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Shylock-Religious Stereotypes

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Shakespeare fulfills the stereotype of Jews being greedy and unkind by using the opposing views and actions of the Christian characters. Jewish stereotypes are evident in The Merchant of Venice, but Shylock's portrayal of contradicting characteristics shows that his behavior is a result of being victimized rather than being a Jew, thus condemning persecution when based on stereotypes.

The non-Jewish characters in the play introduce Shylock as the stereotypical Jew. Shylocks greed is evident as Solanio and Salarino, share with the audience Shylocks response to finding out his daughter had run away with his money, "My daughter, O my ducats, O my daughter! Fled with a Chrstian! O my Christian ducats!" (2.8.81). Shylock is also portrayed as unkind when he says "to bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge" in response to Salarino questioning what use Antonio's pound of flesh would be to Shylock (3.1.97).

Shylock's treatment by Christians also enforces the stereotypes placed on Jews during Shakespeare's time. For example, Shylock explains that Antonio has called him "misbeliever, cutthroat dog, and spet upon my Jewish gabardine," all due to his religious beliefs (1.3.35). The way Shylock is treated and Antonio's nonchalant response "I am as like to call thee so again," enforces how acceptable these Jewish stereotypes were in Shakespeare's. It is also said by Lancelet that "the Jew is the very devil incarnation," again stressing the negative stereotypes placed on the Jewish religion by those of other faiths, particularly, Christians (2.2.47).

Shakespeare includes these religious stereotypes in his character Shylock, so that he can challenges them by portraying Shylock as a good person in different situations. Shylock does not always fulfill the greedy stereotype. When Tubal informs him that Jessica has sold his precious ring, he shows a more emotional side and says of the ring "It was my turquoise! I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys" (3.1.101). His response shows that although money is important to him, there are things he values more, such as the memory of his wife and the meaning behind temporal items. In another instance Shylock shows his kindness when he explains to Antonio, "I would be friends with you and have your love, forget the shames that you have stained me with, supply your present wants, and take no doit of usance for my moneys, and you'll not hear me!" (1.3.37). In this example, Shylock expresses his desire to have a good relationship with Antonio despite the cruel treatment he has endured by him, an act completely opposite of the stereotypical Jew. Again, Shylock shows a nicer side when he accepts the invitation to dinner even though he knows people who mistreat him will be in attendance (2.5.65). Shylocks kind behavior counteracts the stereotype



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