™ Trailer Shows Lakeith Stanfield as Un-Woke Telemarketer (Video) monomaniacal lust for revenge. To be sure, Shylock exhibits monstrous behavior, but it is reactive behavior. He makes his living through usury because usury is the only way he can compete in Christian Venice; he accumulates wealth because he believes it undergirds his security and independence in a hostile Christian world. What Shakespeare thought about Jews is profoundly important to writers, teachers, actors, historians, social How Not to Do Comic Noir, members of the clergy—indeed to every thinking human being—because of the extraordinary influence his literary legacy exerts on human thought and endeavor. The popularity of Shakespeare films in recent times further aggrandizes his reputation while instilling uneasiness in those who believe he harbored prejudices that inflame anti-Semitism. To find out Shakespeare—to try pin him down on the Jewish question—critics generally scrutinize The Merchant of Venice and its characters as well as six other Shakespeare plays in which characters slur Jews. They also peruse the Elizabethan era’s record of strong anti-Semitism. A daunting task for explorers of this subject is to put aside their own biases. Not all researchers can. Consequently, they guide themselves toward the desired conclusion rather than letting the research guide them to the most logical conclusion. Lovers of Shakespeare—“bardolaters,” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) called them in his day—are prone to such bias. So are fault-finders who criticize Shakespeare for the offensive dialogue in The Merchant of Venice and other plays. To be sure, there is much for these fault-finders to complain about in The Merchant. Throughout the play, Christians depersonalize and alienate Shylock by refusing to use his given name. Instead, they call him the Jew, the villain Jew, this currish Jew, impenetrable cur, harsh Jew, infidel, cruel deviland the devil in the likeness of the Jew. To the Christians, Shylock is diabolically foul. Of course, there can be no denying Shylock’s passion for accumulating wealth. Verily, he breeds it, as rams and ewes breed lambs, he tells Antonio (1.3.77). He also tells his daughter, Jessica, that he even dreams about moneybags Inside the Battle for Arthur Millers Archive. After Jessica raids those moneybags and her father’s store of jewels to abscond with Lorenzo, a Christian, Salanio tells his companion Salarino that. These lines appear to indict Shylock as a man so consumed by his love of money that he cares more for his ducats than he does for his daughter. However, while acknowledging Shylock’s avarice, careful Shakespeare exegetes also should note that Salarino, a Christian, is a biased Faith As Disruption: A Dispatch From The Tijuana Border likely to bend the facts. In a court of law, his credibility would be nil. But what if he reported the exact words of Shylock? In that case, consider that the quotation contains six references to his daughter, indicating that Shylock cares about Jessica. That she would steal from him and run off with an avowed enemy does anger him, but it also wounds him deeply. Christian gibes also brand Shylock as Satan in godly clothing. For example, after Shylock quotes the Bible to make a point, Antonio tells Bassanio: Shylock eventually suffers spiritual and material ruin after Portia’s clever dupery at the trial strips him of property and forces him to accept Christianity. Nevertheless, interpreters of the play who see a malevolent Shakespeare behind the Christian taunts accuse him of anti-Semitism. British playwright Arnold Wesker went so far as to write a “counter-play” about Shylock, investing him with a nobility that he said was lacking in Shakespeare. For example, Wesker’s Shylock spends his money on the poor and rescues Jewish texts from book-burners. Critics like Wesker worry that twenty-first-century readers of Shakespeare will regard Shylock as so many readers of previous centuries regarded him: as an archetype—a typical Jew manifesting the characteristics of all Jews. In his time, the nineteenth-century French novelist and poet Victor Hugo (1802-1885) believed Shylock was indeed perceived as an archetype by Shakespeare’s audiences. In his book William ShakespeareHugo wrote: “While Shakespeare makes Shylock, the popular tongue creates the bloodsucker. Shylock is the embodiment of Jewishness; he is also Judaism—that is, to say, his whole nation, the high as well as the low, faith as well as fraud. .” ( William Shakespeare. Trans. Melville B. Anderson. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970, page 224). Anti-Semitism dates to ancient times, resulting in part from Jews’ refusal to acknowledge the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods and from their refusal to submit to Roman rule. In the fifth book of his Historythe Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-120) spurns Jewry unequivocally. Blamed for the death of Christ, Jews suffered severe persecution over the centuries, including torture, loss of property, and forced conversion to Christianity. Because of fabricated charges of “blood libel,” in which malicious Christians accused Jews of sacrificing Christian children at Passover, many Jews were burned at the stake. In England and other European countries in the late Middle Ages, laws required Jews to wear identifying patches not unlike the yellow stars in Hitler’s Germany centuries later. During outbreaks of plague, Christians implicated Jews for spreading the disease. England decided to solve the “Jewish problem” once and for all by expelling Jews in 1290. Such a measure was not as extreme as the Nazi “final solution,” but it did remove almost all Jews from English soil. In Shakespeare’s time, English law continued to forbid Jews from living in England, but a few hundred survived in London and other cities in the guise of Christians. One of them, Portuguese doctor Roderigo Lopez, served as physician to Queen Elizabeth I. Evidence indicates that he also spied in the service of the King of Spain. When a court snoop, the Earl of Essex, discovered his true identity, he accused Rodriguez of plotting to poison the queen, a charge that was probably untrue. After his trial and conviction, Rodriguez suffered an excruciating execution in 1594. First he was hanged and then, while still alive, drawn and quartered. The citizenry—already envenomed against Jews—celebrated his death. It was during this time of heightened anti-Jewish fervor that Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice and staged it, probably just before 1600. When printed in a quarto edition, the play was entitled The Most Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice, With the Extreme Crueltie of Shylocke the Jew Towards the Said Merchant in Cutting a Just Pound of His Flesh. It was the second major stage production within a decade to star a Jew as a villain. The first was Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Maltaperformed about 1590. In that play, the title character, Barabas (Marlowe’s spelling of Barabbas ), is so detestable that his enemies boil him in a cauldron. Audiences loved the play, many of them not realizing that Marlowe’s main intent was to satirize Christians. The play enjoyed a revival four years later, after the execution of Lopez, and it probably influenced Shakespeare in his depiction of Shylock. Given the anti-Jewish climate in Elizabethan England and Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock as a negative stereotype, it seems reasonable to conclude that Shakespeare was indeed anti-Jewish. But that would be far from the truth. In fact, the more reasonable conclusion—if based on a detailed study Brexit is a red herring when it comes to the plight of UK fishermen the play and pertinent background information—is that Shakespeare was presenting life as it was, not life as it should be. In The Breath of Clowns and Kings (New York: Atheneum, 1971) Theodore Weis says Shakespeare presents Shylock as a flawed human who happens to be Jewish: The real evil in The Merchant of Venice is the corrupt value system of the principal Christian characters who are, of course, representative of people in Shakespeare’s time. Antonio, the merchant of the title, is among the worst of the lot. Although he enjoys a sterling reputation among fellow Christians as a righteous, self-sacrificing citizen and friend—a Christ figure, even—he despises Shylock primarily because he is a Jew; Antonio, thus, is a true bigot. “Thou call’dst me dog before thou hadst just cause” (3.3.9), Shylock complains to Antonio. Behind Shylock’s back, Antonio ridicules him as a moneylender, then without qualm enters into a loan agreement with him on behalf of wastrel Bassanio, pledging—at Shylock’s suggestion—a pound of his own flesh as security for Bassanio’s against the day when Antonio’s bounty-laden ships arrive with riches to repay the loan. In Act 1, Shylock—who, unlike the Christians, never lies and always speaks his mind—calls attention to Antonio’s tartuffery: It is true, of course, that Shylock charges interest for loans, a practice considered immoral by the Venetian Christians in the play. However, beginning in the thirteenth century, lending money at interest was legal in parts of Europe, and English law in the Elizabethan Age sanctioned the practice. But whether legal or illegal, moneylending was sometimes the only way a Jew—severely restricted in the Christian world of commerce—could support himself and his family. In Venice of the sixteenth century, the setting of The Merchant of VeniceJews even had to live in a ghetto, separated from Christian-kind. The word ghetto (Italian for foundry ) was first used during this time to refer to the Jewish quarter of a city because the Venice ghetto had a cannon foundry within its boundaries. Alienation, prejudice, raw hatred—the Jews of sixteenth-century Venice suffered all these indignities at the hands of Christian bigots. But Jews were not the only victims. In The Merchant of VeniceShakespeare uses the Prince of Morocco, a suitor for the hand of Portia, to make this point. The prince is a black Moor, like Othello. Even before he arrives at Belmont to select a casket, Portia tells her servant Nerissa, “If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me” (1.2.33). After the prince presents himself to choose a casket, he correctly senses Portia’s racist attitude and says: Portia assures him he is as fair as “any comer I have look’d on yet for my affection” (2.1.23). After he chooses the wrong casket—disqualifying him for Portia’s hand in marriage—he leaves Belmont disappointed. Portia, though, rejoices, making a blatantly bigoted remark: “A gentle riddance. Draw the curtains, A clergy sex abuse survivors story and its lessons for restoring faith. / Let all of his complexion choose me so” (2.7.72-73). Christian hypocrisy is never more odious, though, than during the trial. First, the duke asks Shylock, ready to claim his pound of flesh, “How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?” (4.1.92). Ever outspoken Shylock replies: Then, after Portia speaks eloquently of the need for clemency and compassion in her “quality of mercy” courtroom speech, she and her friends humiliate Shylock, ruin him financially, and force him to accept Christianity. After the trial, without the slightest prick of conscience, the Christians hie off to Belmont—a kind of way station between this world and heaven—to partake in the pleasures of the idle highborn and wealthy. They have their pound of flesh, Shylock’s heart. They also have his daughter, a convert to Christianity. It is hard to believe that Shakespeare intended to lecture his audience, vilifying Judaism and Jewry, through these shockingly ruthless characters, especially in view of the following famous lines spoken by Shylock in his plea for recognition as a worthy human being: Was Shakespeare an anti-Semite? Or was he using Shylock to arouse opposition to anti-Semitism? The Merchant of Venice is classified as a comedy. Do you agree that it should instead be called a tragicomedy? Why is the play entitled The Merchant of Venice ? Who is the merchant? In medieval and Renaissance times, why was Venice such an ideal city for a merchant to conduct business? Write an informative essay answering this question. Why does Portia, a woman of astute intellect, abide by her father's plan to have her marry a man selected by chance? Does Portia do anything to help her favorite suitor choose the right casket? Write an essay that speculates on what Portia would have done if the wrong man had selected the right casket. In the seventh scene of Act 2, the Prince of Morocco chooses the gold casket and Cancer researchers publish new papers on ovarian cancer tumor growth a message therein that opens with this famous line: "All that glisters [glitters] is not gold." What does this line mean? Example of an MLA Citation for This Study Guide. Cummings, Michael J. “The Merchant of Venice: a Study Guide.” Shake Sphere: a Guide to the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. N.p., 2013. Note: "5 Feb. 2016" is the date that the essay writer accessed the site. Be sure to insert the date you accessed the site instead of "5 Feb. 2016." Note also that the second line of an MLA works-cited entry is indented. Example of an APA Citation for This Study Guide.