Would an Elizabethan audience consider Shylock's following speech as comedic, found in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice: Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,...

Would an Elizabethan audience consider Shylock's following speech as comedic, found in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice:

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? (III.i.51-56)

If so, why? What language devices/techniques does Shakespeare utilize?

Asked on by bob-dylan

1 Answer | Add Yours

tamarakh's profile pic

Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Shylock's speech beginning with, "I am a Jew," found in act 3, scene 1 of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice appears on the surface to be a bitter and heart-felt tirade against racial prejudices and injustices; however, if one looks closer, one sees it's an ironic call for revenge, and it's the irony coupled with parallelism and diction that would make this speech amusing to an Elizabethan audience.

Parallelism refers to a writer's use of wording and grammatical structure to create patterns (Dr. Wheeler, "Schemes"). Parallelism is found all throughout the speech but particularly in the following lines:

... 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? (III.i.52-56)

The parallelism in this passage serves to create emphasis itself, yet Shakespeare also used diction to emphasize aspects of hurt, such as hunger, wounds, disease, heat, and cold. In other words, Shylock is using both parallel structure and word choices to parallel Jews with Christians and to say that Jews can be hurt just as easily as Christians in all the same ways.

The emphasis of pain through both parallelism and diction also helps to underscore the irony of the passage, which creates the comedy. The irony concerns the fact that Shylock is using all of these references to pain in order to justify his decision to hold Antonio to his bond and demand from him his pound of flesh. In other words, he's using references to pain, showing how a Jew's pain parallel's a Christian's pain, to justify demanding pain and even death of Antonio the Christian. Hence, Shylock is using words that should elicit empathy and compassion to justify causing others pain, the exact opposite of empathy and compassion, which is an extremely ironic use of words. An Elizabethan audience would have noticed the irony and seen it as comical.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,913 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question