"The Merchant of Venice".

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English Coursework: The Merchant of Venice

The "merchant of Venice" is a multifarious play with many levels of interpretation. Telling the story of a Jewish merchant living in the predominately Christian capital of Venice, it can be seen as a play about persecution, justice and of social cruelty. The "merchant of Venice" is representatively driven by the same set arguments of racial and religious prejudice that existed in Shakespearean society.

In the 15th century, as Jews were forced out of Israel during the dispersia, many thousands migrated to countries in Europe and other continents around the world. Often met with suspicion, 15th century English literature perceives Jews as treacherous and evil, going as far as to link them with savage animals and the satanic practices of the devil.

Christopher Marlowe's play "the Jew of Malta" played on these prejudices, appealing to Christian audiences who retained similar beliefs. In the "Jew of Malta" Marlowe depicted an "outrageously" stereotypical Jew, who was villainous, killing Christians for enjoyment.

The plays popularity amongst Christian audiences can be accounted to its justification of prejudice, the play offered a character, towards which the audience were able to vent their loathing and abhorrence for Jewish immigrants and validate their cruel treatment towards their minority.

In comparison, Shakespeare's play "the merchant of Venice", is instead more complex and ambiguous then a simple crowd pleaser. Although entertaining there are several underlined political messages throughout, this can be seen as an observation of human nature. Through the character of shylock, Shakespeare attempts to explore the many issues of indifference, justice, accountability and social discrimination. The play can be interpreted in many ways, as can the character shylock and his plight with Venetian society.

The question as to whether shylock himself is a positive or negative character is therefore a difficult...