The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

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In The Merchant of Venice, how does Shylock say Christians feel about Jewish people?  

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In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the tension and irrational motives of the Christians and Jews in the story are revealed and explored. Antonio mocks and berates Jews, Shylock in particular, and Shylock is dead set on receiving payment of his bond of "a pound of your (Antonio's) fair flesh" (I.iii. 145), as forfeit for Antonio's failure to pay back his debt. Antonio's assets are tied up in fleets of ships which have not yet reached shore, and having allowed Bassanio, his best friend, to "try what my credit can in Venice do" (I.i.180), Antonio finds himself beholden to the despised Shylock.

The audience knows immediately that Shylock and Antonio despise each other. As Shylock says out of earshot of Antonio and Bassanio, "I hate him for he is a Christian" (I.iii.37), and when Shylock talks to Antonio, he expresses his surprise that Antonio would even agree to take a loan from a moneylender when Antonio himself "lends out money gratis" (39), meaning that Antonio charges no interest. In fact, Antonio openly shows his disgust at those who do as it would not be Christian to do so.

Hence, Christians are rude to Jews to the point that "cursed be my tribe" says Shylock. The Christians have no basis for their hypocritical behavior and take revenge when they are wronged by Jews, and yet a Jew is not expected nor permitted to do the same. However, Shylock assures them that a Jew will "better the instruction" (III.i.62.), meaning that it is the very treatment by Christians and their unfounded "villainy" that has created this situation. Christians, and especially Antonio, representative of Christians, calls Shylock "misbeliever, cut-throat dog" (106) and spits on him because he is a Jew. Ironically, Shylock also warns his daughter Jessica to be aware of "Christian fools with varnished faces" (II.v.32), without realizing that she intends to run away with a Christian.  

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