Merchant of Venice - Part 5

In the article “Shakespeare’s Plea for Human Values” by Herbert Bronstein the author presents many ideas regarding the character of Shylock and his representation as a Jew in the play - Merchant of Venice introduction. The main issue that the author tackles in this article is the negative image of Jews that is portrayed by Shakespeare through the character of Shylock, a Jewish man who lends money not out of sincere generosity but simply out of greed. The idea of usury is well developed and portrayed in the play, and it seems that Shakespeare is linking Jews exclusively with greed, thus raising the question of whether the play is relevant in a world where anything anti-semitic is considered to be too controversial.

The author makes the point in his article that the idea of loaning money was very different in the time of Shakespeare. When it was done, it would have been done out of generosity, not out of profit. To the exclusively Christian English audience that Shakespeare was writing for, the image of the Jew was the recognizable as greedy for money. This seems to be a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. Within the context of Shakespeare’s life, this image would have resonated with his readers not because he was prejudiced against Jews, but because he wouldn’t have known any Jews personally.

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In essence, this article is not really a criticism of Shakespeare’s play itself, but a criticism of people not enjoying the play for what it was and can still be. The author argues that Shylock can, indeed, be a sympathetic character and the play can be enjoyed as a moralistic view of greed and usury, a statement from Shakespeare about what life would be like if everyone only gave money for greed, not for generosity. The author’s ideas are both interesting and factual, and sheds a greater light on how Shakespeare’s world worked, and how we can understand his play despite the 500 year difference from the time of it being written to our present modern day society.

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