Shylock In The Merchant Of Venice Essay

, Research Paper

I think that the role of Shylock remains a popular one with modern actors because Shylock´s character can be open to interpretation. He can be played as a greedy, merciless old miser or a persecuted, bitter old loner. The actor playing Shylock can add his own style and personality to the role. He could dress Shylock in different ways to change his image or he could change the way Shylock speaks to change the audience´s view of him. For example, when Shylock demands his bond from Antonio, “I´ll have my bond; speak not against my bond! I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond.” Shylock could be played as a sadistic merciless killer or as a poor victim of persecution with a right to wreak his vengeance. Some actors choose to cut various scenes to change the audience´s understanding of Shylock. For example, in the 1993 production of the play, David Thacker chose to cut Shylock´s aside in Act 1 Scene 3. This made Shylock seem more of a victim that a villain. Lots of Jewish actors choose to do the role of Shylock, as he was a Jew. Jews at the point in time when the play was set were persecuted severely so modern Jews may want to find out what it was like to be a Jew persecuted as this time in history. I also think that Shylock is a very complicated character that can be played in many ways. So an actor looking for a challenge would choose Shylock, as he would be an interesting character to play. I think that an audience in the modern day would have trouble sympathising with Shylock and what he is doing to Antonio because most people nowadays have no experience of persecution the way the Jews experienced it in the 16th century when The Merchant Of Venice was first performed. Jews at this time in England were victimised by the Christians. Jews were made to wear a badge showing that they were Jewish and they were banned from practicing most professions. However, usury (money lending) was not a job that Christians were permitted to do so (like Shylock) many Jews used this to make a living. This gave rise to the “rich miser-Jew” stereotype. For centuries, Jews have been used as a scapegoat for any problems. In the 11th century, Jews were blamed for purchasing a small Christian boy and using his blood in a ritual meal during Passover. As well as Shakespeare, other playwrights such as Chaucer and Marlowe used a Jew as the evil villain in The Prioress´ Tale and the Jew Of Malta. It is very clear from the play that Shylock is unfairly persecuted and is treated very badly by the Christian Venetians. The language used by them towards Shylock is very harsh and insulting. They refer to him as, “cut-throat dog”, “bloody creditor”, “damned, inexecrable dog” and “cruel devil”. This brings across a feeling of pure hatred towards Shylock from the Christians merely because he is a Jew. Bassanio only stoops to form any kind of relationship with Shylock, when he needs to borrow money from him. Even so, Bassanio does this very grudgingly even though Shylock is helping him out. And Antonio only talks to Shylock when he is insulting him, “Signior Antonio, many a time and oft In the Rialto you have rated me About my moneys and my usances.” This shows that Antonio disapproves of Shylock so has a very bad relationship with him. But Shylock then says, “Still I have borne it with a patient shrug, For sufferance is the badge of our tribe.” This suggests that Shylock can brush off these insults because tolerance of this persecution is a trait of his “tribe”, the Jewish people. I think that an Elizabethan audience, unlike a modern audience, would interpret Shylock in the way they stereotyped the Jews at that time. He would be the “anti-hero” and would be booed and hissed at as he came on stage. He would be the cliché almost comic villain like you may see in a pantomime these days. Shylock would be portrayed as a rich miserly moneylender hell-bent on getting his pound of flesh from his sworn enemy, the Christian- Antonio. The actor playing Shylock would dress him in his “Jewish gaberdine” and make his movements, gestures and speech look and sound as cunning and wily as possible to make Shylock into the exact Jewish stereotype so that the audience can relate to the Christians in the play and understand why they hate him so much. So I think that a modern group of people watching the play cannot really relate to and sympathise with Shylock because probably none of them have ever experienced the kind of prejudice shown to Shylock and the Jews at that time in history.


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