Shakespeare influences audience opinion in many different ways in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’. However, some of the devices he uses may have differing effects on Elizabethan and modern audiences. Elizabethans had many prejudiced stereotypes that Shakespeare includes in his play. There was less diversity of cultures when Shakespeare wrote the play, and therefore there was a lot more bad feeling towards different races and religions. Elizabethans were also more religious than people are nowadays, so there feelings towards religion and religious beliefs were much stronger than they would be today.
The Elizabethans did not like the Jews, mainly because of the stereotypes that were portrayed of them. Jews were seen to be money grabbing and the Elizabethan’s disagreed with their ideas and values about life. The play was set in Venice, Italy where there was a law of equality which allowed trade to run smoothly as much of the Venetian way of life was based on trading. This would have an effect on the Elizabethan audience because Elizabethans believed that generosity was a great virtue to have, and they believed that Jews were not at all generous, something which is definite of Shylock’s character.
How Does Shakespeare Influence Audience Opinion Of Shylock in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ How Does Shakespeare Influence Audience Opinion Of Shylock in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ How Does Shakespeare Influence Audience Opinion Of Shylock in ‘The Merchant Of Venice’
They also disliked usurers and merchants because they went against the Christian values.
The play is a comedy and a lot of the humour was based on the Elizabethan reaction to Shylock’s character and onstage appearance. However, in modern times society is a lot less prejudiced, thus creating more sympathy for Shylock. The Elizabethan audience would also be much more religious than a modern audience, and Shylock was a character that went against everything they believed in as Christians. Most of the Christian values are opposed to the stereotypical portrayal of Jews, especially as they are portrayed in Merchant Of Venice.
Therefore, especially with an Elizabethan audience, the main feeling towards Shylock would not be sympathy, but hostility and loathing. The Elizabethan audience would immediately recognise Shylock as Jewish because he would we be dressed in stereotypical Jewish clothes and he would be wearing a red wig which was another stereotypical image of Jews. Everything about him would be stereotypical of a Jewish person, most of it in a degrading way as Shakespeare himself would have been a Christian. A lot of Shylock’s speech reflects his character, for instance, he is a miser with words, similar to the way he is a miser with his money.
He does not live in the world of aristocrats, but instead the world of merchants, which is why his money is so important to him. In Act One, Scene Three Shylock speaks first and his words are “Three thousand ducats; well”. This gives us an immediate first impression that his main concern in life is his money and wealth. He also repeats a lot of his words and phrases which shows he has a materialistic mind and a lack of imagination. He is very narrow and literal minded as we see in the way that he speaks.
“Ho, no, no, no, no” and “there be land-rats and water-rats, land-thieves and water-thieves”
It is significant that he used the term ‘rats’, because the Elizabethan’s had strong views on the sense of order of being. They thought that the order of society reflected the universe. Animals were at the bottom of this chain and therefore the least important. Elizabethan philosophers thought that man would lapse into beastliness if he allowed himself to become selfish. Therefore, the fact that Shylock uses animals as metaphors shows that he is preoccupied with the animal world.
This tells us that Shylock is at about the same level as animals in the order of being, giving the audience little respect for him.
However, a modern audience may not see this link as they do not have the same ideas as the Elizabethans on the order of being. Other characters in the play also refer to Shylock as a bird of prey which shows us that they perceive him as being the least important person around, and that he is selfish. The audience may react to this differently because it might, for some people, increase their sympathies towards Shylock as he is being mistreated and mocked by the other characters, but other people may see it as a reinforcement to the idea that Shylock is a selfish, unlikeable character.
However, I don’t think it would influence a modern audiences’ opinion towards Shylock because they would not associate the animal references with the ‘chain of being’. Therefore, it would only affect the Elizabethan audiences who would understand the references. He also repeats short, blunt phrases, showing his stubborn personality and his repetition of the adjectives ‘rats’ and ‘thieves’ show, again, that he lacks imagination and it is a great contrast to the metaphorical way of speaking of Antonio and the other Christians. [Antonio]The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul, producing holy witness, is like a villain with a smiling cheek, A goodly rotten apple at the heart.
” This is an example of the poetic speech of Antonio and his fellow Christians. This gives the audience a negative opinion about Shylock compared to Antonio already, as Shakespeare wanted his audience to think that Christians were much more sensitive and open hearted then the Jews. It also means that the audience will subconsciously ‘prefer’ Antonio to Shylock as his words are much more poetical and less blunt.
It also gives us a bad impression of Shylock because we see that Antonio is speaking harsh words about him and we know that there must be a reason for this because Antonio is Christian and is therefore good and speaks the truth. The contrasts between Shylock and Antonio influence audience opinion greatly. The main reason for disliking Shylock is the fact that he is a Jew and most of the Elizabethan audience, as well as the majority of the characters in the play, are Christians.
Therefore, a lot of the influences on the audience for disliking Shylock, come from the constant comparisons to Antonio who is seen to be automatically a ‘good’ character, simply because he is a Christian. This is hypocritical because, although Antonio is not an obvious merchant like Shylock, he still makes money in the same way that Shylock does, but through his ships. However, there are some similarities between the two characters. Although it is more obvious with Shylock, both of the characters are outsiders.
Shylock, because he is a Jew and Antonio because he is unmarried. Also, neither of them accept the others religion and they both hate each other because of it. Both of them are lonely, isolated figures amongst the happy youth of Venice. They also both equate their property with their life and they both have a power over the other’s life at some time in the play. This means that although the audience may dislike Shylock and like Antonio, there are still similarities between them, which might make their opinions change or differ throughout the play.
There is a irony in the way that one of the reasons the Christians (and Antonio) despise Shylock is because of what he does with his money (lend it out for profit) but Antonio does the same thing with his trading, but in a different way. This irony is highlighted in Act Four, Scene One, by Portia “[Portia]Which is the merchant here? And which is the Jew? ” This would show the audience that some of the reasons for disliking Shylock are unfair, as they apply to themselves and the other Christian characters in the play.
There are, however, a lot of differences and contrasts between Antonio and Shylock apart from the obvious different religions. Shylock lends his money to his enemies for a profit, whereas Antonio lends his money to his friends for free. Antonio risks his life for Bassanio because he is his friend, but Shylock tries to take the life of Antonio because he is his enemy. They also have very different characters. Antonio is mainly optimistic and merciful, whereas Shylock is pessimistic and vengeful.
This influences the audience opinion because they think of Antonio as a good character because he shows better characteristics.
The audience will also have a negative opinion of Shylock because he is surrounded by enemies while Antonio is surrounded by friends. This is part of the way the scene is structured which affects the audience opinion of Shylock. The way the scenes are structured has a lot to do with our opinion of Shylock. For example, in most of the scenes we either see Shylock in the middle of a conversation, or entering in the middle of a scene with other characters. This means that we never see whether Shylock stops talking about money when he is not talking about the deal, because we never see him start a conversation.
This means that we have a negative view of him, because we always see the same ‘business’ side of him. We also never see Shylock on his own, he always enters the stage to join a social grouping, which automatically makes him seem like an outsider. This also means that we rarely see Shylock as he sees himself, just as other people see him. Because most of the other characters in the play are Christians, and therefore dislike Shylock, we see their image of him, which is obviously going to be negative.
However, through the use of asides, Shylock reveals some of his inner thoughts to the audience, which is the only time we get to see what Shylock is really feeling. “[Shylock talking about Antonio]How like a fawning publican he is: I hate him for he is Christian” This shows us that Shylock is capable of human emotion and he does have feelings, which is a contrast to the narrow minded image we have of him, due to his cold, monosyllabic talk. However, these emotions are negative so they do not necessarily create a good image of his personality, but they still show that he has emotions.
This creates a better image for Shylock and we feel more sympathy towards him because as we realise that he does have feelings, we realise that he does get hurt by the way he is treated and we see that it is unfair. However, Shylock is being hypocritical because he is being prejudiced against Antonio which is one of the reasons that he (Shylock) is treated unfairly himself. In a modern audience, however, where religion is less important they may see that Shylock’s prejudices are justified because of the way that he is treated. In Act three, Scene one the language that Shylock uses influences our opinion a lot.
Shylock learns of the disappearance of his daughter, Jessica and he does not seem to be very concerned. “She is damned for it” This suggests that Shylock does not care about what has happened to her and he blames her, saying she is damned. A lot of the reactions he has towards his daughter would influence audience opinion greatly. A lot of Act Three, Scene One is about the disappearance of Shylock’s daughter Jessica. Shylock fears that she has run away with a Christian, his greatest enemies.
At first we think that he is genuinely interested in his daughter’s well-being. “[Shylock]Hast thou found my daughter? The first thing he thinks about is his daughter, which shows us that he does have some good sides to him and he wants to know what has happened to his daughter. This will make the audience see him in a good light as he has shown us that he cares about someone. However, Shylock then proves that he is a slave to his money “[Shylock]a diamond gone! Cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfurt… I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear” Shylock has openly admitted that he would rather have his jewels and his daughter dead, than the other way around.
This is a shocking thing to admit and it will influence the audience greatly into having a negative opinion about him, because the fact that he cares more about his money than his daughter gives the impression that he is extremely cold hearted and money is his life. Although Shylock repeatedly talks about his loyalty to the Jewish faith, it is shown to be less important to him than his wealth “[Shylock]a diamond gone, cost me two thousand ducats in Frankfurt! The curse never fell upon our nation until now; I never felt it till now”
This shows that his priorities lie not with his faith which he talks about so much, but with his money because he admits that the supposed curse on his race has not affected him until now, when his money has been taken away. By saying this the audience gets an impression of him that until things affect him personally they do not bother him, which emphasises his selfish personality. It also shows that he is feeling bitter about being a Jew. He then calls his daughter a thief, which shows that he doesn’t seem to have any compassion towards her because she has taken the most important thing in his life from him: money.
This reinforces our opinions and ideas about his character, and the audience will continue to see him in a bad light. We then see more of Shylock’s bad side when he learns about Antonio’s ships. “[Shylock]What, what, what? ill luck? ill luck? ” From this we see that he is keen for someone else to suffer bad luck as well as him. It also shows us that he is happy again now he knows that he will get his money. Again we see that money is extremely important to him because he has become happier when he realises that he Antonio will not be able to pay him back and therefore broken the bond.
This shows us again the bitterness and selfishness of his character. However, he does show us that he has some feelings because he mentions his ex-wife Leah. “I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys. ” This shows us that he does in fact care for some people, and he does have feelings and emotions as he would not have given the ring away because of its sentimental value. This shows the audience that he cared for his wife and it creates audience sympathy towards him because he obviously cares/cared for her, proving he does have emotions and he is not completely bitter.
Another of the main devices in the play which influence our opinion of Shylock occurs with the main twist in the plot: the ending where the tables are turned on Shylock. In the court he is insisting on carrying out the bond he had with Antonio, even though both the judge and Portia are against him and have offered him three times the money Antonio owed him instead of the pound of flesh. However, Portia points out that Shylock cannot have his pound of flesh because the bond would not allow him to spill any of Antonio’s blood, and Shylock would not be able to take a pound of flesh from Antonio without taking any of his blood. [Portia]Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh; But, in cutting it, if thou dost shed One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate Unto the state of Venice” This comes as a shock to both the audience and Shylock because neither of them would foresee this. It is also an example of irony because Portia is being as pedantic about the law as Shylock was earlier in the scene.
There is even more dramatic irony when Shylock is forced to be a Christian. “[Antonio] He presently become a Christian”
This is ironic because Christians are supposed to believe in mercy and forgiveness, so this is going against their religious beliefs. It also makes the audience feel sympathy towards Shylock because he is facing having to lose everything or to change his beliefs. It is also ironic that Antonio and the other Christians despise Shylock because he lends money for profit, because they do exactly the same thing, just in a different way. Antonio sends his ships out to buy goods cheaply from other places, and then he will sell them on for more money, which is effectively the same as what Shylock is doing.
Christians also believe that everyone is equal but they do not show these qualities in their inhuman treatment of their slaves. This hypocrisy increases audience sympathy for Shylock because we see, again, that he is being mistreated, even more clearly than before. Because Shylock’s religion was one of the main reasons that he was mistreated, the audience will see it as unfair that it is now being taken away from him, when it has been the reason for years of suffering on his part. The trial scene in the play is very important because it is where the two main plots come together.
The scene starts without Shylock (which is the case for much of the play) and when he enters he knows that everyone in the court is Christian so he does not expect much sympathy from them. At the beginning Shylock tells the Court that he wants Antonio’s flesh because it is his whim although he does not give reasons for this, except that he is only insisting on the bond because he bears a grudge. He points out that other men would do the same thing, only in different situations. This influences the audience opinion as they think he is just being stubborn and difficult, an unlikeable trait.
Shylock also refuses to listen to the Duke’s pleas of humanity, but the Duke’s views are from a Christian point of view so Shylock may not agree with them. We can also see the extremity of Shylock’s hatred towards Antonio when Bassanio asks a reasonable question “[Bassanio]Do all men kill the things they do not love? ” Shylock response has extreme implications “[Shylock]Hates any man the thing he would not kill? ” Shylock is saying that Antonio symbolises everything he hates, and that is why he is so insistent on the bond being carried out. The characters in this scene are all human, but they also stand for concepts.
Shylock is inflexible and inhuman and he stands for law, an end in itself. Portia represents law in the service of man and we can see this when Bassanio tries to convince Portia to stop Shylock taking his pound of flesh by telling her that “to do a great right, do a little wrong”. However, she refuses, saying that “it must not be”. By refusing to stop Shylock she is proving that she represents law in the service of man because she is carrying out the law completely. She is also, by contrast to Shylock, flexible and merciful.
However, this emphasises the hypocrisy that Portia shows when she does not show any mercy to Shylock in the end.
Portia continuously offers Shylock three times the money that Antonio owed him to let the bond drop, but Shylock refuses. In doing this we see his stubborn nature and his strict adherence to the law. It also shows us that he is hard-hearted and sadistic, certainly not merciful. We see more of a reason to dislike Shylock when he refuses to let a doctor stand by while he takes his pound of flesh because it is not in the bond. This reinforces our opinion that Shylock is dark, sinister and dislikable.
Portia’s pleas for Shylock to accept the money are impassioned and lyrical, but Shylock is unmoved.
His lack of emotion makes the audience automatically ‘opposed’ to him, in that they do not want him to be successful in his fight to take his pound of flesh. Then Antonio makes a speech which greatly influences the audience opinion for both himself and Shylock. He talks about his loyalty to Bassanio and says that he is prepared to die for him, making us see him as a brave, loyal friend. He does not appear to be scared of death and says he will be at least remembered as old and strong rather than old and feeble. He is also keen for Bassanio to tell Portia how he (Antonio) cared for him (Bassanio).
This is because he feels an outcast because of the lack of love in his life (another similarity between him and Shylock) and he wants to prove that he does have the capability of loving someone so much he would die for them. This is also ironic because Portia is there and she hears what he says without him realising. When he makes this speech the contrast between him and Shylock is huge because they both have such different values and views on life. The audience will think that Antonio is brave and loyal, and that will lower their opinion of Shylock because Shylock still wants to take his pound of flesh.
We see how un-noble Shylock is when he is compared to Antonio’s loyal outlook. One of the main differences in the two characters’ opinions of what should happen is caused by their religion. Shylock thinks that he has done nothing wrong and that he is only following the law, therefore he seeks only justice. On the other hand, the Christian outlook is that all men are sinful and depend on God’s mercy. Shylock justifies his opinion by quoting from the bible (3:1).
In doing this he is pointing out that the law of the Jews is that of “an eye for an eye” and the law of Christ is “mercy and forgiveness”.
He is showing how different the two religions’ views are, and therefore allowing him to contravene the spirit of the law. However the trial scene highlights the fact that Shylock’s mind is so twisted that he cannot even admit the bitterness and evil in his own soul. However, in the end, Portia points out that Shylock is unable to get his pound of flesh without letting any blood be shed, which is not allowed in the bond. This is ironic because Portia is being as pedantic about the law as Shylock was being earlier.
Then Shylock decides that he would like to just take the money but Portia says that he has already turned them down so he should have nothing but a penalty. Compared to his behaviour and attitude at the beginning of the scene Shylock now becomes more apologetic and begging. Then we see how the way the other characters treat and refer to Shylock will affect the audience opinion. Shylock is treated very badly in this scene. He is not referred to by his name, but by “Jew” which is made to sound like an insult and it takes away his equality and individuality.
They also suggest that Shylock is an outsider of Venice and therefore does not have equal rights. “It is enacted in the laws of Venice If it be prov’d against an alien” This is not fair to Shylock as he is as much as a part of Venice as Antonio, Portia and all the other Christians. Here we see a lot of hypocrisy as one of the reasons that they condone Shylock is that he makes money for nothing. However they either don’t realise or choose to ignore the fact that they all do the same thing to make a living: buy things and sell them off at a higher price.
The audience may be slightly more sympathetic towards Shylock because of the lack of respect and hypocrisy shown to him. It also shows that all the people in the court view Shylock as an outside, although he is as much of a citizen of Venice as they are. The only reason that they don’t accept him is that he is a Jew whilst they are Christians. To a modern audience this would seem like a minor difference because there is a much larger diversity amongst the people in Britain then there would have been in Elizabethan times.
Therefore, modern audience would not totally understand the seemingly irrational hatred of Shylock, simply for the fact that he is a Jew. Then the Duke decides that Shylock must become Christian and he must leave his money to Jessica and Lorenzo when he dies. This is another example of hypocrisy because Christian’s should so mercy and forgiveness and they are not showing that at all in the way that they are treating Shylock because they presume that they have the right to change his faith when it is nothing to do with them and it just highlights their prejudices.
Shylock is often judged externally which means that the audience do not get to see him as he sees himself. It also means that we only get to see other peoples’ views on Shylock so the audience only ever gets a ‘secondary view’ of Shylock’s character, which will obviously affect their own opinion of him. For example, a lot of the adjectives used to describe Shylock in Act Four, Scene One vary greatly from those used to describe Antonio. Shylock is described by adjectives such as an ‘inhuman wretch’, ‘unfeeling man’, ‘harsh’, ‘inexecrable dog’ and ‘the offender’.
None of these are very complimentary and they would influence the audience opinion. However, Antonio is described as a ‘poor merchant’, ‘touch’d with human gentleness and love’ and ‘royal merchant’. These words are very complimentary and they would affect the audience view of Shylock because they would compare the adjectives used to describe both characters. Another example of external judging of Shylock comes after his reaction to the abduction of his daughter.
Salerio mocks Shylock because of the reaction that he was more concerned about the loss of his money than the loss of his daughter. This, again, will influence audience opinion. Also, the audience would judge Shylock as a Jew through the references of others and through the costume he wears. All of this external judging will influence audience opinion because much of it is negative and if the other characters are constantly mocking or saying negative things about Shylock then the audience will be affected by these views, especially if they do not get to see how Shylock views himself.
There would also be differing opinions between modern and Elizabethan audiences because nowadays different cultures, races and religions are much more common around Britain and so any prejudices against someone because of their religion would be seen as racist, and an undesirable characteristic. Elizabethan audiences, however, would see Shylock as inferior to Antonio simply because he is a Jew and Jews were disliked in their times. Therefore, a modern audience may feel sympathy towards Shylock in a lot of the situations, whereas an Elizabethan audience would feel that Shylock deserved what he got.