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The renowned Shakespearean critic, Harold Bloom, himself a Jew, wrote,
Shakespeare will abide, even if he were to be expelled by the academics, in itself most unlikely. He extensively informs the langauge we speak, his principal characters have become our mythology, and he, rather than his involutary follower freud, is our psychologist. His persuasiveness has it unfortunate aspects; The Merchant of Venice may have been more of an incitement to anti-Semitism than The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, though less than the Gospel of John. We pay a price for what we gain from Shakespeare.
If one looks at the history of Venice, one learns that this is the first place where ghettos were constructed to contain Jews. The Jewish merchants were restricted on how much trading they could do, and other restrictions were put upon them as many were known to conduct themselves in a manner that was "against the spirit of the law" as Shylock did. Because Jews were not allowed to own land in Europe, they were forced to create ways to assess their fortunes, if a fortune was what they sought. And, sometimes, the seduction of money became too great to resist. The villain of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, is a stereotype of these Jewish merchants in Venice.
Most recent criticism (Greenblatt, etc.) sees Shakespeare as being sympathetic towards the Jews, specifically Shylock. It is important to remember that the author generally sympathasizes with the outsider and those removed by degrees from the center of society in his plays.
Anyone seeking to find anti-semitism in The Merchant of Venice need only look at Marlowe's The Jew of Malta for a truly anti-semitic portrayal of the Jews from the Elizabethian Period.
At issue here is the context of whatever play you are discussing. Shakespeare’s time was very different from our own, and as we read any work, we must always keep in mind the historical, societal, political, and economic factors prevalent to that time in order to understand fully the author’s perspective. It is natural to overlay our 21st century morals and values onto the text, but this must be avoided, or only used as a comparative model for writing or discussion. That said, consider the general view of Jews at the time Shakespeare wrote the work and you will have your answer.
It is not clear in the play what Shakespeare's view of Jews is. Of course, he portrays Shylock, to some extent, in a negative way. He has him be greedy and money-hungry. On the other hand, he portrays him in a much more human way than was often done in those days. He gives him speeches that seem to proclaim his essential humanity.
Throughout the world, certain ethnic groups are given certain stereotypes. This is especially true when these ethnic groups are a minority in a country. It is also especially true when the members of the group are forced by law or circumstance into a particular profession.
For example, many stereotypes about Jews are used to describe the Chinese in places like the Philippines and Hawaii. In both these places, the Chinese were outsiders who were mostly excluded from the mainstream of society.
So my point is that stereotypes about the Jews sprang up not because of their nature, but because majority groups very often stereotype minority groups among them.
It all depends on what you consider to be his views. It's not likely Shakespeare would be too controversial with his topics to enjoy the broad support of his sponsors that he had at the time, or with the audiences that saw his plays.
My assessment of the impact of the play Merchant of Venice on the prejudices people hold about the Jews is that the play reinforces the negative prejudices rather than demolishing or reducing them. Based on this I can say that the impact of Merchant of Venice on the viewers or readers is to present in a bad light. If we accept the view of Jews presented in the play as the views of its author - Shakespeare, then it is quite apparent that Shakespeare did not view Jews in very positive light. If at all he thought that the prejudices against Jews are not well founded, he did nothing in particular to dispel such incorrect beliefs.
The problem with this question is that you will get a series of different answers depending on the person's response in relation to his/her personal opinion of Jews. Jews have often been stereotyped to be greedy, money hungry, manipulative, and tricky in the name of a dollar/money. The history of these dynamics goes far back in the history of the Jews. However, stereotyping of Jews continues to be an issue, just like the stereotyping of many groups. Having lived in Europe opened my eyes to the stereotyping of American white females. I had several friends who were Muslims who had horrible ideas attached to what Caucasian American women were doing.
I have to say Shakespeare was correct in identifying the presumed stereotype of a Jew. However, he was not accurate in the true identity of a Jewish man.
This question requires a little background on your part. First of all, let's determine which character would best be used to support your answer. Obviously, the character of Shylock is the one to which your teacher is referring. Secondly, how DOES Shakespears depict Shylock (and the stereotypical Jew)? Thirdly, and the most important, is your opinion of whether you think this depiction is accurate. The most important thing to remember, as you decide on your position, is whether or not you have specific examples to support that position. Be sure to include those examples in your answer, because if you just state your position without the backup support, you won't have a valid argument. Hope this helps!
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