In The Merchant of Venice, how can we show that Shakespeare, in spite of himself, sympathizes with Shylock?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very difficult question to answer, because let us remember that the true nature of Shakespeare's work is not how it appears on the page, but how it is produced on the stage. There have been a variety of productions that have variously created a Shylock that is to be pitied or to be reviled, depending on the director and the choices that he makes. However, if we have a look at the text itself, I think it is possible to find evidence to support the view that Shakespeare sympathised with Shylock and his position, and not only his position alone, but the position of Jews throughout time. The best place to look for this would be the incredibly famous and memorable speech that Shakespeare gives Shylock in Act III scene 1, where Shylock argues for a common humanity between Jews and those who oppress them:

He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

And so the speech continues. Shylock thus famously appeals to a common base of humanity which reveals that Jews and Christians are not that different after all. Clearly, this would be a good place to start if you wish to argue that Shakespeare sympathises with the position of Shylock and all Jews.

muddy-mettled | Student

The phrase "in spite of himself" may have been copied from the critical literature as I am sure that I read it somewhere.  Or it may have been inspired by the ancient thought that men are born bad, goodness comes by training, a subject that Shakespeare addresses in ROMEO AND JULIET(see the friar's soliloquy, Act 2, scene 3).

babitibabe | Student

when shaylock said in act 1 scene 3 (fair sir,you spat on me on wednesday last;you spurned me such a day; another time you called me ''dog'') we notice that shakespear call us to symbathy jewish bcz of their bad  life every one deal with them in a bad way as if they are animals ,also shakespear is not anti-semitism he is not against jewish