The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
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Act 2, scene 8 of The Merchant of Venice clearly conveys what the Christian Venetians think of Shylock and Antonio—Explain. Does this also shape the audience's sympathies?

Act 2, scene 8 of The Merchant of Venice shapes the audience's sympathies because Salarino and Solanio want audience members to sympathize with Antonio, but their virulent anti-Semitism shifts the sympathy to Shylock.

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The conversation between Salarino and Solanio in act 2, scene 8 could be trying to shape the sympathies of the audience members in multiple ways. In terms of the two characters' intentions, it's possible to argue that the scene aims to deprive Shylock of sympathy. Solanio presents Shylock as inimical and rapacious. He cares more about the money and valuables that his daughter took than her disappearance. Salarino contributes to the unsympathetic account of Shylock by noting how the boys of Venice follow him around and mock him.

Shylock's sinister portrait contrasts with Antonio's saintly portrait. Solanio labels Shylock "villain Jew," but he calls Antonio "good Antonio." Salarino adds to the commendable characterization of Antonio. He says, "A kinder gentleman treads not the earth." Based on the divergent depictions of Shylock and Antonio, it's reasonable to conclude that Salarino and Solanio want the audience to sympathize with Antonio's plight.

However, one might claim that William Shakespeare has Salarino and Solanio speak so ill of Shylock so that the audience will sympathize with Shylock. The audience—not sharing in the prejudices of Solanio, Salarino, and the other Christian Venetians—feels sorry for Shylock and the abuse that he has to endure on account of Venice's virulent anti-Semitism. In this reading, the scene indirectly shapes the audience's sympathies. The blatant bigotry of Solanio and Salarino directs the audience's sympathies away from Antonio and onto the persecuted and marginalized Shylock.

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