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McGraw 1 Jody McGraw Professor Raider Merchant of Venice Reflection #1 The Merchant of Venice: A reflection on the portrayal of Shylock

At the first reading of William Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice I did not fully realize the potential the play had to take on so many different interpretations. Of course due to my wonderful AP English high school class I was aware of the analysis needed to read anything written by Shakespeare but The Merchant of Venice was still different. It was not just symbolism and imagery that could be analyzed to shed a vague, new perspective. No, the analysis of the script in The Merchant of Venice has the potential to create an entirely new play. One extra bit of inflection, one raise of the voice, hurried speech, one dramatic pause has the potential to shift an ambiguous dialogue to one supporting or mocking the Jewish culture. For the purposes of this reflection, three questions will be briefly examined; three questions that really resonated with my own thoughts on the character of Shylock and more specifically his role in Act IIII Scene I of The Merchant of Venice. The first question is, What does Shylock object to in the play and how is he treated by the host society? the second, Is it possible to discern how Shylock views his own behavior? Does he rationalize or justify his actions? and third, Why isn't there a real response to Shylock's revenge speech in the play? How does this missing element in the play lend

McGraw 2 itself to various interpretations? Each question relates to each other, each question depends on each other, each question deals with a tricky subject that has been adapted a multitude of ways. The first question is based closely to the text found in Shylocks monologue in Act III Scene I. After being asked why he requires from Antonio a pound of flesh if he cannot make his payment, Shylock answers with a heated response, To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else. (Merchant 42). Shylock is more mocking Salanio and Salarino then giving them a true answer. In a way I feel that Shylock is actually offended by the two asking him that question. After reading the full monologue, the reader is able to discern that it is about a certain equality of actions between the Jews and the Christians. He makes the very clear point of raising the question- what really does separate the two groups? So when Shylock responds that the flesh will be fed to fish he is basically saying, Why are you asking me this? You would not question the motives of a Christian. So while Shylock is clearly upset about many things in his society, what he is really objecting to at this point in the play is the idea that he is being undeservingly questioned for his actions, again. As for how his host society treats him, it is much of the same. They are all Italians, they are all people, they all have families and occupations to provide for their families, but they do not practice the same religion. Shylock is immediately put to a more criticized yet lesser standard than his Christian counterparts- this was examined through Robert M. Seltzers Jewish People, Jewish


McGraw 3 Shylock does know what he is doing as he rages into this rant. While I do believe the element of malicious intent that is sometimes inserted into the monologue is the actors prerogative and not actually written into the play, it is obvious Shylock has been internally fuming with this matter for some time now. The reader can tell this through the list of detailed occurrences Shylock states at the beginning of his speech. Through that it is easy to see that these abuses have been happening for some time, and they didnt just come to him in one form, but rate multiple offences had been taken against Shylock. As the speech deals much with human nature I think it is safe to say that when your society is forcing you to endure so much hardship it is human nature to think about what you would do if you had the power in the situation. Shylock rationalizes his thoughts through the Old Testament mindset of an eye for an eye. Whatever Shylock inflicts on the Christians will be justified through the fact they have done the same to him. Through his monologue, Shylock makes several shocking and somewhat vicious accusations and statements. One would expect that the responses from Salanio and Salarino would be just as vicious; however, just the opposite occurs. Shakespeare leaves an entire lack of response from both men as he instead has a servant interrupt (Merchant 43). This question again has the potential to be answered in a multitude of ways. While before this class I would have amounted it to my hatred of Shakespeare, posing that the author was just too lazy or ignorant to write an equally matched response for Shylocks heated argument. But now I have grown, and although I still am not in Shakespeares fan club I believe the silence is purposeful. By Salanio and Salarino

McGraw 4 not responding to Shylock, Shakespeare tells us a lot about the Italian society. The two Christian men were not used to having a Jew speak to them like that and thus they simply didnt know how to respond. Seltzer talks in depth about how Italian Jews may many times look the part of an everyday Italian, but there was a divide- a divide not to be crossed. Silence at times can speak the most on a particular topic. No matter how you read Shakespeares The Mechant of Venice, questions are sure to spring from your mind. In a world so different from ours today we have to not only bridge a historical divide but a language divide and social divide as well. While this process might cause more time to be spent within the literature, after we are finished we are able to understand the text so much more. Analyzing the plots of the story while analyzing the time in which it was written give a fuller picture to the play and a deeper understanding of the culture.