Shakespeare addresses stereotypes in The Merchant of Venice. What are the stereotypes that are apparent of Jews and how does Shylock confirm those stereotypes? How does Jessica break those stereotypes? Use examples from the play to support your answers.
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In The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare presents Shylock as a stereotypical Jew. During this period, there was a substantial amount of stereotyping of Jews and prejudice against them. There were many ways in which Jews suffered civic disabilities. They were prohibited from entering many professions, and Venetian law even restricted where they could live to a specific Jewish ghetto.
Even more typically, Christians, especially the Roman Catholic Church, adhered to a prohibition against usury, or the lending of money for interest. Since this activity was not acceptable for Christians, Jews acted as Venice's moneylenders.
Shakespeare's portrait of Shylock being a moneylender was an accurate stereotype, as this was an important occupation for Jews during this period. Other stereotypes are less benign. Shylock is portrayed as greedy, vindictive, cruel, and hating Christians, as exemplified in the play by his demand for a pound of flesh. Jessica has none of these characteristics, but she is willing to convert to Christianity, and thus is not a typically "Jewish" character.
The major stereotype of Jews in those days was that they were money-hungry and cruel. Shylock very clearly shows this stereotype. Shylock lends money at interest, which was frowned upon, and he is very quick to try to take an opportunity to make money off the misfortunes of Bassanio. His cruelty shows up, of course, in his hatred of Antonio and his insistence on taking the "pound of flesh" that Antonio promised him as collateral for the loan.
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